The Halo series is, in my opinion, the best video game series ever.
It’s an epic journey through a brutal war fought to literally save humanity. Throughout the main storyline, you play as “Master Chief” – an ironically quiet, humble, subdued character that shoulders the heaviest of burdens. He is one of few remaining super-soldiers called “Spartans” and is genetically enhanced for combat. I guess I really don’t want to go too far into the storyline or details of the Halo series – but feel free to read a brief summary on wikipedia if interested.
So what makes the Halo series so great? Well, There are different aspects in different games – and they culminate together to form something that I find to be profound. I’ll break down some of my opinions before breaking down what I like most in each of the three main games.
The Master Chief
The hero you play is the single most powerful part in the series. He hardly ever speaks, but his actions speak volumes. Fighting until any bitter end, this faceless and nearly voiceless character is a perfect personification of a video game hero… I think the Bungie designers deserve a fair amount of credit here because the player subconsciously projects themselves fully into this character. It’s impossible to play through the Halo games and not picture yourself behind the helmet. I think the fact that you never see the face of Master Chief makes it easier for the player to put themselves in his place. Even his mirrored visor plays a role, it reflects what he sees allowing the player to unknowingly be put just that little bit more into the character.
A fearless guardian that does whatever it takes, Master Chief’s quiet confidence sets the tone for the entire story…
Maybe a slighter role in the quality of the series to most people is actually quite strong for me. The majority of the music the Halo games is original composition via Martin O’donnell and Michael Salvatori. Their unique style fits perfectly alongside the in-game action, and adds an impossibly perfect touch to the cut-scenes and pre-realease teasers and trailers. Some of my favorite examples are the Halo 3 E3 Trailer, and the Return to Sender cut-scene. But, even aside from the impressive original works; there are artists contributions that have had perfect fits within the series. Specifically here I’m referring to this part in Halo 2 where an instrumental version of “Blow me Away” by Breaking Benjamin plays…
The music is just awesome, plain and simple. It adds a whole dimension on the game, making it feel as though you’re playing through an amazing action movie. It couldn’t have possibly been done any better.
As I said, I don’t want to simply re-tell the entire story of the Halo series… But it’s important to address what it adds to the mix. For me, I relate hugely to this type of storyline. It’s similar in a way to the Matrix trilogy, or the Harry Potter series. In the Matrix movies, Neo comes to know that his destiny is literally fight for the survival of the human race. It is only he that can do it, and it is something he faces without fear no matter the outcome. The subsequent final battle depicts Neo sprinting full speed toward his fate
Many people may laugh at the mention of Harry Potter here, but it’s honestly a genuine comparison. Harry has to face the same sort of fight, and once again it’s only him that can do it. “Neither can live while the other survives” – I still remember that quote from the book, and it is just profound. My point being – a single person fighting against almost unbeatable odds.
The Halo series has a similar element, where the Master Chief willingly faces fate no matter what the outcome. Not only to face it, but to run full speed directly at it. I’m not exactly sure why, but that sort of notion really appeals to me. The fight or flight, the will to act, the choice to keep fighting. These few examples I believe accurately illustrate what I’m trying to get across.
Finally, the Gameplay
The first Halo game was ground-breaking. The main launch title that defined the Xbox as a console. There really isn’t anything much more to say about this first game in the series, other than that it set the bar. And, also, this warthog jumping that the Vanbergs, Vanlandw and I tried to re-create back when I lived in Ramblewood will always be a part of me.
Halo 2 increased the intensity, pushed the bar further, and all the while brought on a ton of criticism for its introduction of the Arbiter.
Halo 2’s battle against the scarab is possibly my favorite part in any video game. The music fits it perfectly (once again, a perfect example of the music making the experience). The first time you leap onto the massive scarab from a bridge above is really without rival as a standalone moment of gaming excellence.
Halo 2 also honed in the multiplayer capabilities to new levels, and really this was the first case I could recall where the multiplayer was almost more sought-after than the single player campaign. I personally didn’t get into the multiplayer until later, and I wasn’t all that great at it anyway so my loyalties continued to be with the single player storyline mode.
Most people’s primary complaint as mentioned earlier was the fact that Halo 2 had you play as the Arbiter for several levels. You get to try out cloaking, the plasma sword, etc. But, many people didn’t approve of surrendering control of Master Chief. I didn’t mind playing as Arbiter, but definitely I did not love how Halo 2 ended…
Halo 3 brought the same level of multiplayer gameplay, but made use of the better graphics hardware of the Xbox 360 console. The campaign was maybe a tad short by some accounts – but the plot and storyline out was enough to get me over Halo 2. Again, some people did not enjoy the plot of the game – but really the expectations had been set so high that it is almost impossible to meet them. I liked the storyline, and I thought the ending was fitting for the conclusion of this particular trilogy.
ODST and Reach, while still being Halo games, don’t really count in my opinion. They are parallel storylines that center around characters other than the Master Chief. I think that’s fine, and I have and will play these games – but for me the meat of the series are the three primary games where you play as Master Chief.
Obviously I’ve got Halo on the mind because of the Halo Reach beta. I’ve been able to balance a solid 3-4 hours of this beta into my life so far, and the multiplayer is amazingly fun. FINALLY I can run in a Halo game using the scout class. I could use a little more practice though, as my .70 ish kill/death ratio will attest.
I hope the fun continues as Halo Reach is released, and I’ll be sad to see Bungie’s final Halo game come to fruition. It’s pretty amazing to look back on these games that I played in different phases of my life – hopefully another video game series comes along that can come close to meeting this level for me. But if you ask me – I don’t think it’s going to happen.