Have You Played… Halo: Combat Evolved?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

WHAT. How have we gone so long without mentioning Halo in ‘Have You Played’? Maybe because it’s such an obvious choice, a monster of both profit and influence. Every shooter since has something to owe Halo, for better or worse. Microsoft’s console expedition certainly has something to owe it, not that we care.

Some folks lament its impact on the genre, but I don’t mind. I adore Halo for the feeling of gunplay that Bungie still manage to pull off today (albeit with less novelty). Pop pop pop, chuck a grenade, take cover, reload, race across the opening, dive in a car, run over the aliens, dive out of the car, swap weapons with a gun on the floor, spray bullets everywhere, and aaaaghhhhhh that music.

You may hate that for years we were only allowed to hold two guns at a time, but when they put my body on the longboat and push it out to sea, I want everyone to smell the burning plastic of the Halo box that’s going up in flames with me.

56 Comments

  1. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I was waiting for the MasterChef Collection with all 3 Halo games to come out on PC to play it, seeing as I’m a completist and I’d hate to play one and then never be able to see the ending of the story. (Needless to say I missed the Halo boat at the time.)

    But that’s never actually going to happen, so I should probably suck it up and just play the original. I feel like I should from a pop culture perspective, and hey, I love a good late-90s/early-00s FPS anyway. Guess it would be too much to hope for it to appear on gog? :>

    • Vandelay says:

      Seems to be too much to ask for it to be released digitally at all, let alone through GoG.

      Not really sure why I have never played Halo, but I know I would if it popped up on an online store. Compared to the other big modern AAA FPS game series, Halo always held more interest with me. Sci-fi trumps mil-sim (even when it has a sci-fi sheen,) and it always seemed to use open combat areas that are my favoured style over narrow areas and hip high cover, as it normally comes with interesting AI and better environments.

      It is the only game that would encourage me to get an Xbox and I would love to see them all be available to buy from Steam or GoG.

  2. GallonOfAlan says:

    Played the PC version when it came out. As a seasoned PC FPS player I thought it was fairly good. The fact that the aliens were stolen wholesale from MDK was annoying. If you were a console-only player it was probably the best thing since sliced bread.

  3. CaptainHairy says:

    I’m not quite sure what it is, whether it’s the molasses-ass slow, floaty movement or hilariously unsatisfying, generic guns, but I’ve played 2 games in the Halo series a total of 3 times I think, and I spent the entire time wishing I was doing anything else.

    I have no real complaints about its effects on the genre as a whole, the regenerating shield, 2-gun and grenades trend has been largely neutral for me, but the actual moment to moment gameplay of Halo games always just felt SO bad.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Most of the series was distinctly average, but the first was very innovative, and overall good (though it dragged on with several long, obviously copy-pasted corridor slogs). Definitely more ‘important’ than particularly great.

  4. int says:

    Here’s my relationship with Halo:

    Awesome! Bungie is making a new game for PC/MAC!
    Cool! Third person, large area action game with vehicles!
    Xbox? What the fuck is an Xbox?
    Then I died. But I got better.

    And then I made this post.

    • dontnormally says:

      It was a Mac exclusive at first. It was even the keynote at one of the big Steve Jobs apple spectacles. And it was something closer to what Halo Wars turned out to be. Which makes sense, given they were coming from making the Myth games (RIP).

      • Janichsan says:

        It was a Mac exclusive at first.

        That’s quite a persistent myth. Halo was always supposed to be released simultaneously for Mac and Windows, like all other Bungie games of that era (Myth 1+2, Oni).

        I might have become a Mac exclusive title, if Apple had bought Bungie, as they had the opportunity at that time. But Jobs, who wasn’t too keen on games, hesitated too long.

  5. Treners says:

    First FPS I played on a computer (I am a youngling and also wasn’t allowed shooters as a small child). Loved it, still do, once got banned from a server for saying “crap”.

