The lights are on
Master Chief became a gaming icon after his debut in November 2001 on the first Xbox. Since then, the green-armored space soldier and his comrades in arms have continued fighting universal evils across all Microsoft’s platforms. Today, 343 Industry announced Halo 5: Guardians for the Xbox One, and to mark the occasion we’re looking back at the trail blazed from Combat Evolved to now.
Halo: Combat Evolved
Bungie’s original Xbox title breathed new life into the console first-person shooter space. The sci-fi epic included colorful, sprawling sci-fi worlds, rechargeable shields, memorable vehicle sections, and the best FPS co-op available on consoles. Combat Evolved could’ve carved itself a place in history with these campaign features alone, but Bungie also delivered the best console FPS multiplayer since Rare’s N64 titles. Highly customizable local 4-player multiplayer matches could be turned into huge affairs with Halo’s system link feature. This seminal title established pillars in the series and the FPS genre that stands strong today. It’s also difficult to say how successful Microsoft’s consoles’ would’ve fared without Bungie’s ingenuity.
This sequel not only preserved everything that made its predecessor great, but also improved on it all. One minor, but fun, improvement allowed players to dual wield specific weapons like the all-new SMGs. Halo 2 also replaced co-op’s Master Chief carbon copy with a new Covenant character, the Arbiter. Perhaps most importantly, Halo 2 allowed players to officially bring the fight online with the burgeoning Xbox Live service. The slick matchmaking and wide variety of maps helped cement the series as a longstanding contender in the competitive multiplayer space.
Master Chief made the leap to a new generation of consoles in the third entry of the Halo series. The Xbox 360 took the reliable, beloved FPS formula made everything much prettier while increasing co-op from two players to four. Bungie also wrapped up the Master Chief’s original trilogy, with the rest of the studio’s games focusing on other characters peripherally related to his tale. Halo 3 also integrated new multiplayer features, including replays and the Forge which allows players to customize maps. Xbox Live came into its own on the 360, and Halo 3’s satisfying multiplayer played a large role in that.
Halo Wars marks a series of firsts for the iconic shooter series. One, it swapped out first-person gunplay for overhead, real-time strategy battles. It was also developed by Ensemble Studios instead of Bungie. Halo Wars had an uphill battle ahead of it. Not only was it a drastic genre departure, but real-time strategies seldom worked well on consoles up to that point. Ensemble Studios surprised gamers with a solid, streamlined, Halo-themed RTS experience that worked well with a controller.
Halo 3: ODST
Originally titled Halo 3: Recon, this spin-off was initially planned to be an expansion for Halo 3. The game evolved into a full retail release about a group of orbital drop ship troopers who were separated upon landing on a planet’s surface. Player perspective shifts between these wayward troopers as they attempt to join up once again. ODST also introduced Firefight, a fun, cooperative hoard mode where four players fend off waves of incoming Covenant forces.
The first prequel in the Halos series, Reach focuses on a squad of Spartan-IIIs making its last stands on a planet being overrun by Covenant forces. It also injects outer space star fighter dogfights into the mix. Perhaps most importantly, ODST marks one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of the series’ multiplayer. A variety of loadouts dramatically changed the way players could approach battle, including jetpacks, sprinting, and powerful personal shields that could disable vehicles.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
This high-definition Xbox 360 update to the original game was a joint project by Saber Interactive, Certain Affinity, and 343 Industries (the latter would eventually pick up the the Halo mantle). This impressive remake of Halo: Combat Evolved is the fruits of those studio's collaborative efforts. Players could play through Master Chief’s original mission while marveling at the updated visuals (though they were free to swap in the original graphics on the fly). Unfortunately, the multiplayer mode was based on Bungie's Halo: Reach’s engine rather than the beloved original formula, which made the nostalgic update feel a bit off.
Halo 4, the beginning of the Forerunner Trilogy, marks both 343 Industries’ first original entry in the series and the awaited return of gaming icon Master Chief. 343 preserved the gameplay that fans fell in love with over the years while approaching campaign storytelling with renewed vigor. The developer injected more emotion into the stoic Master Chief while telling a dramatic tale about the A.I. Cortana’s fate and ancient aliens named the Promethians. Multiplayer received a Call of Duty-inspired leveling structure with weapon unlocks and perks. 343 also integrated free, story-expanding episodic co-op missions with Spartan Ops.
Halo: Spartan Assault
Similar to Halo Wars, Spartan Assault set aside the original FPS framework for a new genre. Players controlled their powerful Spartans with a dual-analog stick scheme. Originally released on Windows Phones using virtual analog sticks, Spartan Assault was later ported to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Trading out touchscreen thumbsticks for the genuine article couldn’t save this arcade-inspired shooter from a lukewarm reception.
Halo 5: Guardians
The studio behind Halo 4 has proven their ability to run with the legendary series forged by Bungie. So far, all we know about Halo 5: Guardians is that it will continue Master Chief’s role in the Forerunner Trilogy and that he’s joined by a new male character. The future remains bright for 343 Industries and Master Chief himself.
For a more story-focused look back on Halo's story leading up to Halo 4, read this article by loremaster Matt Miller.