Microsoft and 343 Industries released a load of new Halo 4 information yesterday, and it reminded me how much the Halo series has changed over the last decade. Ever since the groundbreaking Halo: Combat Evolved was released back in 2001, the series has changed much. But how big are these changes, and are these changes actually for the better?
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Halo: Combat Evolved was characterized by several features which set it apart from less acclaimed first-person shooter games of its time. Halo's gameplay and storyline are tightly interwoven, delivering in a convincing manner being consistent with the flow of the game. Halo also includes the option for players to control multiple land and air based vehicles in third-person view. This Third-Person vantage brings a welcomed sense of immersion and enhances the specific points of gameplay, again setting Halo apart from contemporary first person shooters. Halo's new weapons system is unique in two major respects. The first is allowing players to carry only two Weapons at a time, thus forcing the player to make trade-offs as they progress throughout the game. The second change is a separate button for throwing Grenades. Halo's AI is quite sophisticated for its era. With a brand new advanced AI system, actions performed by the AI such as panicking after the death of a superior, diving out of the way of an oncoming, or taking cover from explosives and suppressive fire, helped Halo stand out from the rest of the first-person shooters being released at the time.
In Halo 2 the player can play the campaign alone on a single-player mode or on a split-screen co-operative mode. The game follows a linear series of episodes that differ from Halo: Combat Evolved. The player will play as both the John-117 and a new character, a troubled Covenant Elite named Thel Vadamee, but known only as The Arbiter in game. The player has an adjusted arsenal of weapons, some of which have been altered or removed from Halo: Combat Evolved, and new weapons being introduced. One of the biggest alteration to game-play is perhaps the ability to dual wield small weapons; this allows for twice the firepower at the expense of being unable to throw grenades or melee without dropping the left weapon. In terms of vehicles, all vehicles from the first game remain except the M12A1 Warthog LAAV (Rocket Warthog) from the PC version, and the Spirit Dropship. Also, a few new vehicles are introduced. In Halo 2, however, the previously indestructible vehicles can now be destroyed and the player is able to "board" an enemy vehicle by climbing on and knocking the driver out or, in the case of tanks, punching the driver to death to claim the vehicle, or shoving a grenade into the cockpit to destroy it outright. The same can be done by an enemy to the player when driving.
Halo 3's gameplay is very similar to Halo 2. However, there was a large difference in weaponry. One of the most controversial changes was the power of the pistol. In Halo: Combat evolved, the pistol was considered one of the most powerful weapons in the game. In Halo 3, the power and rate of fire were considerably reduced. Bungie also included a new weapon, the Flamethrower, as well as the ability to unmount weaponry. These weapons were often considered overpowered, and resulted in many heated discussions.
Halo: Reach features many new additions to Halo while still retaining the core gameplay. The player damage system is similar to that of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 3: ODST. The HUD highlights environmental features and overlay information about them, and the motion sensor display is three-dimensional. Halo: Reach also introduces a refined equipment system known as "Armor Abilities." Pieces of equipment can now be selected upon respawning (or picked up off the ground for certain gametypes and campaign); armor abilities are reusable with a recharge time between uses. A new assassination system is also featured, in which holding down the melee button will trigger a context-sensitive, third-person assassination animation. Simply hitting the melee button allows for the old-instant-kill assassination.
In Halo: Combat Evolved, the UNSC Pillar of Autumn emerges from Slipspace to find a huge ring — a "halo" floating in space. The main character, John-117 Petty Officer John-117, is aboard the Pillar of Autumn when the ship comes under attack by the Covenant, an alliance of aliens and the arch-enemy of humanity. John-117 evacuates the doomed ship for the surface of Halo to protect the Autumn's artificial intelligence, Cortana. She carries highly sensitive military information, which would prove disastrous if she were captured by the Covenant. With the UNSC Marines by his side, Cortana providing direction, and his assault rifle ready and loaded, John-117 sets to finding out the mysteries of Halo and defeating the Covenant. More...
In Halo 2, the campaign in does not pick up directly after the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, but rather, after the events depicted in the novel Halo: First Strike, taking place in Halo: Combat Evolved with the events explaining John-117's return to Earth not featured in any game so far. The story delves deeper into the society of the Covenant, their goals, beliefs, and alliances, as well as continuing John-117's story to put an end to the Covenant threat on Earth as well as another Halo ring. More...
