There was something special about the original entry into the Halo universe: Halo: Combat Evolved.
I’m a nostalgic person by nature, so it’s no surprise that I look back on games that I played in my childhood such as Halo with a certain level of fondness.
But even beyond nostalgia, I’m still drawn to the first Halo game even now. Periodically I’ll open the Master Chief Collection and replay the original Halo campaign which still entertains me to this day.
Even for games that I used to love, most of them simply don’t demand my attention in the same way that Combat Evolved did and still does.
The question is why?
What was it about Halo that stuck with me and a generation of gamers for so long?
The answer is that there are lots of reasons. For its time, Halo had a compelling story, engaging gameplay, a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and much, much more.
But there’s one thing in particular that recently caught my attention that separates the original entry into the Halo universe from the sequels that inevitably followed. It might be a small detail, but it helped give the original Halo game character that set it apart from other games of its era.
It would be easy to point the finger at 343 Industry’s foray into Master Chief’s story with Halo 4 and Halo 5 as being the problem, but the truth is that even Bungie, back in its heyday, ruined a good thing long before 343 came around.
The thing that Combat Evolved got right was simplicity and minimalism, particularly with the weapons.
When you take a look at many of the weapons in the original Halo, they have a glossy shine with minimal details.
Just take a look at the original shotgun design. It’s a sleek stainless steel beauty that looks more ornamental than tactical.
It didn’t look realistic, and that’s what made it unique and memorable.
The same can be said for the pistol and sniper rifle in particular. The original designs were beautiful and matched the vibrant aesthetic of the Halo universe. Only the essential aspects of the weapons were present. Everything else was stripped away.
But when the weapon redesigns started coming through, the beautiful simplicity of the original designs was discarded in favor of more detailed weapons. These redesigns did look good…if they would have been placed in another game instead of Halo.
The new redesigns did look slightly more realistic, but that’s precisely what took away from the epic character that made Combat Evolved so memorable and refreshing.
With each sequel it felt like the makers of Halo had a sudden urge to make everything more detailed and tactical. This inevitably made the Halo games feel more like Call of Duty than the classic game that gave the series life.
Halo was never about realism. The story of Master Chief and Cortana was a space opera plain and simple. It thrived on a grandiose tale, heroic themes, and epic musical cues.
Trying to morph Halo into something it wasn’t just didn’t work.
It could be argued that the reason why Bungie didn’t opt for more detailed versions of their weapons in the first place was because of technical limitations. This is a fair argument and may very well be true, but sometimes the finest creative work comes about because of constraints and limitations.
Just because the simple designs might have been the result of constraints doesn’t detract from the fact that whether accidental or not, the simplicity of the original Halo design is what helped shape it into the classic that it is today.
I remember playing — or more realistically watching my brothers — play shooters like Doom and Quake back in the day. After seeing these dank and gritty shooters for so long, I instantly took notice when Halo first emerged onto the gaming scene because of its vibrant and colorful world.
Halo was a heightened experience compared to other shooters. It was sad, joyful, colorful, dark, simple, challenging, and everything in between. Sadly, much of those feelings have been lost with each subsequent Halo game.
But all may not be lost when it comes to the world of Master Chief.
I recently watched the trailer for 343’s newest Halo entry, Halo Infinite, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the Halo franchise.
Much has been said about the 343 Halo games, so I don’t feel that I have a lot to add to the conversation aside from the fact that they just didn’t understand what made the original Halo games so memorable and unique in the first place.
Halo 4 and 5 is essentially Man of Steel to Halo’s Superman: The Movie if such a comparison can be made. While the original Superman movie back in 1978 was precisely what everyone believed and wanted a Superman movie to be, Man of Steel tried to mold Superman into a dark, twisted version of himself that didn’t jive well with audiences and fans.
In much the same way, Halo 4 and 5 tried to twist Master Chief into a world where he just didn’t belong.
But with Halo Infinite, all that may change.
343 Industries has been taking strides to learn from the Halo audience in recent years, and it seems that they’ve started paying attention.
Infinite has a vastly new art design that hearkens back to the original Halo games which are refreshing and necessary. If Master Chief’s story is going to keep moving forward, this sort of refresh is the only way to make it work.
In the final shot of the Infinite trailer, we see Master Chief sporting his classic armor — or armor that at the very least looks like his old armor — and not the overly complicated suit he wore in the last couple 343 games.
Here’s hoping that as more footage and details come out that we’ll get a good look at the weapons in Infinite as well.
What I want to see is a return to the classic and straightforward designs of the original Halo game.
Master Chief deserves better than to be grounded in reality.
If 343 Industries is serious about taking Master Chief back to his roots, his classic armor is an excellent first step, but there’s a lot more that they’ll have to do in terms of minimalist design if they want to keep bringing the Halo audience back for more.