Green space marine or purple alien, who will triumph? Only careful study of the paint swatches' entrails will divine an answer.

Released: 30 September 2003
Developer: Bungie
Selected titles:
Marathon (1994)
Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997)
Oni (2001)

I'd be stupid not to know that putting this game here at all would possibly be a questionable decision. I'm stupid in enough other ways as it is, I don't need any more bloody mental impediments. Lots of people look back at this game very favourably, and even I do in some ways. I remember the first time I played the opening of The Silent Cartographer level on a demo Xbox in a store on its release, and being very, very impressed. The approach, the landing, the fight, the Warthog. The opening of The Silent Cartographer is far too good to be in this retrospective. The rest of Halo belongs.

A lot of games in these pieces are amply in debt to Halo, for better or worse. It brought a lot of new things to the mainstream. Smart checkpointing, I'm thankful for. Regenerating shields and two weapon slots worked for Halo, too, though I'm not entirely sure they have been a positive influence for FPSs. Halo's mechanics still feel fresh today, because they're still around in different forms today. The shooting is weighty and satisfying, the weapons solid and powerful; the vehicles are gorgeous (not too surprising considering its RTS roots) and when all these things are placed in the right setting like The Silent Cartographer, Halo is a great game.

Unfortunately, that's only part of Halo. The other, very substantial, piece is the level design and the pacing, which is plain offensive. Much of Halo is grey corridors separating cut-and-pasted grey rooms. Many levels are mazes, and you'll often find yourself lost and going in circles. The last third of the game is back-tracking, the same places you've been but in reverse. The concept is clever, because the scenery is the same but the scenario has changed after the release of The Flood - the once ascendant Covenant forces in a mad scramble to survive - but considering it means going backwards through the same identical grey the reality is a long, drawn out dirge. The low point is The Library, a snaking corridor full of respawning Flood that is the same hundred yards over and over for four floors and well over an hour of gameplay.

I played all the way to the sodding end. See?

The goal of Looking Back is to use the benefit of experience to recognise good games, and good game design, for what they are, while identifying flaws that have seemingly lessened with age. Inversely, experience lets us see the faults we were once willing to overlook, so in awe we were of then-impressive graphics and innovative features. Halo does not stand up well. Individual flourishes of brilliance are present, but strip away the wonderment of 2001 (or 2003 on PC) and we're left with what has always been a mediocre shooter.

Halo Gallery

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