Halo: A Case of Right Place, Right Time?

I’ve kept quiet for long enough on this subject. I find it difficult to speak about, simply because the total onslaught of opposition I have on the topic. It’s no surprise to anyone that a good portion of video gamers are ridiculously devoted to certain games, to the point where they would defend them, even in the face of indisputable evidence that a certain feature was poor in comparison to another. Some of them are ‘fan boys’; some are people who genuinely enjoy the game, and some are just jumping on the bandwagon because they love a good bit of mindless devotion. It’s for these reasons that I tentatively approach the subject of one of the world’s biggest first person shooters: Halo.

The Halo series is, simply put, one of the most popular games of all time and has achieved not only a world wide following, but allegedly a certain level of perfection amongst the gaming community. For a long time I refused to believe it. If ever asked what I thought of the series, or if someone began talking about it, I’d immediately feel compelled to argue what a poor title it was. The problem with this was that my experience was limited to Halo: Combat Evolved and half of Halo 2 (I got bored, and played on my Wii instead).

Being a decent human being, I didn’t extend my thoughts and opinions past that point, knowing full well that the latter games may appeal to me if the quality improved (not that I thought it could get much worse) and, after the release of Halo: Reach, I took it upon myself to play through the entire series again, for two reasons. The first was to see if perhaps revisiting the early games would give me a different reaction than my initial findings, and the second was so that I could give a definitive opinion on the whole of the Halo franchise. After playing through Halo 1-3, ODST and Reach, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that If I never ever play Halo again I will die a happy gamer.

Yes, I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it at all, and even that is a massive understatement. I pushed through wave after wave of Covenant and Flood to come to the conclusion that this is one of the most over-appreciated games series I’ve ever come across. I wouldn’t mind so much if people didn’t heap constant praise on all of them for their “contributions to first person shooters” and how they helped “redefine a genre that didn’t know it needed redefining”.  Now, I don’t know what moron was responsible for the latter quote – I happened to come across it whilst browsing Wikipedia – but the very essence of this statement makes me want to smash my own head in.

To start with… the genre itself, I would argue, was already going through a redefinition of what it actually was and was brought about three years prior to Halo: Combat Evolved, by Half Life. Regarded as one of the finest examples of the genre, even by today’s standards, Half Life showed us that a first person shooter can be about more than just gameplay, but can also focus on an immersive plot, involve detailed and varied environments, as well as useful non combatant AI. It demonstrated that it isn’t necessarily the gameplay itself that matters but what the gameplay revolves around; something that had been considered an afterthought prior to its release. I would also argue that the original Halo took some of its cues straight from Half Life rather then defining the genre itself. I appreciate that there will always be a case for one game learning from another in order to better itself, but it’s important to understand where the original creativity came from. Everyone’s quick to label certain first person shooters as Halo clones, due to the god awful template they follow, so it’s equally important that we appreciate where Halo’s roots stem from.

During this recent playthrough of the Halo series, it also struck me how bland and repetitive the levels were,  and I can concede that ODST and Reach did improve on this, but for at least the first three titles, the stages just seemed to merge into one. If you showed me a screen shot, even from a specific part of one of the games, I’d likely be unable to tell you which one it was from. In fact I’m pretty certain that Halo 2 and 3 have just merged into one large grey / green mass in my mind; the levels seems to follow a simple design of open area and closed areas and while I understand that most games do have a mix of this, it just seems so forced rather than something that flows naturally. It just seems that every time we need to get somewhere new, it’s just an excuse to go outside and have to fight a total onslaught of vehicles, usually aided by a Warthog… a Jeep that the UNSC decided needed to have springs installed on its base so that it gave an effect similar to Flubber hitting a wall every time it hits a bump, which is totally helpful when facing down a Wraith and multiple Banshees, Choppers or Spectres. To focus more specifically on the levels themselves, however, they appear to be nothing more than a repeat of what’s come before; every single interior of a ground based building is grey. The exterior is grey. The area leading up to it is either sand or grass. The lack of features, detail and general content on the inside is shocking, unless it’s a plot-specific area, and then it’s simply littered with all kinds of crap you don’t need. Generally I consider the aesthetics and variety of the levels to be poor for such a highly regarded game, although it seems that ODST and Reach picked up on this, and actually had some slight variance to it’s interior areas.

