This piece will serve as my first game review. Ideally, I’d like to put a new spin on how reviews are given. Instead of focusing on giving out scores, grading according to a review rubric, or focusing on just bare elements like graphics, I’d like to just give my candid thoughts regarding this game as well as future games that will be reviewed on this blog.
I’m going to start this article by giving a brief overview of how I got into the Halo universe. Then, I’m going to describe the three campaigns I have already played in this Master Chief Collection, in order. Each game I’ll give my general opinion and also describe my experience during each of the games. I’ll also provide some general thoughts about Halo and also if it’s worth investing some time. Keep in mind,I am still playing the three latter campaigns of the Master Chief Collection. For this reason, I’m having to type the first part of the review for now and then the second part later.
I was first exposed to the Halo universe as a fresh teenager when Halo 3 released. I did not have a Xbox 360 at the time; however, all of my friends did. Keep in mind, during this time of my life, I mostly played games on the PC, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii. I didn’t really have an interest in Xbox or their games as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong, I would always play Halo 3 with my friends in splitscreen when I visited their homes. We would play for hours and I would also join the online multiplayer lobbies as their guest and we would pick people apart. As for the campaign, I had no idea. My friends played the entire campaign the first few days and I never got to see it. The multiplayer itself was really fun.
I didn’t get a Halo game of my own until Halo 4’s release. By that time, I had a Xbox 360 and I would go back and forth that year, if I remember right, between Halo 4 and Call of Duty. Halo 4 released as I was a late teenager and I was a big fan of multiplayer shooters by then, probably due to those seeds planted with my friends, as described earlier.
As for the Halo 4 campaign, I think I played two missions and just had no idea what was going on. I liked the gameplay and how it looked at the time, though. It’s about like watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as your first exposure into the Harry Potter world. Great movie in itself but you would be lost without some of the other books, especially Prisoner of Azkaban.
Anyway, that was my experience with Halo for many years. With the introduction of Xbox Game Pass these past few years, as well as my love for the Xbox One X and now Series X, I have set a personal wish of going through the Xbox first party games and getting a feel for some of the franchises I have missed out on over the years. Halo was the natural first choice because you have the Master Chief Collection that contains the first four games, as well as the two spinoff games, all in one package. It’s the central place to get caught up with Halo, that’s how I viewed it as I installed it.
Without any further delay, let’s get into this review!
Halo: Combat Evolved
The obvious first choice, at the time, was the first entry into the Halo universe. It’s hard to imagine this game released in 2001. I’m that age where 2001 seems relatively recent, and at the same time, forever ago. It’s weird! Anyway, this game was a gem and a huge step forward in it’s heyday. This game seemed like the next logical evolution from the DOOM games in the 1990s.
From playing this game, it felt like the developers of this game, Bungie, took everything that made the first person shooter like DOOM fun, and just built upon it. They nailed the basic elements of the game: You’re a character that shoots hordes of aliens with different variations of guns.
One thing about Halo that I enjoyed is the fact that they started you with a couple of weapons provided by your military, usually the Assault Rifle and a Pistol. Eventually, you would run out of ammo and would have to pick up whatever weapon each alien dropped upon its death. They wanted you to experiment with all the weapon types and use them to your advantage, depending on your situation.
Another cool aspect about this game is that, at any point, even during cutscenes, you can press the double window button on your Xbox controller, otherwise known as the View button, and you can go back and forth at your pleasure between the graphics from 2001 or the graphics they improved for the Anniversary release on the Xbox 360 back in 2011. (By the way, I did indeed have to look up what that button was called. I’ve had Xbox One/Series for 4 years now and still didn’t know.)
The reason I love this feature in particular is that it helps newer people to the Halo universe experience it in an enhanced way. The graphics are on par with any other Xbox 360 game. Most gamers know that when you play games from the original Xbox, there’s a steep downgrade due to the equipment at the time as well as the televisions available back in 2001. For me, I just like seeing what people got to experience back in the day. I mostly did this during the actual gameplay. For the cutscenes, I would leave them as the remastered option, only except for a couple of quick scenes just to see the difference. It’s hard to imagine that games back in 2001 looked the way they did but our imaginations as well as nostalgia glasses make it seem like you were playing a high-definition experience.