  6. Troubletcat says:

    Halo’s impact on the genre (for better or worse) can’t really be overstated. Before Halo, shooters on console were seen as a sick joke. Afterwards…

    Not so much.

  7. Bullett00th says:

    I don’t hate Halo for the 2 guns system.
    I don’t hate Halo for its influence on the industry.
    I don’t hate Halo as a game or as a series.

    I just found Combat Evolved to be an OK game with notes of greatness (the AI) and extensions of shittyness (the swarm or whatever they’re called and the terrible repetition of alien bases).

    Having tried it again much later my impressions haven’t changed. I SORTA understand how it was a breakthrough on consoles, but I never understood its praise as a shooter. It’s GOOD. But not legendary in my eyes.

    My attempt to get into the understanding of the appeal of console shooters during the PS2/XBOX era landed my heart at the feet of Black, which I consider to be one of the most satisfying FPS games in terms of gunplay, on ANY platform. It was monotonous as well, but I had much, much more fun playing it. Halo didn’t have half of that effect on me.

    • Treners says:

      Black was so good! Especially the sound design.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Most shooters on console were 20fps while Halo came in with better graphics than everyone else along with much higher fps (solid 60 I think). The gameplay was superior to most shooters at the time.

  8. thekelvingreen says:

    I played it, I thought it was dull with all the endless identical corridors, and I much preferred TimeSplitters.

    • Dorga says:

      I on the other hand was blown away by how open it was.

      • Minglefingler says:

        It was both open and repetitive. There were a lot of really impressive open areas but also loads of copy and pasted corridors broken up by the same room repeated over and over. I remember some reviews of it commenting on how there there was a tonne of repetition in some areas of the game.

        • colw00t says:

          Most of the second half of the game is the first half of the game except you’re going backwards through the level, so yeah it’s both open and repetitive.

          The enemy AI was great, though. Still fun to fight against.

  9. dystome says:

    This was the first game with which I had a properly good time playing online multiplayer against strangers.
    Plus I was a student, so I could stay up all night murdering Americans without having a pesky employer to complain about my sleep-deprived delirium the next morning. Happy days.

  10. Eightball says:

    I remember playing the single player demo (one campaign mission: The Silent Cartographer) over and over again. HIT EM MARINES!

  11. TotallyUseless says:

    Fun times, the only decent shooter of its time. Too bad its successors did not come to PC.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Lots of decent-to-good shooters came out around that time. AvP2, NOLF2, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Undying, Jedi Outcast, Timesplitters 2, etc.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Erm…

      link to amazon.co.uk

      Doesn’t work though, because of Microsoft’s stupid key registration via GFW:Live being turned off.

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      Mungrul says:

      Wait, wut?

      Someone obviously mustn’t have been a PC gamer in 2001.
      There were many great FPS games released in the same year as Halo, and if you’re accepting entries from the previous couple of years, you’re looking at giants such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament.
      And 2000 had Deus Ex and No-one Lives Forever!

      My favourite multiplayer game ever, the one I was good at to a truly competitive level was released in 2001, and it certainly wasn’t Halo.

      That was Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which I would argue re-invigorated interest in class based multiplayer all on its own. Its completely free successor, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory implemented levelling systems for multiplayer FPS games (not persistent then, but now you can’t play an online FPS without some form of levelling), and had something online FPS games to this day still don’t have: a series of maps making up a campaign.

      Simply put, I don’t think TF2 or Overwatch would have existed without RtCW.

      Then there were the more single player focused FPSes, like AvP2 from Monolith and Serious Sam: The First Encounter. Oh, and a little game called Codename: Outbreak, whose developers would go on to make S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

      Only decent shooter of the time, my arse!

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        Grizzly says:

        Battlefield 1 has series of maps making up campaigns, just FYI :-)

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          Mungrul says:

          Interesting. Only took the industry fourteen years to catch up.