Another thing that confounds me is the combat. With a name like “Combat Evolved” I’d expected something, well, evolved. Instead I was treated to the most boring and repetitive combat I have come across since I played Timeshift, and even that had the ability to manipulate time to make up for it! Fighting in Halo boils down to one of three things: if you’re fighting the Covenant in an open space, you simply have to take out a ranged weapon and pick them off. They won’t come near you, they won’t fire back, and they’ll eventually just get taken out… once you’ve got through their shields, oh how I hate thee regenerating health. When there are vehicles involved, it literally becomes a case of pot luck whether you manage to live through the odds that are stacked heavily against you whereas indoors, it’s a simple case of waiting them out, as they rarely come looking for you. The fact that you also have regenerating shields just makes the whole thing a waiting game.  If you have to engage the Flood, it’s an exercise of back tracking while firing, as they have a habit of just throwing themselves at you, regardless of what’s going on, making them extremely easy to kill and more of an inconvenience then anything else.

The problems with the combat don’t end there either. For the majority of Halo you’ll play as the Master Chief, the last of the Spartans, and labelled as humanity’s last hope, it falls upon the shoulders of a man who can only carry two weapons at any one time to save mankind. Well I’m relieved. For a minute there I thought we were fucked. This is ridiculous. This is the future; we’re fighting aliens, I’m driving a trampoline on wheels, I’ve got an artificial intelligence plugged into the back of my head, and yet carrying a rifle and a pistol is my limit. I won’t hear any arguments about realism. If the protagonist is some super-soldier then I should be able to carry whatever the fuck I want, when I want. The whole two weapon system stifles the gameplay so heavily because you literally have to have a long range weapon if you want to survive an encounter with a large number of enemies, and the number of short range weapons is so high, that some are woefully underused or forgotten.

My concerns continue with the feel for the combat itself. Despite the fact we are in the future, all the weapons appear to be both weak and under-powered. The shotgun feels more like a loudcracker that fires, what I can only assume is more of a minor nasal irritant than shotgun shells and the opposition, on occasion, stumbles back, somewhat confused by this sudden change in odour. It doesn’t feel like I’m handling a weapon from the future though, and the machine guns and rifles feel and sound ridiculous, to the point where I may as well grab a hose and spray them with water for all the effect it’s having. A first person shooter should (routinely at least) empower the player when using the weapon, rather than make them feel like they would be better off using their fists.

That said, when you do have to get up close to the opposition, you have a melee attack, which I can only describe as looking like a nervous jerk rather than someone who wants to hurt a murderous alien race. A melee attack should flow, as it comes from the arms in a swing or push movement with the weight of the body behind it, as opposed to someone who’s receiving electric shock therapy.

Halo was a launch title for one of the most anticipated consoles of all time; it had a cooperative campaign, supported sixteen player LAN multiplayer, and generally marked an important step in video gaming with consoles finally being able to compete with PCs in the first person shooter genre. My theory is that Halo’s short comings were massively overlooked in the face of the fact that this a first person shooter for a console, and one that offered the sort of experience that PC gamers had only been able to experience until that time, and although Goldeneye and Perfect Dark are also of a high quality, they could only offer four player multiplayer. I genuinely believe that Halo literally arrived at the right moment to receive a reception that it does not fully deserve. There were simply better games out there, such as Perfect Dark, Medal of Honour, and Timesplitters to name a few, none of which were in the position that Halo was at the time of release.

Overall, I can’t explain the phenomenon that is the Halo franchise. I can concede a slight improvement in Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach, but I think that’s due to a much better story line, and a more dramatic feel to the proceedings at hand. I can’t see why people regard Halo as being a perfect example of the first person shooter genre because, for me, it’s one of the worst.  So the real question in the face of all this, is if I’m right then why does the series always score so high? Why is it one of the biggest games of all time? To quote a phrase from an equally highly regarded game:

“The right man in the wrong place, can make all the difference in the world”

Last five articles by Chris



  1. wcd45 says:

    I really can’t decide is this is one long joke, to be honest when you said you put down the controller and then played on your wii I nearly stopped reading.

