Friday, April 25, 2014


Ever since the jade-armored warrior known as John 117 The Master Chief first exited his stasis chamber, and began shooting his way through UNSC and Covenant corridors, I've been a Halo fan.

My fandom hasn't extended into the expanded universe of comics and novels, but it has led me to each of the video game iterations of the series.

The following is my very own, totally biased, ranking of each of those games from least favorite to favorite. I'd like to think it's fairly indicative of a more objective point of view at times, with perhaps one or two notable exceptions.

As we near the potential reveal of Halo 2: Anniversary on the Xbox One, and the inevitable release of Halo 5, let's think back on all those well-remembered battles, to the days of Noob Combos, Sticky Grenades, BR Battles, Equipment, funny, little grunts, and the almighty, elusive 50-rank.

Let's finish the fight!



While it's certainly not the worst video game by any stretch (or even the worst Halo), when I think back on my time with Halo 4, I remember it the least fondly of any other game in the series. It brought me the least joy, and served only as a reminder that the series has grown somewhat stagnant (particularly in the multi-player department) and that the previous entries were far more significant, and enjoyable when I played them consistently.
343 did an excellent job strengthening the visual-fidelity of the series, and did their best to infuse the narrative with as much humanity as possible. But I found the story of Cortana's deterioration and Master Chief's battle against a new, not-fully-fleshed out nemesis (The Forerunner), ultimately uninspiring and alienating.
Perhaps I painted myself into a corner as a result of my anticipation going in, and my desire to play something entirely new and different from the previous entries - story-wise. I wanted to discover a humbled Master Chief, alone on an alien planet without the support of the UNSC. I had grown tired of battling The Covenant, regardless of how lovable those dumb grunts are, and grown even more tired of lame, hackneyed soldier-speak. There's nothing more buzz-killing than being the biggest bad ass in the galaxy and still needing to take orders from some pasty, pencil-neck general with a Napoleon-complex. The tongue in cheek military bravado of the original trilogy (which inevitably resulted in some heartfelt moments in Halo 2 and 3) was nixed in favor of overly dramatic, insincere attempts at representing the struggles of Marines.
The quick-time-events and on-rails set-pieces were more Call of Duty than Halo, feeling like an unnecessary, ill-fitting tee-shirt on Master Chief's capable body. Such intrusions were ultimately strange, and, having become pass√© long ago even in the tired COD franchise, felt antiquated and defamatory to Halo's legacy of innovation. The shadow of Activision's behemoth multiplayer franchise looms large over Halo 4, and the game's campaign, and particularly its multiplayer, cannot escape.
Moving forward, 343 must understand that Halo needs to be Halo. They simply will never win over Call of Duty fans by mimicking Call of Duty's brand of attention-deficit success. Halo's two best multiplayer games, 2 & 3, were skill-based, incredibly challenging, and rewarded devoted gamers with a simple rank that reflected their actual ability. To reinvigorate the franchise, 343 must cater their game, first and foremost, to the diehard Halo fans that are still playing Halo 3 and Halo Reach to this day. Only then can they win back who they've alienated and actually compete with other FPS multiplayer games by differentiating itself from the pack. The series is an old horse at this point, but it needs to prove that the old ways are still viable, perhaps even superior.
In fundamentally moving away from what Halo is, especially in terms of multiplayer, Halo 4 ends up ranking last on my list.
Halo Reach is probably my least favorite narrative in the series. One of the main draws of Halo has always been The Chief. He is an iconic cypher for the gamer. Playing as a faceless, nameless rookie in a team of poorly written Bro-Spartans never resulted in anything interesting or sincere.
The multiplayer was good for a few months, when there was, for a brief time, a ranked playlist of sorts. But it eventually devolved into a frustrating free-for-all based on experience points and challenges, never really feeling as though anything was truly earned or significant. It still resulted in some good times, and I played it consistently for almost two years, but Reach, for me, was a far cry from the intensity and simplicity of my Halo 2 and Halo 3 adventures.
This was the first entry to reveal signs of Call of Duty's destructive influence.

I fondly remember my brief ODST days. I particularly remember the jazzy musical score, the (literally) darker tone, and the enjoyable, sometimes challenging horde-mode. It was a nice addendum to Halo 3, although an overpriced one, that neatly combined all previous Halo 3 multiplayer maps onto one disc.
It also told a fairly interesting story of a variety of soldiers lost and struggling to survive in a futuristic African mega-city.
A good game that pushed the Halo universe forward in a creative, beneficial way.
Halo Wars is a forgotten gem - a soft RTS-game created by the makes of Age of Empires. It was originally never supposed to be a Halo game, but the eventually debunked studio was coaxed into creating a Halo-centric RTS game by Microsoft. The result is surprisingly well-executed considering the circumstances. The new perspective coupled with the reimagined winning Halo gameplay formula offered consistent fun and some surprising insights into Halo canon.