          That’s if I studiously ignore Left 4 Dead. LALALALALA, CAN’T HEAR YOU!

      • MisterFurious says:

        “Someone obviously mustn’t have been a PC gamer in 2001”

        Yeah, everyone that thinks “Halo” is a good game. Console gamers at it up with a spoon because they didn’t know any better. PC gamers had played far better shooters. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that if it weren’t for the fact that the Halo fanboys were always flipping out on anyone that dared to not think that Halo was the greatest goddamn video game ever made.

    • CalvinCoolidge says:

      I played for a few hours. It reminded me of Unreal, but without anything resembling originality, fun, or things of interest.

    • Unclepauly says:

      3 trolls out of 10.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    About my only experience with this game is playing the split-screen multiplayer on Xbox. Which basically means my experience with this game was getting sniped from across the map by people who had played the game before me.

  13. ResonanceCascade says:

    Halo is a great, great game. The series really lost its way after the first one by focusing way too much on the daft plot instead of the mysterious atmosphere. And by abandoning the mostly excellent level design (granted, there are definitely shit parts) in favor of wait-for-the-magic-door-to-open arenas.

    The Silent Cartographer is such an incredible play space. The Warthogs are a blast. Lots of great weapons. And still perhaps the most satisfying FPS AI to play against (The HECU and bad guys from F.E.A.R bring up there as well. Halo CE is good stuff.

  14. Stargazer86 says:

    Halo was my first experience with the new gen at the time. Somebody brought it to a LAN party I was at and it blew my 15 year old mind. I was a Nintendo fanboy up until that point but Halo was just so new and novel to me that I just HAD to get an Xbox and I certainly did not regret it. Although my parents probably regretted the 400 dollar price point quite a bit. And I’m probably the only one that actually preferred the original fat Xbox controller over the slim model.

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    Nauallis says:

    Halo halo halo halo halo halo halo

  16. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    I don’t care much about its heritage, but I hated the game itself. I just can’t understand the appeal of Halo in a post Half-Life world. Every single thing it did was lifted from some other game or from movies, it was unbelievably repetitive -seriously, I can’t believe they got away with copypasting the same fucking level half a dozen times in a row, it couldn’t set on a tone to save its life, and overall it felt bland and boring as all hell.

    FURTHERMORE! This drivel was what Bungie dedicated all their forces to for decades, instead of expanding/remaking/serializing Oni, and I’ll never forgive them for that.

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      Nauallis says:

      This is a very bizarre complaint, that if something borrows heavily from other sources to make something fun, it is therefore deserving of derision. Half-Life was essentially a tremendously modded Quake, and has a plot that is derivative of Doom, but I expect that somebody will probably take offense to me pointing that out. Overwatch is just a Team Fortress clone with updated painting and fixtures, right?

      Borrowing is good, and it helps create new, fresh, fun games.

      • Kingseeker Camargo says:

        Borrowing is good, and it helps create new, fresh, fun games.

        Agreed. But it can also make a dull and repetitive experience feel unimaginative and derivative. Which is precisely what Halo felt like for me: On its own it was already boring to play and every map looked exactly the same (I’m pretty sure they *were* exactly the same), and most of what I was seeing and hearing had been done much better in other games/movies.

        The first time I saw the giant ring in the sky was pretty cool, though, I’ll give it that.

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          Nauallis says:

          Fair enough, and you did point out that your problem was with specific design issues for Halo. Maybe a little unfair of me to cherry-pick one particular thing you mentioned.

          Halo did have six levels that were very similar: the eighth being a reskinned reversal of the fifth at night, and the ninth and tenth levels featuring parts of the third and first levels, respectively, for story purposes, but otherwise being their own maps.

        • Renegade says:

          The better comparison would be Half-Life 2 and Halo 2, both games came out in November 2004. While i really enjoyed the first halo the second one was very underwhelming when i got around to playing it. Compared to what HL2 to had brought to FPS games i couldn’t see the fuss about it.