    Halo is more than 10 years old, has spanned two consoles, is the sole reason that xbox live is the great service that it is today and it proved that an FPS can work well on a console. Kindly watch this video and you may gleam some understanding, you can skip the first ten minutes unless you want to hear about Bungie’s first games: http://www.youtube.com/user/Bungie?blend=1&ob=4

    Now to deal with your complaints:
    1) Your comparison to Half Life – quick question did Half life come out on a Home console before Halo? The answer is no, half life was ported to the PS2 after Halo was released. Yes Half life came out three years earlier but it was meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse not a controller.
    2) Bland and repetitive levels, not gonna argure this one for Halo CE but as it’s a decade old and processing power was a little more limited back then I’m willing to forgive it. On Halo 2 and 3 while I agree that a lot of the levels are simply go from point A to B killing every enemy in your path, is this not the same for almost every FPS game ever made?
    3) The AI, this one I cannot believe you are complaining about, have you played other modern shooters? You know the ones who still use monster closets to spawn enemies at you until get past a certain point in the map. I’m not sure what difficulty you were playing on (I’m guessing easy) but once you get to Heroic it’s a different ball game. As for the flood the idea is to give you something different to fight, although I will concede that I for one find them a little tedious.
    4) Only being allowed to carry two guns, this is where combat evolved comes in and this is the feature that has been picked up by soo many other games. It adds a sense of realism (yes i know its in space) as you can only carry a limitied amount of ammo for those two weapons, and it actually forces you to think about what may come up against further on in the level. So holding onto that rocket launcher with only one rocket left may not be as useful as taking fully loaded AR as your second weapon
    5.) Weapons not feeling powerful enough, I’m sorry if you were referring to the God cannon from CE or the all powerful BR from Halo 2 and 3 then, to put it simply, you don’t understand how to use them effectively.
    6.) You’re not wrong about the melee attack, although this was sorted for Reach.
    7.) As for the launch title watch the video I put at the top and you might change your mind.
    8.) You mention that you think things improved with Reach, which is interesting as most of the Hardcore Halo fans felt it was a bit of a letdown.

    But my biggest issue is that not once, anywhere in your article did you mention the music, which is one of the unique things about Halo. From the choir of monks in the loading screen of CE to the solo saxophone of ODST, Marty O’Donnell crafts a beautiful score that only increases the gamer’s experience.

    I suppose I could have said that this is just your opinion and I think it’s completely wrong but I felt, as I had such a different opinion, that I should try and explain why I think you are wrong. In the end some games just don’t agree with some people but to bash a game you clearly don’t understand is just plain rude.

  2. Colin O says:


    Plus, if you think ODST or Reach were improvements, you should stop writing about and critiquing video games altogether. That is, unless you are referring to SP, in which case, you should still stop writing about video games, because Halo was incredibly popular because of it’s MULTIPLAYER. Bungie narrowed the skill gap with the more recent iterations, driving any competitively driven gamers away (the ones who played every day and purchased multiple copies to play with their friends).

  3. JamesFredd says:

    I Wholly agree the Halo Series was over-hyped, the levels were very repetitive, and there wasn’t much detail. And yet I was still able to enjoy it. And this is coming from a avid Valve gamer who has played Half-Life(+2) who has played Sven-Coop/Counter-Stike(+Source/+ A little bit of 1.6)/Opposing Force/Blue Shift/Team Fortress(+2)/L4D(+2) Ect. Ect.

    So basically I believe it was made for all the people who, here in a few days, will buy MW3 over BF3. AND there are alot(ALOT) of people who I know already have their sights on doing so.

  4. JamesFredd says:

    Sorry, double post. To answer the title of this review, Yes it was the right place, right time. Halo emerged at the dawn of the Sex-box (XBox), and just happened to become popular because it was the most fun to play on the Sex-box. But its really just plain crap for the PC or gamers looking for a serious challenge- I would guess.

    *Side Comment- And hey, this sight takes Gravatar, amazing!*

  5. Chris Chris says:

    Blimey. I’ll try and cover all the feedback in one post :)

    wcd45: You’ve confused me at some points but here we go.

    1) I wasn’t saying that Half Life came out on the console before Halo. I was stating that Half Life was already putting the FPS as a genre through an evolution.
    2) You agree with me on the repetitive levels, but not on the A > B of killing. No it’s not the same for every FPS. Some FPS games have puzzles, others have dialogue with some actual substance, others have interesting quirks or features. So no, not every FPS is just a killing spree from A to B
    3) Have I played other Modern Shooters. Yes, thanks. Hundreds of them. I’ve been playing ‘shooters’ in fact for the last 23 years. I played a couple of Heroic and a couple on normal. You’ll have to forgive me for forgetting which. I don’t play games on easy. It removes the challenge. I experimented with different difficulty levels to see if there was any change. I didn’t really see any. Glad you agree the flood were tedious.
    4) “Two weapons is realism (yes I know it’s set in space)” That’s a great contradiction. I understand the premise behind holding onto two weapons. It certainly didn’t suit the game or the combat imo.
    5) I don’t know how to use a weapon? Great counter argument. I wasn’t referring to the strength of the weapon but how they feel. Look beyond what you’re actually doing. Does the game empower you? Does it make you feel like you’re actually some bad ass called Master Chief. No. It doesn’t.
    6) Glad we agreed.
    7) Will do when I can fit it in :)
    8) I felt Reach just really punched home on the storyline and the scale of things.

