Lost in the Mists of my Rather Spotty Memory
If one tells a story about my video gaming history, we could blow through it pretty quickly. My parents (perhaps wisely) did not let my older brother or I play games or watch TV during the weekdays. They also didn’t allow us to blow our hard-earned coin on something like a video game console. Compounded by the fact that we had the third-oldest computer in the house (around 12 years old by the time we got the hand-me-down, replaced every four years by another 12 year old computer) and it was a Mac, gaming options in general were pretty damn limited. As a small child I think I managed to half-complete Myst, die dozens of times in Oregon Trail, and shoot some goons in some game called Marathon.
By the time we reached high school, things began to change. My brother finally got permission to get a console; since it was our money, we looked at a last-generation console. I was banking on an N64 for some sweet sweet Zelda, but we got a PlayStation instead. Then, in 2004, I went off for a backpacking trip, and went I came back, there was an Xbox with two controllers and two games: Crimson Skies and Halo: Combat Evolved. Ever the cooperative players, my brother and I would frag aliens when possible and planes when my parents were around (they didn’t approve of the blood). Every once in a while we’d set up LAN parties and hook two or three Xboxes together for multiplayer action, sometimes going to my brother’s school for after-hours matches.
Being a later-edition DVD, the Halo disc came packaged with promotional material for Halo 2, and after devouring Combat Evolved we were eager to sink our teeth into the next instalment just months away. While we didn’t park ourselves outside a GameStop or Best Buy to snag our copy (hey, we were responsible and went to school), we eagerly started the game up co-op when possible.
Unfortunately, memories of Halo 2‘s campaign is lost in the mists of my rather spotty memory. I wasn’t one of the people who derided the Arbiter or threw their controllers at the TV when the game just… ended. I do remember being slightly confused when we finished up a level and raced to set the table, only to come back and find our heroes talking to some greasy-looking plant.
Being poor kids without an allowance, we didn’t have Live, so multiplayer was found in small 2v2 games at home or at larger LAN parties with my brother’s friends, when possible. My school’s TV studio had a back room with a TV, Xbox, microwave, and couch (now long removed since people kept having sex on it), and after finishing the morning announcements we’d hastily shut off the hot lights and retreat to the back for multiplayer matches. Second period had the best players: a few hardcore players only wanted MLG rules on Lockout. Third period had a dearth of Halo players, so I played 1v3 with a handicap against many of the girls in my class.
The only times I played Live in the early days were during stays at my cousin’s, which proved that I was easily annoyed by the kids with their headsets screaming “WHY ARE YOU KILLING ME!?” in a free-for-all. Remarkably, I didn’t much enjoy the experience, and while I would eventually log a lot more time on Xbox Live playing Halo 2 and Halo 3, it always seemed like a more hollow experience. Sure, LAN parties had their perils—damn screenlookers!—but if someone was cheating, you could always apply a corrective punch to the shoulder to rectify the situation. Killing strangers has got nothing on killing your friends (in a virtual sense.) To me, System Link was the greatest improvement on PC gaming consoles have ever seen.
But I’m atypical in that I probably had more LAN opportunities than other. And as Xbox Live support for Halo 2 is now gone, I think that it’s only fitting to honour the passage of an era. On paper, hardcore players might have scoffed at Halo 2‘s matchmaking. No dedicated servers? No ability to choose the exact game you wanted to play? Consumers voted with their wallets, and the answer was that Halo 2 proved a console multiplayer formula that was only surpassed by its sequel. 2.5 years after launch, more than 5 million players had experienced Halo 2 on Live, with more than 700 million matches played in that time. All said and done, 6.6 million played online, spending a staggering collective 56,000 years of their lives online. The game’s stat-tracking connectivity to Bungie.net now looks antiquated, outshone by Halo 3 and other games, but it’s hard to forget that without Halo 2‘s trailblazing, such a future may never have arrived. In many ways, just as Combat Evolved truly forged the modern console FPS, Halo 2 laid the groundwork for console matchmaking. For those that played, we were making history. And with the switches turned off, it’s a lost experience we happy few will remember fondly.