Why HALO Matters to Every Gamer
Coming off an era of gaming where Mario could finally move around in 3D space, and James Bond became a straight-up serial killer, gamers were looking for something with a little more nuance. Sure the first-person shooters of the time were great, but a kid could only take the clunky controls and pixilated mess for so long. Entering the 21st century, we were in a dry spell of quality action games with adequate controls to complement them. That's why when Bungie released Halo: Combat Evolved, it showed us what a first-person action shooter really was. Gamers were no longer required to have pinpoint accuracy just so they could shoot a blurry color pixel that was supposedly some enemy's head. We got smooth controls, clean, crisp environments, and visible enemies that were unique and challenging. The way Bungie constructed Halo was the way an artist paints their dreams. Everything you imagined a first-person shooter could be, was in the world of Halo. It was a budding franchise, but it's influence was immediately felt in the gaming world. Call of Duty, although still a piece of junk, in my opinion, adopted the gameplay of Halo as did Metroid Prime, Duke Nukem, Battlefield, BioShock, Far Cry, the list goes on and on. To say this game didn't change the way we play video games is like saying Wi-fi didn't change the way we use computers. Since we're on the topic of the internet, we have Halo to thank for revolutionizing how and why we game online.
During the early 2000s, online gaming was tolerable at best. No one had a reliable internet connection back then. If you were the lucky person who did, it was bound to be interrupted anytime someone answered the house phone. When you did manage to play a game online, uninterrupted, your options were scarce and underdeveloped. They were the early days of the internet and gaming, and developers hadn't quite figured out how to marry the two. Enter Halo. If the first game in the franchise scratched the surface of multiplayer gaming, Halo 2 used a jackhammer. When Xbox Live was released, Bungie saw it as an opportunity to push the envelope of online gaming. Not only that, but it revolutionized how we connected and played online. This advancement wasn't just for gamers, but for everyone who now has high-speed internet. I'm not saying that Halo 2 was the reason for the internet we have today, but it utilized the medium so well that Wi-fi was pushed to improve. Halo 2 once again reinvented the way we partake in gaming as a community. It connected people all over the world, sometimes even more deeply than email or instant messaging. Friendships were forged in Halo 2's clan feature, and arguments were settled over 1v1. No other game could compete with both the ingenuity of gameplay and the community focus of Halo 2. It was so influential that it couldn't all be contained in a single medium.
At the time, children's publishing saw the rise of two significant authors, R.L. Stien and his Goosebumps series, and J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. For young middle school boys, it left much to be desired. It was that in-between age where we'd outgrown Goosebumps, but not old enough for Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Aside from that, it seemed like the only things boys read were the comic strips in the Sunday paper and any required reading for school. Nothing piqued our interests, at least until Halo: The Fall of Reach hit shelves. Having recently played endless hours of the game, young boys were hungry to learn more about its silent protagonist and the world beyond the Halo ring. Eric Nylund's 2001 novel, which would sell more than 200,000 copies, complemented the universe well and opened the floodgates for a lengthy book series. The Halo book series tapped into a genre market barely explored by other video game franchises. The only other video game books at the time were Warcraft novels, but no one gave a rip about that franchise until World of Warcraft finally hit PC. It allowed Halo to settle into a hungry market where young readers were chomping at the bit for the next installment. Everyone read these books at the time. Teachers bought them for their classrooms, book fairs put Halo on display, and even parents bought into the short but furious craze. There wasn't a kid I knew that hadn't read the first few novels. Even today, we still have companies like Marvel cranking out Halo graphic novels.
Though the tremors of Halo's impact have subsided some in the recent decade, it's been no fault of the game in and of itself. The franchise has suffered devastating blows ever since Bungie left. Microsoft suffocates the originality that made the game so fresh and fun, and 343 Industries continues to think new weapons equals excellent gameplay. It's a far cry from the revolutionary way Halo approached gaming, and it saddens me to see such a bright star start to fade. Yet, through all of its recent turmoil, Halo: Combat Evolved deserves every gamer's respect and appreciation for how we perceive modern gaming and the cultural impacts that stemmed from it.