While I'm not going to review the recently released Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary, I did want to offer up some quick thoughts on the history of this franchise, and the impact it's had on the video game world generally and on the Xbox more specifically. And then I want to explain why I've moved on.
Halo: Anniversary, as I'll call it, is well done for what it is. And if you compare the Microsoft before-and-after shots, linked below, you can see that the good folks from 343 Industries did a nice job converting the ten-year-old title to semi-modern form.
Before: Halo on the Xbox 360
After: Halo: Anniversary on the Xbox 360, same scene
As a long-time video game player and enthusiast, and as a fan in particular of shooters, I like what they've done here. In my notes about the game--I did originally consider a review--I wrote respectful first. And it is. It's respectful both to the original game and to the epic, heroic series that the first game touched off.
And it's not just the improved graphics. There's some nice introductory exposition that more neatly ties the previous game, Halo Reach, into the first, providing a more seamless transition from that prequel. Long-time Halo fans, and there are millions, will love it.
But I find myself somewhat bored by the whole thing. In fact, after replaying the overly-familiar opening act of the original Halo again this past weekend for what has to be the umpteenth time, I found myself twitching to return to the more exciting and compelling environs of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. So I'll only allow myself a moment of nostalgia.
The original Halo was developed by Bungie and originally targeted the Mac. In fact, Apple CEO Steve Jobs proudly allowed Bungie to demo the game at a Macworld conference in 1999 to help establish the Mac's comeback. But Microsoft purchased Bungie in mid-2000 and brought development of the game in-house, releasing it in 2001 as a launch title for its first video game console, the Xbox. It was a fantastic success, selling several million copies.
I wasn't a fan of the original Halo, at first. At the time, I was wrapped up in various PC-based shooters, most of which I considered superior to Halo from both graphical and play perspectives. And I was openly disdainful of the Xbox controller, which I considered ill-suited for a first-person shooter. I did play Halo briefly on the Xbox, but it wasn't until the game was released on the PC in 2003 that I actually finished the single player campaign.
Three years later, Microsoft delivered Halo 2, also for the original Xbox. By this time, it was impossible to ignore the success and influence of the game franchise. And I began getting together monthly with a group of friends up the street, playing video games together in LAN party format. The name of our events--Halo Havoc--harkens back to the first game we played (which was actually Halo 2). That said, we have long since moved on to the Call of Duty games.
In my review of Halo 2, I mention these early Halo Havoc events and describe Halo 2 itself as "flawed but impressive," with a fun, outstanding multiplayer component. It's not surprising, then, to realize that some of the nascent multiplayer capabilities from the original Halo--like matchmaking--became a formalized part of Microsoft's online service for gaming, Xbox LIVE. That service launched a year after the first Halo, and has become a key component of the platform's success story ever since.
(Three years after Halo 2 shipped, Microsoft delivered a version for Windows Vista. This Halo 2 version was notable only because it included Xbox LIVE Achievements, an Xbox LIVE feature Microsoft added with the release of the Xbox 360 in 2005.)
Halo 3, released in 2007, was an event like none other. An Xbox 360 exclusive to this day--no further Xbox titles have ever been ported to the PC or elsewhere for some reason)--Halo 3 was an absolute blockbuster, which explains why I wrote far too many Halo 3 articles to even link to here. See below for a complete list.
By that year, I had fully transitioned to the Xbox 360 for video gaming. Oddly enough, it was the release of Call of Duty 2 as a launch title for that console in 2005 that did it for me. Previously, I was convinced that a controller could never work well for shooters. But by the time I finished the game late that year, I was converted. And I played COD2 well through the following year, stopping only when Call of Duty 3 shipped in late 2006.
This was when I started trying to convince my Halo Havoc friends that maybe it was time to move beyond Halo. It took years for the transition to happen, first because many of us stuck with the original Xbox even after the 360 arrived. Then, we tried various games as they were released, including the COD games, Gears of War, and others. The one thing that kept us going with the Halo series was that it was always just worked, from a multiplayer perspective. You could get a group of guys up and running, and fighting, reliably and quickly every time.
(I think it was Modern Warfare that final signaled the death knell for Halo in our group.)
Halo 3: ODST arrived in 2009, providing fans of the series with a surprisingly decent single player game and more of the same multiplayer, which I promptly ignored. And then Halo Reach wrapped up Bungie's involvement in the series with a prequel that fills in a lot of background info. I liked Halo Reach quite a lot, but again, I was always going to move on to whatever Call of Duty game was current at the time. (OK, it was Modern Warfare 2.)
And ultimately, that's what killed Halo for me: Call of Duty. It's just the better game, and series, and it has a superior multiplayer component. I write this realizing that for millions of people, that's almost blasphemy. And it's probably true that people will still be playing Halo years into the future. Certainly, I'm curious to see where Microsoft takes this series next, and I'm hoping they'll drop the aging engine from the previous titles and do something totally new, perhaps launching a future Halo game alongside a new console.
Whatever they do, you have Halo: Anniversary to kick around this holiday season. It's a nostalgic and somewhat tired look back at a video game classic. But I find myself more interested in the future than the past. And for me, Halo was in the past long before Halo: Anniversaries arrived.
Halo coverage on the SuperSite for Windows
Halo: Reach for Xbox 360 - September 18, 2010
Halo for Atari 2600 - August 6, 2010
Halo 3: ODST - September 22, 2009
Halo 3 for Xbox 360 Review - September 25, 2007
Halo 3 for Xbox 360 Preview - September 24, 2007
Xbox 360 Games Screenshot Gallery 118: Halo 3 (Gallery 5) - September 15, 2007
Halo 2 for Windows Vista - May 30, 2007
Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta for Xbox 360 Review - May 20, 2007
Halo 2 for Windows Vista Screenshot Gallery - March 27, 2007
Halo 3 Packaging - March 16, 2007
Xbox 360 Games Screenshot Gallery 40: Halo 3 - June 8, 2006
Halo 2 for Xbox Review - November 15, 2001