In Halo 3, the campaign picks up two weeks after the events of Halo 2, John-117 John-117 crashes through Earth's atmosphere onto an east African jungle. After Sergeant Major Avery Johnson rescues the "Chief," Thel 'Vadam and a handful of Marines, heads toward the extraction point. Covenant forces are sighted in the area and Johnson splits the group to reduce their chances of getting spotted. John-117 and Thel 'Vadam continue on their way to the extraction zone with the second squad, fighting off numerous Covenant troops in the process, but upon reaching the extraction zone, Avery Johnson's Pelican group consisting of two Pelicans, are ambushed and shot down by Banshees. Johnson and his men are then captured and taken prisoner by a number of Brutes led by a Brute Chieftain. John-117, Thel 'Vadam, and company fight their way through hordes of enemies and eventually rescue them, after which a Pelican piloted by "Hocus" arrives and picks them up. More...
In Halo: Reach, you play as a member of Noble Squad. It takes place on the UNSC fortress world of Reach during the weeks prior to Halo: Combat Evolved. Noble Team, a squad of SPARTAN supersoldiers, is ordered by Colonel Urban Holland to investigate the sudden loss of transmission from the Visegrád Relay Communications Outpost. Expecting Insurrectionists, the team is baffled to discover that it is the work of the Covenant, and an invasion becomes apparent. As the Covenant begin their assault on the planet, the UNSC begin their heroic yet hopeless attempt to halt the brutal alien invaders. Soon after, Noble Team is deployed to "Sword Base", an installation belonging to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), for defensive purposes. Dr. Catherine Halsey, mastermind of the SPARTAN-II Program and the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor worn by all SPARTAN characters, informs Noble Team that the Covenant at the relay were searching for important information pertaining to the Covenant religion.
The multiplayer component of Halo: Combat Evolved's Xbox version was limited to split-screen and System Link play. Five core gametypes existed: Slayer, Oddball, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Race. Various stock variants with altered settings existed, and players could create their own. Though the game did not support online multiplayer, network tunneling programs, such as XBConnect and XLink Kai, could be used to coerce the game into running online. However, the game tends to freeze and stutter while it works to keep things synchronized—today's internet connection speeds come nowhere close to the 100 megabit connection that the game expects.
Halo 2's multiplayer functionality was completely redesigned to work with Xbox Live. Matchmaking allowed players to search for games in a variety of different playlists, such as Team Objective, Team Doubles, and Rumble Pit; players could find each other quickly, relatively anonymously, and without having to sort through their friends list. Players could also create and host their own custom games, and could invite other players to join them. The lobby system was also introduced; each form of multiplayer was given a lobby, so that players in a party could stick together after a match.
Halo 3 introduced many new features to its multiplayer experience. The most prominent feature was the ability to play the campaign cooperatively online and via system link with 4 players. Unlike Halo 2 's local Co-op, where players control "clones" of the same character, each player in Halo 3 is assigned control over John-117, Arbiter, or Elites N'tho 'Sraom and Usze 'Taham. Custom gametypes were given a whole new level of customization. Numerous settings, including a player's weight, were added. Spawn-time specific attributes could also be assigned; these attributes would last for a set number of seconds after a player spawns. This can be helpful for preventing spawnkilling. Two new core gametypes, VIP and Infection, were added.
Halo: Reach has a collection of new multiplayer features. Players are able to view in-depth statistics for their friends' matches. The veto system used in Halo 3's Matchmaking is replaced by a voting system, whereby players are given an assortment of 3 gametypes and maps, as well as the option to vote "none of the above" to be given a new list of 3 gametypes. The gametype with the most votes wins. New game modes include Arena, Headhunter, Stockpile, and Invasion. Arena is a ranked, skill-based playlist in month-long seasons, of which there are 5 divisions: Onyx, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Steel. Ranked and social playlists have returned as well. In Halo: Reach, the "Party Up" system will now be the "Opt-Out" system. You will automatically be placed together but you have the option to leave. You can also put in advanced settings for finding matches. If, for example, you rely heavily on teamwork or in-game chat, you can choose to find people with those or similar settings.