The Halo franchise is responsible for a lot of things we’ve come to despise: pre-teen fanboys cursing over Xbox Live, the infamous ‘teabag,’ and the nagging feeling that Peter Jackson’s film adaptation will never happen. With the anniversary remake of Halo: Combat Evolved arriving on store shelves next week, we take a look back at the franchise and remember the features and innovations that made the multi-million dollar franchise so influential. Some things on this list are small tweaks and others are big game-changers, but they’ve all had a significant influence on the feel and play of first-person shooters today.
Although Bungie quickly became a household name kind of developer, they still very much had the heart of an independent studio often including easter eggs and their wry sense of humor throughout the games. In anticipation of their release of Halo 2, Bungie designed an innovative viral marking scheme that included an Alternative Reality Gaming project called “I Love Bees.” The project had gamers getting out of their mom’s basements and answering the phone calls of pay phones all across the country, answering pre-recorded questions about an upcoming alien invasion. This kind of risk-taking, genre-mixing was the first of its kind and is especially rare in a high-profile franchise like Halo.
While the original Halo only dipped its toe with regenerating shields, Halo 2 introduced the full-fledged regenerating health bar with no health packs necessary. Although Bungie wasn’t the first to use this system of health bar, it was certainly the first to use it in both a first-person shooter and a competitive multiplayer setting. Although Bungie would later return to the health bars of the original Halo, it became integrated into almost all first-person shooters including popular franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield.
Xbox Live, Microsoft’s premiere online gaming service, became the backbone for the Halo franchise with the release of Halo 2 in 2004. Built ground up for Xbox Live, Halo 2 and the following installments in the franchise became the shining stars of the online service and were the prime examples of one of the first balanced and fluid matchmaking program that encouraged legitimate competition to grow in its community. Just about every game that features some kind of online matchmaking program by match type owes something to Halo 2’s original system.
Because the left trigger no longer had to be used for zooming in, Bungie was free to make another part of the combat gameplay more accessible. Like it did with the beat down, Halo did not invent the use of grenades in multiplayer shooters, but it did make them a more viable combat tool. The days of cycling through your weapons until you finally got to your grenades were over and would never return.
This one, while incredibly smart, is more of a small tweak. Allowing players using the dual stick method of aiming (a relatively new introduction to first-person games) to zoom in with the same device they use to aim was one of the many small tweaks Bungie added on to the console-shooter formula. More importantly, however, it opened up another button that could be used for the next important innovation.
The melee attack has always been a staple of the Halo franchise, being one the first to make it an essential part of its gameplay. In the original Halo, every gun had a ‘beat down,’ which turned into a one-hit kill when approached from behind. Without Halo’s innovative beat downs, this element wouldn’t have featured in future games (i.e. Call Of Duty’s knives).
Who could forget all those late nights playing capture the flag with their buddies? While single player was fun, the original Halo was all about multiplayer. At a time when console shooters were focused on never-ending options, modes, and AI bots to fight against (i.e. Perfect Dark); Halo provided only a small amount of modes and no bots whatsoever. Before Xbox Live existed, the game’s developer Microsoft successfully brought system link capabilities over to the Xbox so that 8 players could link their consoles via Ethernet cables and play together.
While this wasn’t an innovation that caught on with future games, in the original Halo, they made for some fun physics-based gameplay. Flipping tanks, seeing how high you could make warthogs fly—did you really have anything better to do in middle school?
Were you one of those kids that always wondered how James Bond could carry around ten weapons at once when the arsenal included guns like the rocket launcher and various machine guns? When the franchise launched in 2001, the limitation in Halo to only being able to carry two weapons at once was seen as controversial and a bit of a disadvantage at first. However, in the long run it came to completely change the way game developers thought about player choice and strategy in first-person shooters. All of a sudden, whatever gun you picked up was as just important as how good you were at shooting it.