Performance-wise, the game plays extremely well. You get a smooth picture and I did not experience any hiccups or game crashes. One good aspect about Xbox’s push for backwards compatibility is that most of their first party, proprietary software works well on the Xbox One X or Series X. I played this campaign on the One X because we were still a few months away from the Series X release at the time.
Now, in my estimation, the big draw to this game, even today, is the story. A lot of times with games around the time Halo was released, games were not known for their grand stories. Most cases, the game will have an overarching plot/objective and you would go through a journey to accomplish the main objective. Some games had great worlds, but no substance. Other games had great dialogue and characters, but it never connected together. There were a few exceptions, though, and even with those games, they would have their story wrapped up with the main game and that was the end of it!
With Halo, you got introduced to the protagonist known as Master Chief. He’s a soldier in the United Nations Space Command. He’s a human in an armored suit that uses military weaponry we’re familiar with to take on the fight against the alien race known as the Covenant. Both sides are wrapped up in conflict over control of the Halo, which is a planet. The cool thing about Halo is that it’s a ring instead of a sphere. As the Halo’s exploration and battle continues on, there’s a neutral third party that gets introduced into the fray. This force is referred to as the Flood. These creatures seem like cousins to zombies and they have no favoritism toward the Covenant nor the UNSC forces. Another problem both sides run into, is that if the Flood were to leave the Halo, they would spread like a virus and wipe out other worlds.
Without giving much more away, you get to see what ultimately happens with the Halo. Also, the story is left open ended but not necessarily with a cliff-hanger. If Halo was a game that would have tanked, then the story would be enough and it would be nothing more than many other games of the time. Instead, Halo received critical acclaim and established a universe that gamers wanted to see expanded upon.
I had many questions after the game, especially regarding the Covenant. I felt like there was more to them than just being the opposing alien force that Chief kills over and over, mission after mission. I ended the game wanting more, that’s no doubt.
After a span of months, due to moving and other events in my personal life, gaming took a backseat shortly after the Series X released. In the meantime, I consulted a friend and asked him where I should go with Halo next. I told him my main issues was that the levels seemed a bit repetitive and it was rather easy to get lost, in comparison to the games we have grown used to playing over the years.
He suggested that I pause the Master Chief’s story and play the game that’s considered the prequel to the Halo universe…..
I’ll start off by admitting that I did have a copy of Halo Reach, I just never played it. It came with the Xbox 360 I purchased from my friend in high school. Sad isnt it? The main problem is that I had way too many other games to play and I just never found the time to add Reach to the rotation. It’s a shame, though, because now that I have played Reach in the Master Chief Collection, I would have raved over the game.
Halo Reach was an incredible leap forward in terms of the few minor complaints I had regarding Halo: CE. The story was very rich. Before I rave over the campaign, let me briefly sum up the other parts of the game.
Since Reach was not a re-mastered version of the original, there is no option to go back and forth from its original graphics to the newer graphics, you’re getting the original content. The game looked great though because it was made in 2010, the pinnacle of the 360’s output.
Performance was the same as Halo: CE. Very smooth, no hiccups, no complaints.
I remember this game got fair reviews from the critics, among the players though, Reach was near and dear to their hearts, especially my friend’s.
The story for Halo:Reach sets the stage for all of the events that happen with Master Chief’s story arch. The story follows a team of soldiers and as the story goes on, you sadly watch your team shrink more and more. It’s really tough to elaborate much more on this story without really giving it away but if you want some parallels, it reminded me of Rogue One from the Star Wars universe. It had quite a few aspects in common.
