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Blast From The Past
Blast From The Past: Halo: Combat Evolved

You might wonder why we’re doing a Blast From The Past on what could arguably be a game of this generation thanks to Microsoft and 343 Industries Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary being released just last year, but it’s safe to say that although Anniversary retained practically all of the originals features, it just didn’t have the same sense of wonderment that the 2001 Xbox original did.

Halo: Combat Evolved originally started out as a Mac RTS title, that is until Apple refused to continue their contract with young development studio Bungie, and Microsoft waded in to purchase the company. Under Microsoft’s wing Halo became Halo: Combat Evolved and was pushed to be the launch title for their newest venture – the Xbox. It’s arrival on the machine spelled more out for what Microsoft wanted to do to the gaming landscape, rather than what Bungie wanted to accomplish with its magnum opus.

The addition of Combat Evolved to the game’s title shows just how highly Microsoft valued this new IP. Halo wasn’t just going to be your standard run of the mill shooter, it was going to be even better than any other FPS game on any console – as many were sub standard affairs in comparison to their PC counterparts. Adding those two words to the end of the title, Bungie ushered in a new chapter into the world of modern gaming. Some say that appreciating the genius of Halo is giving Bungie too much credit – usually the same people who dislike Microsoft for essentially bullying their way into the gaming scene – but what Bungie did with Halo: Combat Evolved goes far beyond what anybody else was doing at the time.

Those first few moments of Halo: CE‘s story ease you into the game like almost no other, stepping out of the pod for the first time and testing out Master Chiefs reflexes not only introduce the player to a brand new way of playing a first person shooter on a console – utilising both sticks for look and movement. Those tentative first steps around the Pillar of Autumn are also there to introduce how advanced the AI was. Not only would UNSC marines run for cover and flank an enemy – as well as just bull rush in like idiots – but they would provide you with much needed support in some sections, and actually seemed to kill enemies. Halo’s antagonist group of unified alien races, known as the Covenant, also displayed highly advanced AI for 2001’s average shooter series – although as we already know Halo: Combat Evolved was no average shooter. Covenant would duck and dive behind cover, they would chuck grenades and flank your sides to kettle you in.

Despite its extended universe being brilliant, Halo: CE doesn’t convey its tale overly well, even if its campaign mode is utterly fantastic. It’s campaign is made all the more brilliant thanks to its addition of co-op multiplayer to the single-player campaign. Fighting your way through a ring planet with a buddy by your side created a sense of camaraderie unlike any other. Playing through on the once notoriously difficult Legendary difficulty with a friend not only meant you had back up if you died, but every inch you gained in a level meant you had shared an intense experience together and come out alive on the other side. What really helped this sense of bonding over a game were the set-pieces that Bungie laid out for you to enjoy and remember; the last level’s warthog driving section through an exploding Pillar of Autumn, and the humongous jump to safety was a nail biting affair. Even the first time you meet the flood, you’ll forever have that swirling swarm etched into your mind.

For 2001 Halo blew away everything you expected from a game, its weapons were perfectly balanced – something which meant that later releases had to innovate past perfection – its levels were gloriously self contained, its humour wonderfully bleak, and above all it’s gameplay was exquisitely solid. The launch of Microsoft’s big black box, and indeed it’s success that led to the creation of the Xbox 360, had a lot to owe Halo: Combat Evolved. If it wasn’t for Bungie’s title would Microsoft have ended up in the position it’s in now in the console world?

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