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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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A Monument to Change

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How Halo changed the FPS landscape

2001. The beginnings of an all-new console war were brewing, and each combatant in this three-way war was stockpiling ammunition at E3. Sony showcased its powerhouse successor to the Playstation with a new 'Metal Gear' game. Nintendo pleased the faithful with the return of beloved franchises from days of yore. It seemed like things were shaping up for both of them to build on an already-solid foundation.

And then there was Microsoft.

The software giant was suddenly the new kid on the block, bringing in a brand-new console to a field that usually only had two competitors. They didn't have any established IPs (intellectual properties) to bring to the table, no previous experience in the console world - they just had a new box with screaming hardware and a feeling of foreboding. They had to make their mark from the ground up. Their secret weapon? A developer known more for its work on Mac gaming than consoles, a smaller company known as Bungie. Taking point in this new battle for living room supremacy, Bungie created 'Halo: Combat Evolved.'

Seeing something new starting in the Microsoft camp, gamers flocked to 'Halo: CE.' Selling 1 million units within its six months on the market, it had become synonymous with the term FPS and jumpstarted Microsoft's new mean, green box.

But why, exactly? What was it about 'Halo' that made is so different, so fresh, and what about it drew so many people in? Here's a quick list (and I do so love my lists):

1. Two guns. That's it.

For starters, most first-person shooters at this point were driven by 'Quake' and 'Goldeneye 007' terms of engagement: get all the guns you can, and get them before everyone else can, and use every last one of them. The goal of the day was to becoming a sprinting, strafing armory. 'Halo' mixed this formula up by limiting your weapons to two at a time. This forced you to think of the most advantageous combination for your current situation, and what you needed to sacrifice for that advantage. This lead to a balanced, tactical breed of gameplay.

2. Console LAN parties

PC gamers had been experiencing the joy of screaming at each other over a networked game for years, but 'Halo' was one of the first console games that supported a local network game. It took off like wildfire, turning dorm rooms and basements into battlefields. It was quick, easy, painless and so much fun. Up to 16 people at once discovered to the joy of Capture the Flag, Slayer and Oddball matches.

3. Vehicular happiness

One of the main (excuse the pun, but it works too well) driving points of 'Halo's' larger maps was its indestructible and physics-defying vehicles. 'Warthog' was suddenly defined as 'flag-capturing, four-wheeled, lead-spewing beast.' The behemoth Scorpion tank was the dread pirate of Blood Gulch, and the Banshee became its airborne nemesis. To have the vehicles not only so integrated into the gunplay, but also so integral to the feel of the game, was still a very rare thing in that day and age, and gamers took notice.

4. Regenerating shields

Before 'Halo,' most FPS had a medpack addition that rivaled Gregory House, M.D. Your health was sacred, and if you had a sliver of it left, you could either venture into the open crossfire or huddle in a corner like Colonial Marine and scream 'GAME OVER, MAN, GAME OVER!' 'Halo's' regenerating shields allowed you to have a fighting chance if you could find a few seconds to breathe. This rewarded risky gameplay while massively reducing your dependency on health packs (or in the case of 'Halo 2,' '3' and '4,' completely freed you of it).

In any case, a legend was born.

Stay tuned for next week, where I'll give a full-on, no-holds-barred review of Halo 4's' multiplayer!

Aaron Waite named the dog Indiana.


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