This story had me drawn in a lot more compared to Halo: CE and it also solved all the issues I had from the original game. The mission progression was a lot more linear. After you kill your enemies, you’re not having to wander around structures wondering where to go next. I’m really glad my friend suggested that I play this game before going too much further. In fact, I recommend you should start the Master Chief Collection with this game, especially if you want to keep the story more linear.
After the campaign, it was time to move on to Halo 2. I asked my friend, “How could it get much better than Reach?” He responded, “My man, you are about to see.”
The version of Halo 2 that you will play on the Master Chief Collection is the Anniversary edition. So, just like Halo: CE, you can go back and forth between what the game originally looked like in 2004 as well as 2014. Same deal with the cutscenes.
I will say that Halo 2 even with its original graphics looked like a step up from its predecessor three years prior. You could tell they had a better handle on the original Xbox’s capabilities.
I’ve got the same comments regarding the performance and also the same praise for the more linear mission progression in this game than you have in Halo: CE. You won’t get lost in this one neither.
The story for Halo 2 was the perfect expansion to the first story. This game spends about equal time between the UNSC forces and the Covenant. In fact, you don’t only play as Master Chief in this game. You also spend half of your missions as a Covenant character named The Arbiter. As the story progresses, you see the two different paths converge at the end to take on a third party known as the brutes. Let’s just say the brutes do some backstabbing without giving too much more away. Also, the Flood make their return and you also have to fight them as well.
What I did not know, nor expect, is that the story ends with a cliffhanger! The way it ended was just fine with me because it made me very excited to continue the fight in Halo 3. I think if I would have played this game in 2004, I think I would have enjoyed the story overall but I would have hated the cliffhanger, especially since I would have been a young kid in that time. There’s no way I could fathom waiting three long years for the next game. Back in those days, three years felt like an eternity. I’m not sure if the speeding up of time is age related or nature related. I’ve heard arguments for both. These days, when they say “Halo Infinite is coming out next year” it’s no big deal because my weeks fly by anymore!
My friend was right, Halo 2 was a fun ride and I really did enjoy the story as well as the whole game. After playing these three games, it left me wanting to finish up the rest of the Halo story instead of taking a different path and playing a different game. I would say after Halo 2, it sucked me into the universe for good. I see why Halo was such a success in its heyday. Over time, unfortunately, Halo became a divided fandom. A key event was the changing of the guard in between Halo: Reach and Halo 4, when Bungie left to make Destiny and 343 took over Halo for Microsoft. I think after I play through Halo 5, I’ll write a piece covering that game as well as my neutral take on the fandom split. I was not around to really experience it, so it will be interesting to see what I think of the later Halo games without the bad bias many people had at the time.
If you are wondering if you should play Halo, I would say go for it. Just know that it is definitely a first person shooter and it sure does play like a first person shooter. I know some people are saying, “Yeah, no shit Shane!” Well, just know that some of the more experienced gamers know what I’m trying to say with that statement. The aspect that will keep you hooked and keep you fighting through the aliens and missions is the experience of the story and finding out what happens next.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your controller settings because they have many presets. Spend the first campaign trying out what works for you. Also, each game offers a variety of difficulties. You have an easy mode, so don’t fret! Don’t just rush in and actually try to be tactful and you will breeze through the campaign even on Normal, which is what I usually default to. Hell, back in the past, I would play it on the hardest difficulty I could. I have no idea in hindsight why I put myself through that torture!
In terms of which order to play them, I would highly recommend playing Halo: Reach before diving into Halo: CE and Halo 2. This is a lot easier to state with some hindsight!
I think Halo is definitely deserving of being part of the metaphorical Mt. Rushmore of Xbox exclusives. When you think of Nintendo, you think of Mario and Zelda. When you think of Playstation, you think of Uncharted, the Last of Us, Ratchet and Clank, and etc. Halo is definitely a quintessential series for Xbox.
With this game being on Game Pass as a permanent fixture, since it’s a Microsoft Studio product, feel free to jump in!
Next time, I’ll follow this article with my take on Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo 4, these are the other three campaigns you will see on the Master Chief Collection.