Polishing their Halo

By Troy Rawhiti-Forbes

With an anniversary edition just released, Troy Rawhiti-Forbes looks at the masterful additions that have kept the Halo franchise so enduringly popular.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Photo / Supplied
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Photo / Supplied

It is best known as a trilogy. Its first episode became a cultural phenomenon virtually overnight. It tells the tale of a conflict, set galaxies away and not in our own time, and it captured imaginations worldwide.

It launched a multimillion-dollar franchise and gave life to a universe full of characters with detailed origins and serious marketing potential. There were action figures, animated spin-offs, novels, comic books, even licensed underwear.

It changed the way some people viewed outer space, and made them reconsider what wonderful and terrible possibilities might exist beyond the reaches of our solar system. It redefined the way we enjoyed one of the most successful forms of popular entertainment.

It's not Star Wars. It is Halo. More than 40 million copies sold, more than 3.3 billion hours of online play logged.

It may surprise fans to learn it was Apple guru Steve Jobs who first revealed Halo to the public, in 1999, after considerable buzz had been built up behind closed doors.

Enter Microsoft, who saw the potential in Halo, and quickly acquired developers Bungie, with the aim of converting it into a first-person shooter for the soon-to-be launched Xbox.

The mission was simple: wage a guerilla war against two fearsome enemies - the alien alliance known as the Covenant, and the all-consuming parasites of The Flood - with the barest of essentials. Wits, skills and resourcefulness were all that were required to play.

When the job was done, gamers could network their consoles and take the fight to each other.

Halo 2 took this further in 2004, becoming the pacesetter for multiplayer on the Xbox Live online platform. The trilogy concluded on the Xbox 360 with 2007's Halo 3.

Two years later, 2009 saw the release of two titles. Ensemble Studios' Halo Wars actually fulfilled an ancient promise. The first Halo was originally planned to be a real-time strategy game. Next came Halo 3: ODST, a shorter-than-the-usual title that explored the Covenant invasion of Earth from the view of an elite group of marines - the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.

Bungie's final Halo release was 2010's Reach, a prequel that followed six Spartan supersoldiers during their last missions on a planet that fans knew to be doomed. A single line of speech sufficiently explains its attraction: "I know we're losing. I want to know if we've lost."

Did the Spartans of Noble Six complete their mission? The answer lay with the one Spartan everybody knows: John-117.

The Master Chief is synonymous with Halo. He was there at the beginning, he'll be there when Halo 4 arrives in 2012 and, right now, he's here for a tenth-anniversary remake of that 2001 classic, Halo: Combat Evolved.

The new custodians of Halo, 343 Industries, have relaunched Combat Evolved as a remastered Xbox 360 title with all-new graphics that can be swapped to the blocky 2001 version at the push of a button.

It also boasts Kinect voice commands, online campaign co-op play, an anniversary multiplayer mode with classic maps, and a series of in-game terminals that expand upon the Combat Evolved events and foreshadow what's coming in Halo 4.

The creative director of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Dan Ayoub, is proud of the effort.

"We describe it as a love letter to our fans because it's just something else to have a franchise that's still going strong 10 years later," he told TimeOut.

Readers of the bestselling novels know that the Master Chief wasn't the only Spartan to survive the destruction of Reach, and they understand that the factions that comprised the Covenant each had their own rich histories.

Some of the information given in the novels has already been woven into the Master Chief's story through the terminals found throughout the remastered Combat Evolved campaign. Ayoub wouldn't rule out further interweaving of the story strands in future.

Halo's strength has been in its storytelling as much as in its gameplay. The next trilogy should demonstrate that further and in doing so deliver another strong decade for 343i and the community.

Halo essentials

Games
Halo: Reach (2010) The Spartans of Noble Team are sent to investigate a fault with a communications relay, only to find it is the first act in a full-scale invasion that will ultimately destroy the planet Reach and place Earth in the Covenant's firing line.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (2011) A Covenant attack forces a ship fleeing from Reach to seek refuge on Halo. One of those voyagers is the Master Chief, believed to be the last of the Spartan supersoldiers, and humanity's last hope against the Covenant.

Novel
Contact Harvest - Joseph Staten (2007) Contact Harvest details humanity's first encounters with the Covenant and also chronicles the rise to power of the Prophet of Truth - the chief aggressor of the original Halo trilogy.

LOWDOWN

What: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

When: Out now

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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