While You Wait for Halo Infinite, Revisit Halo Zero
Master Chief saves Reach in this non-canon sidescroller shoot ‘em up
Halo Infinite’s lackluster reveal wasn’t what fans expected from the enduring franchise. For a series that helped first-person shooters find their feet on consoles, veterans wanted more. The fact that it is being delayed is reassuring. It means Microsoft understands that the game is in no shape for a final release. But if you’re up for an unconventional take on the adventures of Master Chief in the meantime, look no further. Here’s a fan-made Halo game from 2005 that deserves your attention.
Back when free Flash games were dominating the scene, a bunch of Halo fans got together to create Halo Zero: a spinoff based on the events that would lead to Halo: Combat Evolved. Considering the fact that Halo Reach covered this gap five years later, the premise was certainly promising. While Halo Zero is not endorsed by Bungie or Microsoft, they didn’t halt its development. I suppose copyright claims weren’t as potent against a free game that had no monetization plans.
The game was released to the public via hosting servers. Piracy and bootlegged copies of games ran rampant in 2005 but I found it surprising that free-to-play games were making the rounds through those very channels too. A shady disc with squiggly letters on it led to my first encounter with Master Chief. A few years later, I ended up getting an Xbox with every Halo game out there. Quite a journey, one that I might not have made without a non-canon game nudging me into Chief’s universe.
First of all, temper your expectations. It’s a relatively short game that shouldn’t take more than an hour to finish, irrespective of how acquainted you are with videogames. The levels switch things up every now and then with scenarios that range from Warthog drives to warding airborne Banshees away from the Pillar of Autumn as you make your escape. Chief also gets a limited set of his arsenal with power weapons that conveniently show up before facing deadlier enemies like Hunters or Elites. Even Sgt. Johnson makes an appearance.
The characters themselves are low-res sprites created by fans across numerous forum posts. For a fan-made game, the animations are pretty neat. Casings fly and the Chief’s pixelated visor illuminates as bullets mow through Covenant foes. The simple yet vibrant color palette shines here just as well as it does across Bungie’s Halo titles. The enemy AI isn’t exactly groundbreaking; it works as you’d expect. It’s a fitting tribute that sticks to what makes Chief iconic. Except for the crates. Yep, this Halo game has crates.
Video game demake
While I wouldn’t have found crates sacrilegious if they were designed to fit in, these crates stand out like a Grunt in a birthday suit. Nonetheless, Halo Zero is a nod to the Halo games of old, a short experience that could brighten up a boring afternoon. Unless you decide to opt for the Legendary or Mythic difficulty of course. This is a Halo game after all. As for Forge, Halo Zero had a level editor. All I can say about it is that it worked.
Halo Zero also featured a multiplayer mode with colorful Spartans for free-for-all matches but I could never get it to work. Tough luck. Either way, the campaign alone is worth your time. While the cutscenes are effectively camera angle shifts, they paint a clear-but-pixelated picture. Don’t ask me whether I’d pick it over what Halo 5’s mediocre campaign ended up being. In fact, I’d love to see Halo Zero’s time-limited missions implemented in a proper AAA Halo game. 343 Industries, take note. It isn’t too shabby for a Flash game that doesn’t wish to masquerade as the real deal.
Halo Zero is effectively abandonware at this point, so all that stands between you and a non-canon romp through Reach is a 20 MB download. Brings me back to the days when games had file sizes less than 100 GB. Pick up that assault rifle.