I am a Product of the Halo 2 Generation
The Halo experience began for me a month or two before Christmas of 2004. I was attending a private middle school, and one of my friends had timidly gone to ask the teacher if he could mark the release date of a new game on the classroom calendar. She said yes, and for weeks after I was constantly reminded of the upcoming release of what must be something very amazing. HALO 2!!!, stood out boldly in green marker on November 9th, partway down the calendar. I had received an Xbox as a holiday gift previously, but had nothing other than the game which came with it, one of the earliest versions of Top Spin. It was a good game, but tennis does get old after a little while. I had heard word of the game Halo before, but knew almost nothing about it, only that it was very popular. I asked my friend, and he simply told me that I should play it.
Shortly after that, I began to see ads on TV. This was my first true glimpse into what Halo was, and needless to say, I was stunned. The trailer did a beautiful job of capturing my attention and making me want to play the game and find out more. To this day, every time I watch the trailer, I am reminded of the first, awestruck feelings I had about that story known as Halo.
Every time the trailer would come on when my dad was watching TV, I would run across the house, just to catch the last few seconds of it. I guess that was enough to convince my parents to purchase it for me for Christmas. They made inquiries as to what exactly I would need to get the full experience, so I told them, based on a little research I had done.
I knew I had received the game. There was no doubt about that in my mind as I rolled over in bed, half in and out of sleep, barely awake on Christmas morning. In fact, it was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind as I rolled over and checked the clock, which displayed a time shortly after five in the morning. It didn’t matter. The excitement had already kicked in, and I was fully awake. Walking quietly out into the living room, the first thing I saw under the tree was two rectangular boxes, placed on top of a large red package so that the covers would show. They were not wrapped. The covers of the first two (and then, only) Halo games stood out prominently in my gaze, along with the first three novels, and all else in the world was lost to me.
No one else in the family was awake, so I took the opportunity to slip away before the ‘family Christmas’ would begin, and I would be forced to remain away from my Xbox. At five in the morning, I crept downstairs, and just as the sun’s rays broke out from behind the hills and began to cast light onto the mountain which we have a view of out the large glass windows next to our TV in the basement, I made my escape from the doomed Pillar of Autumn, and crash-landed on Halo. My life had been forever changed.
But everyone here has heard or experienced this story.
As a product of the Halo 2 generation of games, my Halo experience was not enforced solely by the first game. I had seen the trailers for the second over and over, had in fact saved it to my computer at the time so I could watch it every now and then. I knew what was in store for me in the second game. But I wasn’t going to just leap right into it without any prior knowledge and understanding of the first. So I waited. I worked my way slowly through the first Halo game, discovered the horrible Flood and the truth about the Forerunners, while I read The Fall of Reach at the same time. I was disappointed by how rich of a universe was described through the books, and how simple and static the first game was by comparison. Character interactions were non-existent, graphics didn’t do justice to the rich universe around it, and overall it was just a relatively simple experience, simply backed up by good game-play and a deep sense of mystery. Don’t get me wrong, this sense of mystery is the strongest point, in my opinion, of all the games, and something which the later additions to the franchise have lost a little touch with. Franchises change and move on, and the story must adjust. This is simply the way things are. I worked my way through the first game, and wasted no time getting to the second. Having just finished the campaign of the first game minutes before, I rushed to get the discs switched out. And this is when Halo changed for me forever.
The story became an immediately more interesting and humanized one. While it wasn’t about people’s interactions on a smaller scale, the characters seemed more realistic, as they joked and insulted each other about things which were really not relevant to the plot. Aliens began to be more understandable, as their motivations and emotions played out on the screen before me, and I was immediately reminded of the books which I had loved so much. With dual-wielding, vehicle boarding, better weapons, griping Marines, and glitching, it was just a much more enjoyable game in the long run. But of course the Halo experience truly begins, inevitably, in multiplayer.
I didn’t get a chance to play multiplayer until I got invited to a game night by a family friend. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he said there would be Halo there, and since it was the one game I knew how to play from the campaign, I agreed to go. The LAN party took place in a large room that had originally been an exercise room. Equipment had been pushed off to the side to make room for TVs, extra chairs, cables and Xboxes. I was invited to play on the large screen which adorned one wall, and proceeded to be completely destroyed by all the other players. But the experience was complete. Yelling, screaming, sniping and complete carnage. I had a great time.