While I have yet to complete this one, I'm happy to report it is one of the best Halo games in years. Like Halo Wars it reimagines the 15 seconds of fun on repeat that made the first Halo such a success, and creates a genuinely enjoyable, action packed top-down shooter that's wholeheartedly Halo. With stellar graphics, fairly intuitive touch-screen controls (though I recommend using a keyboard and mouse or purchasing it on a console), and a surprisingly deep suit of options, features, and customizations, Halo: Spartan Assault is a welcome addition to any fan's Halo library.

Now we're getting into the big guns, where it becomes increasingly difficult to decide which game ranks where. Halo 3's multiplayer took over my life. It was one of the most significant aspects of my every day from the day it was released in 2007 to the day Halo: Reach came out. The only reason it falls below Halo 1 and Halo 2 is the fact that I was so genuinely underwhelmed by the campaign.
It didn't help that I had just re-played and beaten Halo 2 days before beginning Halo 3. The visuals weren't much of an improvement (especially when compared to the shocking evolution between the first and second games), and the story felt far too brief and lacking in emotional depth.
The best part of Halo 3, aside from the intense multiplayer, was actually the ad-campaign for the game, which was so massive and genuinely exciting that it has never been matched by any game since. It was a true happening, an unprecedented media event that simply cannot be appreciated by the younger generation of gamers that wasn't there to experience it.

The trailers, TV spots, banners, merchandise, and promotions tapped directly into the Halo fan's consciousness, building anticipation more effectively than any prior entertainment release - and it set a record for most successful media release in the history of games, television or movies (the first game to do such a thing).
Perhaps this hype created unrealistic expectations, especially with regard to the campaign which played more as an aside than the true, emotional finale The Chief deserved.
I remember a feeling of instant disappointment when I took my first steps in that game - though, at the time, I refused to accept it. Though many fans hated the inclusion of The Arbiter as a playable character in 2, to see him reduced to little more than an NPC with a floating blue triangle over his head (a walking waypoint) was disheartening, and felt cheap.
The multiplayer more than made up for it though.
It shall haunt me for the rest of my days that I never managed to earn my 50 General Rank in Team Doubles or Lone Wolves. I think I made it to 47 or 48. We were true contenders, easily in the top 10% of the best in the world. When I think back to the countless hours I sunk into that beautiful game with my best friend and fellow Halo-Warrior, it's recalling some of the best days of my life. In those days multiplayer was very different from the loadout, perk, and experience-point-heavy extravaganza it is today.
Back then you lived and died, in real-life, with every win and loss. We felt the pain of our failures and the joy of our victories. With each hard-fought win, we watched our rank slowly creep upward, level after level. And it was harder to earn those ranks than it was to lose them.
A truly devastating, wonderful, and unforgettable experience.

This was one of the first genuinely mature games I ever played. It was the best first person shooter I had ever played and it ranks on the same list as those video game experiences that broadened my mind and ignited my imagination at an impressionable age: Ocarina of Time, Ico, Morrowind etc.
The first entry in the Halo series stands the test of time. It's one of those few, wonderfully crafted games that managed to create a unique, concrete world and an unforgettable tone. I never played the multiplayer (these were the days before Xbox Live if you can believe it), but the campaign will always stay with me, existing as the benchmark by which all others will inevitably be judged.
The story made no hackneyed attempts at drama or cheap emotionality. It simply spoke for itself, inviting you into a world of badassery, humor, and sci-fi magic.
343 would be wise to keep replaying that campaign, to understand that The Chief doesn't need to say or do too much to resonate with gamers, and tell an awesome, simple story of heroism.

Halo 2 was my first foray into serious online gaming. It is a milestone in my life for many reasons, beyond the undeniable excellence of the game itself (the campaign, even The Arbiter sections, was an epic, brilliant expansion of the first game's narrative).
It was the first video game that I was better at than my brothers. I will forever fondly remember the day both of them faced me in a multiplayer match on the Xbox. They were confident in their gaming ability, and I quickly demonstrated my knowledge of the nuances of all the guns and techniques, and destroyed them. It was well-earned after almost two-decades-worth of punishment in Mario Kart, Madden, GoldenEye and MVP Baseball. Finally there was a game that I knew better than my peers. I could demonstrate my skill and my unyielding passion for gaming, and even if I lost a match, it didn't both me because I was confident in my strengths.
This passion took me to college, where others in my dorm hall frequently played Halo 2. Unlike today's solo sessions where people communicate over headsets whilst sitting in other parts of the world, we actually had to share controllers and systems and sit in the same room and play on a four-player splitscreen.
It was how I met my best friend who I still play video games with almost every night. Today, we play Titanfall, the first game to capture our attention and reinvigorate our multiplayer passion since Halo 3.
For nearly ten years our love of Halo and games has bound us in a competitive spirit, our pursuit of multiplayer glory. For this reason alone, Halo 2 shall rank among my favorite in the series.
I sincerely hope magic shall strike again with the release of Halo 2 Anniversary or Halo 5.
Halo may be an old horse, but it's still got a few wins left in him.

Thanks for reading, and always finish the fight.


Be sure to follow on Twitter @MaximusWrestler

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