Halo Master class: the first 10 years

Love it, hate it, or teabag it – with over 46 million sales and $3 billion in the bank backing it up, the Halo series is probably the biggest thing that’s ever happened to FPS games on console. That’s not bad going for a series that started out as a real-time strategy game for Windows and Mac. Whaaaaaaat?

Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

In fact, Halo was first announced by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the annual Macworld Conference and Expo in July 1999. It was only a year later, when Microsoft acquired developer Bungie Studios, that the game was reinvented as an FPS, and an exclusive launch title for the original Xbox console.

The game was set in the middle of a 26th century interstellar war between humanity and a theocratic alliance of aliens called the Covenant, who worship a mysteriously vanished civilisation known only as the Forerunners, who in turn had battled the parasitic Flood with the Halo Array, a bunch of artificial ring-worlds floating in space that were supposed to end all sentient life in the universe but obviously didn’t get the job finished. It’s about as complicated as it sounds.

FUN FACT! Despite its phenomenal popularity as a multiplayer game, Halo: Combat Evolved supported only LAN connectivity because Microsoft’s online gaming service – Xbox LIVE – wasn’t ready in time for the game’s shipping date.

Halo: Combat Evolved screenshot

Combat has evolved a lot since then. So have console graphics.

Halo 2 (2004)

The tremendous critical and commercial success of Halo: Combat Evolved prompted the inevitable sequel, and Master Chief was redrafted for active duty. A plot point that was dumped during development involved a “horrible scene of betrayal” where UNSC Commander Miranda Keyes strapped a bomb to Master Chief and shoved him in a hole. According to Bungie writer Joseph Staten, “Jason [Staten, writer and programmer] was going through a rather difficult breakup at the time and I think that had something to do with it.”

FUN FACT! Halo 2 was retired from the original Xbox LIVE service (along with the service itself) in April 2010, with 5.4 billion matchmade games and 36 billion frags on its permanent record.

Halo 2 screenshot

Approximately half of those due to dual-wielding SMGs.

Halo 3 (2007)

Released about 18 months after Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Halo 3 more than doubled the console’s sales around the world during its launch week, easily proving itself the undisputed next-gen “killer app”. In the next ten weeks, players logged 91 million hours playing the game online.

FUN FACT! A developer build of the game, codenamed “Epsilon”, was leaked several months prior to its September 2007 launch. Microsoft responded by banning people caught playing the game on Xbox LIVE until the year 9999. To put that in perspective, it’s over 6000 years after the events of Halo 3.

Halo 3 screenshot

This will be ancient history by then.

Halo Wars (2009)

Halo might’ve started as an RTS, but Halo Wars didn’t even start as a Halo game. Developer Ensemble Studios reportedly spent about a year building an RTS prototype for consoles based on Age of Mythology’s engine, and it was only after Microsoft saw a demo that the whole project was turned into a Halo spin-off.

FUN FACT! This game is seriously underrated. :<

Halo Wars screenshot

Itty-bitty Covie skirmish…y.

Halo: ODST (2009)

Set on Earth during the events of Halo 2, Halo: ODST deployed players into the boots of an unnamed UNSC Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, Lance Corporal Rookie. Moving away from the series’ characteristic acid-tripping colour scheme, ODST featured a somber, film noir aesthetic apparently cloned from Blade Runner.

FUN FACT! The game was first announced as Halo 3: Recon, but the name was later changed to the “more straightforward” Halo: ODST.

Halo ODST screenshot

The twist is that the Rookie is a replicant. Okay, it’s not but it should have been.

Halo: Reach (2010)

It’s the rules that any series expanding beyond two sequels must get a prequel, and so shortly after Halo 3’s release, Bungie started work on Halo: Reach, a game set shortly before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. It’s the rules.

SAD FACT! Halo: Reach was Bungie’s last Halo game. The brand is now under the auspices of 343 Industries, while Bungie works on an as yet unannounced new IP for Activision.

Halo: Reach screenshot

The Grunts – or Unggoy, as they call themselves – breathe methane, not oxygen. That’s why they wear all this breathing apparatus. I bet you didn’t know that.

Halo 4

So what happened next? Five years after Master Chief and Cortana drifted off into space on the battered remains of the Forward Until Dawn, Halo 4 finally picks up the story where Halo 3 ended with the first part of the brand new Reclaimer trilogy. I’d tell you what happens, but that would totally ruin the surprise.

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Halo Master class: the first 10 years

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