There have been many inclusions to the wonderful universe that so many of us enjoy, but what exactly makes Halo so damn successful? I’ve tried to answer this question on more than one occasion but each time I hit a brick wall.
Of course, there are the obvious attributes to any good game: great gameplay, a sound online setup, crisp, colourful graphics, plenty of weapons and equipment, but a lot of these can be found on any other game.
Call of Duty: MW 1 & 2 and the more recent Black Ops are all exceptional games. They are masterpieces of gaming creativity that have provided me with bucket loads of entertainment. The same goes for GTA4 and Gears of War, but despite impressive sales, especially with Black Ops, we still don’t have a game that can stand out as an iconic title as much as Halo does.
I know what some of you will be saying “He’s just a Halo kiss-ass who wakes up in the morning and worships a large golden Halo in his bedroom, dressed in Master Chief Pyjamas. A fan where nothing else will do”, but that’s not true. Believe me. Halo has its faults. It’s far from perfect. It lacks the realism of the two Modern Warfare games, the graphics of GOW and there’s not as much freedom as GTA, and the online play features the occasional glitch or bug as well – sticky grenades fail to stick or explode and despite several shotgun blasts to the face an opponent can simply walk up to you and take you out with a pink fluffy pillow. Or if you’re really unlucky you’ll be killed by a predatory traffic cone.
Halo, I believe, is different to every other game because of two main aspects: an enigmatic storyline and longevity. Bungie have managed to create a universe that is vast and mysterious beyond comprehension but at the same time keep it relevant to each individual game without overwhelming the player. You are placed into the boots of an extraordinary soldier, usually the Master Chief, but you’re always left in awe of everything around you – a small cog in a very big machine.
No other game seems to achieve this as well as the second level of Halo: Combat Evolved. The one where you crash land on the surface of the first (Alpha) Halo and are presented with an apparently normal landscape; except the surface of the large ring-like structure that you are standing on stretches off from the horizon and into the dark beyond of the sky above. As a character you’ve just gone from a genetically enhanced, battle hardened, pain dealing super soldier and mankind’s last, best hope to something the size of an ant.
I bet there are many of you reading this, who have played that very level, did the same as I – gazed in wonder at the world around you only to be rudely interrupted by a strange, and very alien looking, tuning fork shaped craft.
Then there’s the matter of longevity. Its how a game continues to entertain long after the immediate battle is over. Halo 3: ODST started off so well. It had all the hallmarks of a great Halo game, only to be let down by an inadequate lifespan. Firefight was a brilliant idea and a much needed element of Halo, despite the success of the series. But as Firefight featured no sort of matchmaking facility of any kind the numbers dwindled very quickly. It simply couldn’t compete with the Horde mode of GOW2. But then I’ve always said that ODST is simply an add-on. It’s not really a game in its own right, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a pointless inclusion in the Halo universe. Every Halo game released always has a purpose, and I don’t mean pure profit – either to expand our knowledge of the universe we play in or to set the scene for something further down the line.
The rest of the Bungie made Halo games, however, had all the right elements for a long and healthy life. Forge, Theatre and an online set up that provides endless possibilities and enemies.
Halo: Reach seems to be the ultimate pinnacle of every previous Halo release with some extras thrown in for good measure. A much refined Firefight, which now works, provides a capable complement to the game. Online play is amazing and the Noble map pack is a brilliant display of scenery and inventive creation of an already successful title, and more is on the way in the form of the Defiant map pack, which is coming this month.
But it was the plot that captured me, and the amended departure of the POA.
Over the coming weeks, months and hopefully years, I’ll be looking, in much greater detail, at the storyline of Halo. I’ll be pulling it apart, throwing it around, chewing it and putting it back together again in order to unlock its deepest, darkest secrets.