      • fuggles says:

        Hey, half life had an actual credited writer in their story!

        Half life’s story was pretty good. I can remember the plot of most FPS, but not halo. It had a flood and something blew up whilst you drove out in a jeep at the end. Maybe the halo blew up? Something to do with the bootleg skaarj, I imagine?

  17. FredSaberhagen says:

    There were a number of sections you could stealth despite not being designed for it (not talking about clobbering the sleeping guys). I spent hours on silent cartographer observing enemy patrol patterns from behind a rock… inevitably it goes to shit and out come the grenades.

  18. fuggles says:

    Because it’s not a very good pc shooter. It has at best alright ai and copy and pasted rooms which go on forever.

    On console I’m sure it was splendid and was obviously influential, for better or worse. It’s just there were much better pc shooters at the time.

  19. poliovaccine says:

    For a period of like a year or so, if I wanted to hang out with any of my male friends after school, I’d better have been ready for some Halo.

    I never had a console of my own, but I played so much Halo CTF at friends’ houses that I actually got *good* at it. That’s how much they insisted we play it.

    I didnt mind terribly – enjoyed it more and more proportionately to my ability to stomp ass at capture the flag. I did find the hugeness of its success a little surprising, I guess, cus I didnt really recognize the two-guns and regenerating-shields thing as being such an enormous evolution in gameplay (or, eum, combat), but I guess it being one of the few worthy titles on the new console at the time had something to do with it. Beyond that, though, whatever makes it so special has always eluded me.

  20. Janichsan says:

    Yes, I played Halo and liked it – up to the point where the Flood became the main enemy and the game turned into a boring, mindless zombie shooter.

    However, a relatively recent attempt to play it again made clear to me that the game has aged quite badly.

  21. Carra says:

    I played the PC version a few months after playing Half Life 2. I was not impressed.

  22. malkav11 says:

    I played a good chunk of it (and a little bit of a couple of subsequent games). Not a huge fan. I liked the setting and the lore a great deal – always have found Bungie to be good at this whole storytelling business (when they don’t madly stick the story in a website instead of the game) but the guns and enemies weren’t terribly interesting, and you are executing basically the same gameplay loop with the same weapons and same enemies over and over throughout the game and, to a surprising extent, throughout the series. Which wouldn’t be for me even if the repeated guns and enemies -were- creative and consistently interesting, which they are not.

    And then it became a giant success and had a whole series of terrible effects on the industry:
    1) Locking Bungie into making more Halo and only more Halo for many years, instead of iterating on other, more compelling franchises they created (Marathon, Myth, Oni, even Pathways into Darkness) or continuing to create new and cool things. And then when they finally broke free…they made Destiny, which is basically Halo as semi-MMO, far as I can tell. Again, cool setting, but…come on! They used to be a lot more varied.
    2) Introducing (or at least popularizing) the godawful two-weapon limit to the genre. It was a bad idea in Halo, failing to execute its supposed purpose, and it’s been far, far worse in other games that just cargo-culted it without even trying to have a specific purpose. (I like the regenerating shields/health thing, though, so no complaint about that.)
    3) Convincing people that the FPS should be a console genre. Yes, Halo’s gamepad controls represented a quasi-viable solution to the interface problem, certainly much more so than previous attempts, but that doesn’t make gamepads the optimal control scheme for the genre, or even that pleasant to use for it, and console-only shooters should never, ever have been a thing. Halo made that happen.

  23. nimbulan says:

    The biggest thing I always remember about Halo, besides how repetitive some of the levels are (seriously the level designers copy-pasted as much as Bethesda did in Oblivion) is the music. It’s the first time I remember being really impressed with the music in a game since the chiptune era. The game’s pretty fun too, despite its terrible legacies of regenerating health, the broken game difficulty that comes with it, and the normalization of FPS on consoles.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Yeah, the soundtrack was great. Pretty good on it’s own, particularly good as it’s placed in the game.