    All interesting points raised. Please don’t think of me as some hapless idiot who doesn’t understand games. That would have been someone who pointlessly just bashed them without playing them. I actually took the time to rent these games and form an opinion, which as I’m sure you can imagine is much more than most of the opinions on the internet can argue.

    I’ll concede I didn’t say anything about the sound and for that I apologise. As a great lover of ALL types of music (from pop and rock to classical and trance) I’ll happily admit that sound in Halo was pitch perfect. It has become synonymous in the industry. Certainly one of it’s high points for me.

    Please don’t think I just bashed the game because I thought it would be fun. This is honestly my opinion. I doubt everyone who ever played Halo enjoyed it. You just don’t hear many people actually saying it. I chose to :)

    Thanks for taking the time to reply in such detail. I actually enjoy feedback (when it’s constructive).

  6. Chris Chris says:

    Colin O:

    A perfect example of balanced feedback *rolls eyes*


    Thanks for that. It cleared the matter up entirely. I’m converted. I’ll now spend all my time playing Halo and will stop critiquing and writing about video games as you so humbly suggest.

  7. Chris Chris says:



    Thanks dude. Appreciate the feedback!

  8. Edward Edward says:

    You know, I’ve thought about this article for a fair bit, and I have to admit that I’m actually inclined to agree with you.
    My first experience with the series was with Halo 2, and I didn’t really enjoy it that much. I didn’t mind the first one despite the fact my computer couldn’t run it properly, and the third one was a bit dreadful apart from the multiplayer (which I actually appreciate above things like Call of Duty because it at least tries to be balanced). Reach I have to admit I played a few levels of and enjoyed, but I never felt much need to go back to it after.
    The thing is that you’re completely right about it being a case of “right place, right time”. Sans the music, there wasn’t really anything THAT special about the game other than Microsoft throwing a big campaign behind it and telling people it was a massive deal. Yeah, it’s not a bad game by any stretch, but it’s not the masterpiece of videogaming it’s hyped it to be.

    I liked this. It was well reasoned, well argued, and you showed that you actually made the effort to appreciate the series and defended yourself with conviction. This was a pretty awesome article, Chris :)

  9. Chris Chris says:

    Cheers dude. Appreciated :)

  10. John says:

    I think the issue I always had with Halo is that I could always find something I would rather play.

    Space RPG – Kotor or anything SW related

    Multiplayer FPS – BF2

    SP FPS – COD

    And even then I had several other genres I would play happily before Halo.

    Quick story before bed.

    I once took a whole box of games to gamestation and got a trade in value of £300. The guy said he would do a deal for a 360 with 2 controllers, forza 2, GoW and Halo 3.

    I took the deal but swapped Halo for controller batteries and a headset.

    This is how shockingly awful I think Halo is.

    Anything it brings to the table has been done better previously and afterward from plot to script to graphics to gameplay.

    The only thing Halo had going for it was that it had zero competition and a rich backing.

    It’s the Chelsea FC of computer games.

  11. FC360 says:

    As the halo series is the only fps series of games I have all the games from I have to disagree with this, although there might have been bits in the last half I might have agreed with I didn’t continue reading the rest of the article. I throughly enjoyed the games and am looking forward to the remake coming out in a few days :) if I didn’t have the original halo I would have got rid of my Xbox a few weeks after I got it and would never have purchased a Xbox 360.

  12. [...] Chris puts forward a good case [...]

  13. Keegan Keegan says:

    So, I’m a little late to the party, but I feel pretty strongly about this.

    I definitely agree that HALO is one of the most overrated and dissatisfying shooter experiences I’ve had the misfortune to play. When I sat down to play the games I was actually a little excited – this series was legendary and I was writing a blight on my so called gaming career. After only a few hours I nearly turned the console off in disgust, and by the time I finished playing them I was more than willing to scrub them from my memory. Uninspiring, unempowering and just plain unsatisfactory.

    I completely agree with you Chris. Great article.

  14. Chris Chris says:

    Me and you have plenty to discuss Keegan XD

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