The Halo series has had a profound effect on my life. For some gamers it's Mario, for others it's Solid Snake or Marcus Fenix. For me, it's the Master Chief. He's my god, my messiah, my North Star. I even have a little action figure that constantly looks down on me from a shelf on my desk.
Seriously though…I really like Halo.
Each title in the series reminds me of a specific period of my life, but the franchise's quintessential entry, Halo: Combat Evolved, carries a special place in my heart. The first time I played it, I was a 12-year-old without a care in the world. I didn't have to worry about paying rent, buying food, or finding a decent job. It was just me, the Covenant, the Master Chief, and a little ring world designed to kill us all. On the rare occasion I find myself playing the original, it always reminds me of that happy time.
It's hard to wrap my head around the fact that Halo: Combat Evolved came out almost a decade ago. It can't be so long, right? It feels like I only just played it for the first time at my brother's apartment a few years ago. I went to visit him, and he rented an Xbox from Blockbuster along with a few games. Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee seemed interesting…more interesting than the shooter with a green guy on the cover. I didn't think Halo looked all that special. It handled awkwardly, the dual-analog control felt extremely weird, driving the Warthog was a pain.
Then I tried the multiplayer. That's when I saw something different in Bungie's space epic.
For the first time in my life, everyone I knew played the same game. It practically became an organized sport at my high school. We'd spend our lunch periods talking about our kill-to-death ratios and creating new strategies.
This eventually evolved into full-fledged events. A room full of sweaty young men would stare intently at flat-screen monitors, clinging to their controllers as if their lives depended on it. Gunfire and plasma flew across television screens lining dark walls. Machine-gun fire and explosions almost drowned out the players yelling orders to each other. Pizza boxes and pop cans littered the tables. Pale blue carpet buried deep under a mass of wires, connector cables and power cords.
My friends and I organized these LAN parties on high-school half-days. Everyone lugged televisions and consoles to someone's house and played Halo until our eyes bled. Sometimes I'm surprised we didn't start a fire. At one point, I even turned down going to a girl's house to attend a LAN party. Sad? Maybe, but that's how important Halo was to me back then.
Then there was Xbox Connect (XBC), a home-made precursor to Xbox Live. XBC essentially tricked your Xbox into connecting to someone on the other side of the world when it thought you were running a simple system link. I'd describe the process as awkward to set up, laggy as hell, and lacking in a few basics, such as voice chat. Not the greatest way to play, but when you finally got a game to load up properly, the experience was pure bliss.
With the advent of Xbox Live and Halo 2, the social experience of LAN parties shifted online. My group of friends and I would game late into the night, screaming obscenities at one another over Xbox Live…much to the distress of my easily angered father. I guess he didn't enjoy me calling some kid from Texas an "inbred, cock-sucking asshole" at 3:00 a.m. It seemed a necessary and possibly accurate social commentary at the time.
Ah, and the midnight launches…always an event of epic proportions. We stood in line for hours to get whatever Halo title they sent our way — Halo 3, Halo: ODST or Halo: Reach. It didn't matter that I could show up the very next day and snag any of the dozens of copies sitting on a Best Buy display table. Oh no, I had to line up. I needed that game in my hands on day one.
Nowadays, the entire first-person shooter genre — and even my beloved Halo — seems like it's getting stale. Reach fell a little short in my estimation, though it's a great final attempt by Bungie to shake things up. I'm still looking forward to finding out what 343 Studios does with the franchise, though my interest level's starting to wane a little. Blame armor lock.
But I remember the LAN parties, the friends, the (possibly) inbred Texans, and the late, late nights, and it's right there in those moments that Halo will always be my game, like it or not. And I know I'll be in line for my copy of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary on day one, just like old times. It means that much to me.