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The Story: In the future, John-117, a SPARTAN-II cybernetically enhanced supersoldier called Master Chief, along with Cortana, a female voiced hologram embedded neural A.I. in his suit, are aboard the Pillar of Autumn, a military starship that encounters a massive ring-shaped world between the giant gas planet Threshold and its only moon, Basis in the Soell system. They are trying to lead the hostile alien collective called the Covenant away from Earth, but are attacked as soon as they jump out of hyperspace. Deciding to destroy the ship in order to prevent the enemy from learning the location of Earth, all hands abandon the Pillar of Autumn and Master Chief crash lands on Halo where the real fight just begins.
Impressions: Often called a “killer app”, Halo: Combat Evolved debuted on the original Microsoft Xbox game console and has become recognized as one of the most important games of all time. While it was similar in gameplay to many first person shooters of the era, it offered a number of significant enhancements that have since set the standard for the genre. The epic scale of the game and it’s wonderful sense of mystery and discovery make the campaign one of the greatest in gaming, not to mention that the combat completely reinvigorated and redefined the shooter experience. Its innovative multiplayer made Xbox Live, an online subscription service, a powerhouse and proved that the concept could be viable. Memorable for its groundbreaking graphics, diverse action, and engaging story, Halo: Combat Evolved still influences gaming to this day and is a must-play for any gaming fan.
That Moment (Single Player campaign – Level Four: The Silent Cartographer): After crash landing on the Halo, Master Chief joins forces with other marine survivors and discovers that the Pillar of Autumn’s commander Keyes is alive and being held by the Covenant aboard their ship, Truth and Reconciliation. After a daring rescue, Keys orders Master Chief to fight his way to the Halo command center and learn of its purpose. Along with Cortana, they make their way to the map room called The Silent Cartographer under a Covenant-held, heavily guarded island. After a long battle with many losses, Master Chief finds the control room where Cortana, after entering the systems, discovers a terrible secret and pleads for him to quickly find Keyes. Master Chief heads out alone and eventually comes upon a dying soldier and a tattered helmet. He inserts the helmet-cam memory card into his headset and watches a playback of Keyes and his men encountering a dead Covenant that appears to be chewed up from the inside out. Next, they find a sealed door that one soldier comments seems to be locked down pretty hard, indicating that something might be inside that the Covenant doesn’t want to let out. Sure enough, once they breach the door, they find a cavernous room and from a large hole in one side, out pour a frightening new species of aliens, who scurry about like big insects and overrun the men as they scream in horror with Keyes trying to keep them on task. The screen goes black and the recording ends. Now it’s Master Chief’s turn as the gameplay starts up again and the Flood, the new enemy in the game, rush to take out their next victim.
Why it Matters: Looking back, it’s filled with cheesy dialog and some stiff animation, but at the time, this moment was jaw-dropping. For more than three levels of gameplay, the player has been learning how to defeat the Covenant, a mix of mostly humanoid-ish lizard looking creatures that are highly sophisticated, armed, and organized. The combat is duck and cover, aim and shoot, with a variety of weapons that range from sniper shots and rocket launchers to close-quarters combat. The Covenant are manageable but tricky, challenging but defeatable, especially once you get comfortable with your favorite rifle or shotgun (or that amazing pistol in the first edition). Then come the Flood, a swarm of beetle-like creatures that move incredibly fast and can leap and jump in every direction. They are parasitic and once infesting a body, overtake it and mutate it into a fighting organism. Driven by an insatiable craving to overcome and infest all sentient life forms, the Flood were such a threat that the Forerunners, a mysterious species that held control over the galaxy, killed themselves and all other known life 100,000 years prior to the game’s timeline in an attempt to starve the devouring menace. With sheer overpowering numbers, they attack by driving sharp spike-like appendages into their victims, crippling their nervous systems and allowing the parasite to burrow into the body and begin the mutation, turning helpless victims into specific creatures that have unique abilities, including larger ones that have whipping tentacles and massive hosts that act as incubators for other smaller Flood that explode and release their spawn. The Flood changed everything about how to play the game and immediately gave some sense to the Covenant plan, as they were trying to keep them secure. The great thing about the Flood is how it shifted the game from military shooter to survivor horror and added a new level of tension to the already exciting game. It was the level every player was talking about. It made Halo not only a great action adventure game, but a solid sci-fi experience.