After that, I never wanted to leave it again.
Looking back from where I stand now, it’s strange remembering the steps which led me to where I am now as a Halo player and a person. Halo 2 affected more than just my playing of games. My friends, many of whom are reaching a point in their lives where they are moving on to bigger things and beginning to start their lives in full, still look back when we are together and reminisce about the great times we had at LAN parties. Living in Arizona, there are many fine examples of the cowboy history of our small town, my friend’s remote ranch being a prime specimen of such. Nights there consisted of a few rounds of airsoft in the barn, followed by Halo 2 system link in the guest house. Anyone who came to the party would be stuck with us through the night, unable to get back into town unless they were willing to put up with a long ride back in the night. This helped to bond us together, and the experiences of airsoft and Halo combined made for some fond memories. To this day, many of my friends still fondly think back on the time when we were on Zanzibar beach in a game of 3v3, having vicious enemy Warthog fire raining down on us. Two of us were trapped behind the ruined remains of a stone building, while the third was nowhere to be found. The entire enemy team was in the Warthog, and the grenades we kept lobbing to deter them were barely doing the trick. Defeat was unavoidable until our third team-mate jumped down from the walkway above, taking out the enemy gunner with a shotgun blast. Landing on the ‘Hog, he blasted the driver and passenger in short order, single-handedly saving us from the entire enemy team while scoring one of the most stylish triple kills I’ve seen. Even at the time, I found myself wishing that there was a way to go back and watch that moment again and again… as well as to hear to cries of the vanquished coming from the other room.
The end of online gaming for original Xbox games which was brought to our attention months ago caused a troubled thought to surface within my mind–I had yet to play Halo 2 online. And so, joyfully, I joined in the HBO customs night as they went back and revisited fan favorites. We played custom games on Lockout, Coagulation, Zanzibar. While I wasn’t able to get a full night’s worth of playtime in, I greatly enjoyed the experience, as it brought back memories of a time long past. Later in the week, I joined in on the last night for Halo 2 online, ever. I downloaded the two maps I had never played on before, and joined in the fun. The high point in my night was not actually in accomplishing something amazing, but in a simple ridiculous suicide. If you’ve ever committed suicide in a game of snipers by scoring a head-shot on yourself, then I’m sure you understand the hilarity and fun that is Halo. I once again felt as if I were sitting in a room filled with my friends, yelling and screaming at each other, telling people to ‘look out for that Ghost’ or to ‘grab the flag!’ The only difference was that I was not in a room full of yelling and laughing people… I was in my own room, sitting in my chair in front of my TV as I do every night.
This is what was so great about the Halo 2 online experience. It provided all of the fun of a system linked LAN party, but all the yelling was right in your ear, and you didn’t have to do more than turn on your Xbox and connect to Live.
With the death of online gaming for original Xbox games, it is unfortunate that we should say goodbye to the fun that was the Halo 2 multiplayer experience. There are some of us which may choose to continue on in the spirit of system links, and keep pursuing the joy of Halo 2. But for most, this marks the end of an era. For me, it marks the end of my childhood, having now come full circle back to the games I played when I was young, and the beginning of a new life, with bolder ambitions and bigger, better things to look forward to. Some of us may be sceptical about what Reach may have to offer, but there is no doubt in my mind that this really is the death of Halo 2‘s multiplayer. When Halo 3 was released, stalwart players still fragging in Halo: Combat Evolved dried up, and the community forgot its origins. Halo 2 continued to thrive, although the majority of its players switched over to the newer and better updated sequel. With the release of the next Halo game, we can no doubt expect a similar reaction. Fans will forget the multiplayer that was Halo 2, as new generations of Halo gamers join in on the fun. Halo 3 will get pushed to the sidelines, the game that started a revolution of custom gaming not yet all it could be. Campaign will forever stand out in people’s minds, but the multiplayer will be lost to the majority of people. The minority, however, will remember our origins, and the many hard, yet enjoyable steps we took to get to where we are now.