  24. bill says:

    It was nice and shiny at the time, and they did indeed do a great job making an FPS control well on a controller.

    The enemy AI was good and it made the combat encounters seem interesting. The outside vistas were impressive and the vehicles were fun to drive. It also did a good job making you feel badass.

    Unfortunately, as many others have mentioned, the interior level design was god-awful, and basically consisted of the same room repeated endlessly. You also got the same bridge repeated endlessly if I recall.

    I don’t hold a grudge against it, but I do think it’s just “quite good” as its flaws chip away at the things it did well.

    And, while this isn’t really it’s fault for being successful, it was the start of the rise of the console shooter, which meant we went from interesting navigation around 3d spaces to moving slowly around mostly horizontal planes.

  25. buzzmong says:

    Played a lot on the Xbox originally and it is a good game, even amongst PC FPS’s of the era.
    The sequels were generally rubbish, especially #2.

    The PC port of #1 was decent, but the gunplay was geared towards the controller and mouse+Kb made a mockery of it.

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    MajorLag says:

    I was in a Myth II order back then, so I was pretty excited for Halo as originally conceived, and then Microsoft happened. Next thing I know, they’ve released a pretty bland FPS as an XBox exclusive and the kids loved it. I still have no idea why.

    I played it once, and it was mediocre as hell. I actually liked the two-gun limit and the whole regenerating shield thing was ok too, but the maps were uninspired at best and copy-pasted at worst, the AI was retarded, and not a single weapon was memorable to me. Then I got to the flood and promptly stopped playing.

  27. skyst says:

    Halo has a special place in the hearts of those now around 30 years of age, give or take. If you were in highschool or college during the time of Halo and were not a complete PC gaming hermit, you played some Halo. We had Half-Life, we had Unreal Tournament, but those 4 Xbox lan parties circa 2002 were damn special.

  28. mactier says:

    Halo was a game that really early got a “timeless”, “modern” look right.

    I will also accidentally mention the really excellent colour scheme (choosing the right tone for light and energy effects, textures, environments). It’s a subtle thing that I bet is a rare feat.

  29. HumpX says:

    People tend to forget the state of gaming when Halo came out. Storylines were incredibly simplistic. Graphics tended to be the star attraction for games of that period. Other than Half-Life 1, Combat Evolved was a HUGE forward step in gaming. Besides having cutting edge graphics, the storyline played out like a cinematic feature rather than a reason that you’re shooting aliens in the head to further your character. CE’s storyline still holds up for the most part which is more than I can say for games less than half its age.

    • malkav11 says:

      It’s narratively underwhelming next to most of the other games Bungie had put out by that point, particularly the Marathon trilogy (a few elements of which make appearances in Halo, though they’re not officially connected and, as I say, Halo has far less story to it). It’s also much less mechanically innovative than the Marathon games. And that’s just comparing it to the work of its own creators. If you branch out, it was preceded by things like Deus Ex, System Shock (and sequel), No One Lives Forever, various Build engine games, Clive Barker’s Undying, the original Jedi Knight, Operation Flashpoint, and so on. It wasn’t a huge step forward for the genre, much less for gaming. I sincerely doubt it would have been particularly remembered today if it hadn’t been such a revolution in terms of control quality for the console FPS, and it hadn’t had quality multiplayer w/ online support just as that was becoming a big selling point on consoles. Certainly it didn’t take off on PC.

  30. Faren22 says:

    I’ll always have fond memories of Halo: CE. Specifically, Halo: Trial for the PC, which even in its demo had online multiplayer capability. As broke teenagers in the computer club, it was our only option.

    With no copy protection it was pretty easy to mod, too. You could tweak the projectiles so the assault rifle would fire massive strings of plasma grenades.

    The campaign was pretty underwhelming in parts, though it set the stage for a surprisingly cerebral universe.