Discovering Halo 18 Years Late

How does Bungie’s seminal title hold up almost two decades on?

Joe Hubbard
May 22 · 7 min read

Dust and Echoes

Beyond tongue-in-cheek covers with high memetic potential, my knowledge of Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori’s solemn soundtrack was regrettably limited. Shooters before Halo, and perhaps even those released subsequently, don’t tend to shy away from bombast: Mick Gordon’s exceptional Doom (2016) soundtrack starts with everything turned up to eleven and then, somehow, keeps turning things up. Where metal isn’t concerned, grandiose orchestral scores reign: our decade-long (at least, it felt a decade long) obsession with Hans Zimmer was as present in video games as it was on the big screen. As well as Zimmer’s own contribution with Modern Warfare 2’s cinematic score, imitators played up ‘epic’ pieces that would dominate the game’s sonic landscape, as if every shooting gallery, every arena deserved another atmospheric crescendo.

Flawless Cowboy

As you’ve already guessed, I got a lot out of CE’s soundtrack alone, but combined with the world-building, I was consistently dazzled. The ‘Halo’ mission is arresting in it’s beauty from start to finish, ably complemented by O’Donnell and Salvatori’s score. The game’s final third notwithstanding, environments have a nice degree of variance, with the lush, verdant slopes of ‘Halo’ giving way to sandy beaches in ‘The Silent Cartographer’ and snowy wastes towards the game’s end. Though the plot (and thus missions) inevitably turn to exploring sterile, repetitive alien facilities, Halo’s abnormally high concentration of natural environments serve to ground the action and complement the score. When the moment-to-moment play is dominated by a super-soldier having a spirited disagreement with armour-clad aliens wielding plasma rifles, there’s something human, vulnerable even, about that action taking place in a place of natural beauty with string-heavy orchestral pieces in the background.

Two Betrayals

Combat Evolved’s magic was only scuppered by the levels it has you play, rather than just admire. We’ve already established how the extraordinary atmosphere immerses the player in the mysticism of the ‘Halos’ orbiting various planets, underscored by that solemn, almost ancient-sounding score. Moment-to-moment gameplay is robust. But the levels that gameplay occurs in left me mostly disappointed. Rooms are repeated ad nauseam, with levels such as ‘The Library’ bordering on a sick joke. Set pieces, too, have a habit of being trod and retrod: you’ll always fight two hunters at once in a large arena; you’ll find the same ten-or-so Elites and Grunts whenever ‘Assault on Control Room’ switches from narrow corridors to bigger hub rooms. Strategies for tackling these set pieces don’t change, either. Again, the gameplay holds up to a point where CE is never a chore, but it is not always as exciting as it thinks it is.

“No… I think we’re just getting started.”

As a newcomer to Halo as a series, I was struck by how well the game holds up mechanically and atmospherically. That impression crumbles a little when we turn to CE’s construction, where the both the game’s missions and their flow show their advanced age. In presentation, though, CE shows barely a wrinkle, and is a riotous good time when you aren’t killing the same five Elites in a copy-paste of the same room you were in not half a minute ago.

Super Jump Magazine

Celebrating video games and their creators

Joe Hubbard

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writing about videogames I love.

Super Jump Magazine

Celebrating video games and their creators