The AAA games that define the Halo experience.
With the next installment of the storied sci-fi franchise currently in development, I decided to rank the top AAA Halo games. Halo Infinite looks to lead the charge with Project Scarlett come 2020, keeping in line with the Xbox tradition.
The Xbox platform has always been synonymous with Halo, easily the brand’s biggest franchise. You could argue that without Halo, Xbox might not have the global appeal it does today. The series has spawned countless comics, novels and toys, and even its own upcoming TV show. With 11 games that span multiple genres and platforms, these are the crème of the Halo crop and must-plays before Infinite drops.
The game’s tagline, “From the beginning, you know the end” really struck a chord with me, especially as someone who loves to dive into Halo’s extended lore. Before playing Halo Reach, I read Eric Nylund’s stellar novel, “The Fall of Reach” and my expectations for the campaign’s story were massive. After all, Bungie just needed to take aspects of the novel and inject it into the game. Nylund’s version had the incredible potential to evolve into a Master Chief origins story, but unfortunately, things didn’t pan out that way.
Instead, we are introduced to Noble Team, a group of Spartans tasked with repelling the Covenant onslaught on planet Reach. The story is interesting but contradicts much of the novel, which I hoped would play a bigger role. Battling as the ill-fated Spartans provides some great gameplay moments, especially the final onslaught where you simply need to “Survive.”
On the multiplayer side of things, Reach introduced armour abilities, which polarized the online audience. On the flip side, the armour customization is stellar, offering a wide variety of options to sport on the battlefield. The classic map remakes like Asylum, Reflection and Breakneck, kept my Halo crew and me busy for hours.
The campaign’s story was the conclusion the human-covenant war deserved, living up to the hype in a big way. Even the lead-up to the game’s release birthed the “Halo – Believe” ad spots, which are still the best the series has to offer, in my opinion.
Halo 3 also has one of the greatest missions in the franchise’s history. The eighth level, “The Covenant,” has you facing off against two Scarabs, zipping around in a Hornet and engaging in Scorpion tank battles. Talk about going out with a bang! All this intense action has a soundtrack to match, with the game featuring some of Marty O’Donnell’s most epic work. It promises you’ll “finish the fight” and it delivers, with a gripping story and incredible multiplayer.
Halo 3: ODST
The jazz-filled streets of New Mombasa delivered a noir Halo experience that we didn’t even know we wanted. Trading in your Spartan armour for ODST gear meant it was not about being an overpowered super soldier, but an experience that was all about survival. This shook up the Halo formula and pushed you to become more tactical with your squad, using brains instead of brawn. Outnumbered and overpowered, the only way to survive the Covenant threat was to stealthily regroup with your squad and look for a means of escape. Along your journey, clues and playable flashback missions were discoverable, helping give some insight as to what happened to your team. The dark, melancholy campaign is one I will never forget, and Bungie even managed to introduce a new online mode to boot! In the multiplayer arena, Halo 3: ODST debuted Firefight mode, pitting you and other players against waves of Covenant enemies.
The non-linear experience, sans-Master Chief, paired with a new multiplayer mode was a bold direction for the franchise, one that I am grateful Bungie decided to take.
The follow-up to a blockbuster title is always a big challenge to a developer, as it’s no small order to balance fan expectations with the realities of what can actually be accomplished. Luckily, Bungie delivered with Halo 2, bringing with it a multiplayer experience that helped cement Xbox Live as the killer app for the platform. On the campaign side of things, I personally was a little less enamoured, especially with the split playing time between Chief and the Arbiter. The cliffhanger ending also left me wanting more, which edged it out of top spot honours.
Thankfully, much of this was remedied in the Master Chief Collection, which includes the Halo 2 Anniversary edition, adding more to the story via stellar cut scenes and sharper graphics. Besides my minor story critiques and sky-high expectations for the game, it is still one of the best Halo experiences, period.
Halo Combat Evolved
I struggled to rank this any lower than the top spot because it was the harbinger for what the series would become, it broke the mould for FPS on a home console, and it dictated what the genre should be for years to come. Many of its kind had come before it but had fallen short, leaving the PC as the best and really the only option for the FPS experience. All that started to change after Combat Evolved: the gameplay was spot on, the story was epic sci-fi fare and the local multiplayer inspired a loyal following.
Halo CE laid the foundation with its tight gameplay, great story and local multiplayer experience that I personally poured hundreds of hours into.