For anyone who has read Hard Drop, it will be pretty darn clear that I’m a Halo fan. Not, mind you, in a ‘best FPS shooter/sci fi franchise ever OMG’-kind of way, but in the sense that I appreciate its engaging, simple-but-dynamic gameplay and storytelling.
More than any other game or franchise, Halo manages at once to be everything to everyone – at once qualifying as a simple, entry-level military-style shooter and as an intense, bullet hell cooperative or multiplayer experience, able to satisfy ‘real’ gamers (by which I mean FPS gamers with talent and fast-twitch reactions, of which I am not one), a blockbuster, deep-lore franchise with spin-off novels and a simple, stereotypical cheeseburger buddy action movie replete with absurdly over-the-top characters (Sergeant Johnson, anyone?) and meme-ready one-liners.
It would be difficult to argue that the series is market-leading for the realism of its gameplay (Call of Duty might take those honors), the intricacy of its weapons systems (Borderlands or perhaps Bioshock), the diversity of attacks possible (Bulletstorm), the depth of its lore (Skyrim, Bioshock, again, Assassin’s Creed), or even the uniqueness of its characters (although it is hard to resist the ultimate strong, silent appeal of Master Chief), but at the same time it is impossible (or at least foolhardy) to deny the appeal of the total package. Admittedly, several of the above-mentioned ‘market-leading’ games are sandbox-style, sprawling, build-your-own-adventure games, and so not directly comparable to Halo – but then, that’s the point. It’s difficult to imagine Halo as anything more than what it is: a very nearly on-rails shooter with a few easter eggs (ammo, weapons) if you turn that extra corner. And yet, that doesn’t matter one iota: the whole thing, put together, is so damn fun that it’s impossible to complain.
What Halo does, in my opinion, better than anyone else is provide solid, unquestionably appealing ingredients which players can then apply in any number of ways to great effect, unlocking a cotton candy veneer of wish fulfillment in the storyline. The systems of other games, including Call of Duty, require greater buy-in, or owe greater debts to realism, or else require the framework of the story to intrude on the gameplay experience (e.g. Assassin’s Creed or Bulletstorm, where you are never able to forget the game dynamics completely), but Halo is the ultimate in what you see is what you get.
The result is an impressive, blockbuster franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. Every new game adds a slightly new dynamic, tweaks leveling, adds new weapons or enemies, but the underlying concept – the user-enabling, all-purpose combat platform – remains cheerfully, gleefully the same. It is this unrepentantly happy approach to science fiction, combat, and story that I have tried to incorporate in my writing – and I am pleased to see, from a number of my reviews, that I have succeeded in doing so.