I couldn’t fight the urge to pick up a copy of Halo Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One. I have fond memories of Halo and its predecessor, Marathon which I still consider one of the best first person shooters of all time. Once I waited through the 40+ minutes it took to install on the Xbox One, I decided to take the original Halo for a spin. I was vary interested in seeing how the game held up after almost 13 years. While Halo was never known for its creative level design, there are three things that still hold up after all this time. Let's walk through the three main game design gems you can put in your game design toolbox.
1 – Halo's Weapon System Is Still Impressive
Up until this point in first person shooters, the player carried every weapon available in the game. Halo changed all that by forcing the player to decide between only two weapons at any given time… not including grenades. This adds an incredible amount of personalized strategy to the game. The weapons are also well balanced for each part of the game. You start the game out with slug throwers which are good for sporadic mobs. As bad guys get stronger you need to rely on more energy weapons. Finally, when it’s all about mowing through lots of enemies, your best bet is the shotgun or rocket launcher.
Some of the other important details about the weapon system are that guns are fond by killing other things in the game. See a bad guy with a gun you want, go kill them. Need something even more powerful, take over a vehicle. Run out of ammo, drop your weapon and just pick up something new. This low friction weapon management helps balance the frustration players may find at only having two weapons at any time. Plus knowing that your next weapon is only a kill away rewards the player for each of your kills since it means more ammo or better weapons to make it through the next checkpoint.
2 – Health System Adds Strategy To Run And Gunning
Halo still has one of the best and most forgiving health systems in any first person shooter. The mix of a rechargeable shield and a health bar forces the player to pick when to run and gun and when to hold up, reload and recharge. Recharging the shields tends to be slow. At times I found myself overwhelmed by enemies, so holding up in a safe spot and thinking through my next move was a welcome break. Halo is good about throwing wave after wave of bad guys at you at each choke point in the map.
Even on normal, Halo is hard and I found myself dead a lot of times. The Flood are immune to melee attacks with your weapon. Once introduced, you need to be way more careful about getting backed into a corner. Being overtaken by the Flood is a guaranteed way to die.
3 – A Few Enemies is all you need
Halo doesn’t have a lot of different enemies. AI wise there are only 4 or 5 that fall into the following categories such as cowards, shielded, hunters and tanks. Cowards are the grunt troops that run at you then run away when you get the upper hand. Shielded use their shield to pin you down and hold their ground making you have to flank them to move forward. Hunters come at you with everything they have and retreat to regroup when they run low on life only to come back at you. Finally, tanks are heavily armored and hold their ground until you get so close. At that point they charge you. The only way to stop them is to exploit the small weakness in their armor, usually in their back.
Halo makes great use of the Flood to add more variety to the enemy AI later in the game. Since the Flood take over host lifeforms, they an interesting mix of the above AI patterns. Normally, changing AI for bad guys late in the game would be unfair to the player but to balance this, the Flood are not accurate. They tend to randomly spray bullets if they have guns or go berserker charging you until you are dead. Halo plays up the strength of each AI type by grouping them together. These small mobs end up being way to much to handle if you charge them directly. This also forces the player to think out each engagement which is usually well positioned throughout each map.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Halo is that once you have played the first one, it's basically the same across all 4 games. While I started playing a bit of Halo 2 and opened up the other games included in the collection to see how they looked, each game just incrementally improves on the basic formula. Each game adds new weapons and bad guys but in the end, the above three design concepts are the core of what makes Halo such an enjoyable experience even after all these years.