Halo: Combat Evolved – A Retrospective Glance At A Beloved Franchise.

Halo: Combat Evolved was not only a launch title and a flagship game for the original Xbox but was a game that revolutionized the FPS genre on all platforms. Halo’s gameplay focused on the fun.

Halo: Combat Evolved was not only a launch title and flagship game for the original Xbox but was a game that revolutionized the FPS genre on all platforms. 

Halo’s gameplay focused on the fun. The fun of switching between weapons and vehicles, fighting with Marines that have your back, and encountering different types of aliens that have a different way to overpower them.
The fun cycle of gameplay the campaign offered also transferred quite well into the multiplayer side. The environments jam-packed with different biomes, and mysterious alien structures to explore. The environments possess rich tones that enhance the gameplay and storytelling.

The music is what truly brings Halo: Combat Evolved to life. The game has a wonderful soundtrack that conveys the right feeling the player is meant to feel in that exact moment. It resonates, and it is powerful.

If Halo: Combat Evolved did one thing perfectly, it would be its the fun factor. This one quote by Jaime Griesemer, a Bungie game designer that worked on the game, sums up the loop of Halo’s gameplay perfectly:

“In Halo 1, there was maybe 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again. And so, if you can get 30 seconds of fun, you can pretty much stretch that out to be an entire game.” (Kietzmann 2011).

It stretched well. The gameplay loop of shooting aliens with guns, giant guns, alien guns, human vehicles, and alien vehicles never really gets old. The more you play the more you appreciate the tight gameplay that the game has. One of the key elements of gameplay we find is the use of friendly A.I, also known as the Marines. It might not seem like it, but the Marines have a pivotal role in the gameplay.
Even though the game is filled with shootable enemies, beautiful landscapes, and biomes populated with structures and environments, the game would seem a bit bleak and lonely without your friendly neighborhood armor plated Marines.

The Marines provide a sense of hope, brotherhood, and companionship during the campaign.

You’ll find yourself attempting to preserve as many of your fellow humans as possible while feeling responsible for their demise if a Grunt just filled one of them with “Needler” rounds like a pin cushion. The gameplay is perfectly balanced between on the boots combat and vehicle mayhem. This transfers well into the multiplayer side of the game.
Originally the game was only able to connect via LAN but thanks to the Halo: Master Chief Collection, online multiplayer was integrated into Halo: Combat Evolved for the first time ever on console. This allows for fun, 16‐player mayhem with friends that might not have been possible 17 years ago if you only had one Xbox and four controllers.

There are many enemy types in the game that acts as the player’s foil.

The main enemy throughout the game is the Covenant. The Covenant consists of many different alien species for the player to fight. The Grunts are the smallest and weakest of the species, the most cowardly, and possibly the most fun to kill.
Most Grunts are usually in a pack that is led by an Elite. Once their commander is dead the Grunts will attempt to flee in fear and avoid the player. This offers a fun experience and feeds into the idea that the player is a strong super soldier that the enemy rightfully dreads.
It feeds into the power fantasy of being one of the most powerful weapons that humans have.

The spec‐ops Grunts, on the other hand, are more fearsome than their cowardly counterparts. They’re featured heavily in the last level of the game.

The next enemy is the Elite. This enemy is on par with the player character.

These enemies have energy shields that absorb damage before they can be killed. They tend to be very aggressive and will hunt down the player if they attempt to retreat. The Elites have a couple of classes that differ from each other.

  • The blue Elites are the most common of the shielded Elites and are easy to defeat: due to their weak shields.
  • The red/crimson Elites have stronger shields and fire their weapons more aggressively than the previous blue Elites.
  • The golden Elites have strong shields and are the most aggressive of the Elite variants. As soon as they see the player they will go into a berserk mode, draw their energy swords, and chase the player.
  • The next Elite variant is the active camo Elites. These Elites are the weakest in the game due to them trading their energy shields for active camo.
  • The last Elite variant in the game is the spec‐ops Elite. These Elites are the most aggressive with weapons and will fire rapidly at the player. Their shields are one of the strongest out of the Elites. The mix of variants throughout the game make the combat interesting and fun.

The next alien up is the Jackals: The Jackals are enemies that have similar behavior to Grunts but have a portable shield with them. This shield can deflect most projectiles, except for explosives.

They can be difficult to fight if you’re not able to hit them through the open space on their shield but offer a satisfactory feeling after destroying them.

Next up, the Hunters: The Hunters act as mini-boss fights for the player. These aliens are quite resistant to any damage from the front and are best killed by their exposed weak point on their backs.
They carry a shield that can be used to deflect most damage and can be used as a melee weapon. If there is too much distance between the player and the Hunters, they will fire their fuel rod cannons at you from afar and will aggressively chase the player if they get to close. These mini‐boss fights can be over in an instant if you can strafe your way behind one and shoot its weak spot with a magnum.

The feeling of getting an instant kill on a mini‐boss can really amp the player up for future encounters.

The next enemy in the game is the Flood. The Flood mostly consist of Spores (infectors), Bloaters (bloated corpses that house many Spores) and the reanimated corpses of both humans and Elites. The reanimated corpses have retained the knowledge of how to use weaponry and will use most weapons in the game against the player. The Flood are easy to kill but come in hordes. They are extremely satisfying to fight and make the player feel like an alien zombie-slaying badass.

Halo: Combat Evolved may not scale up to the 4K experiences that today’s gamer is used to, but it’s vast and imaginative environments do.


The levels of Halo: Combat Evolved have different environments and biomes that really help immerse the player into the game’s atmosphere.

The Pillar of Autumn’ is a good atmospheric introduction to the game. The level design really grounds the science fiction. The steel walls and the repetitiveness of grey, white, and dark steel present that this spacecraft is military in nature. This ship is made to be as efficient and uniform as possible. This effect cements the military presence and immerses the player in the role of being a military super soldier.

The level ‘Halo’ is where the game begins to shine atmospherically. The name of the level speaks for itself, this is Halo. Exploring the level for the first time is absolutely awe-inspiring. For a game that is 17‐years old, it still feels like a broad and massive level for the player to explore. After leaving the claustrophobic, monotone Pillar of Autumn, the player is liberated by this open world filled with greenery, trees, great blue skies, and waterfalls. It truly instills a sense of hope and adventure in the player. The sense of being on a ring‐shaped object in the middle of space and it is having an entire ecosystem on its own is astonishing.

The level is not only rich in nature but in mysterious alien architecture.

The level is supported by amazing structures that mirror the grey of the Pillar of Autumn but transforms it into beautiful and mysterious manmade buildings that look like they were just placed by an architectural gifted alien raced. One of the most iconic structures in the game are grey alien buildings that shoot blue plasma into the sky, almost like some sort of alien exhaust. When the player comes across this they are sure to question both its origin and its purpose.

The Truth and Reconciliation takes place at night on a desert plateau, and has the player navigating the sand and savannah while attempting to infiltrate a covenant ship called the Truth and Reconciliation. The second half of this level has the player exploring the covenant’s architecture.

This level is rich with purple corridors and odd metallic doors that flash when approached.

The inner architecture focuses heavily on hallways, corridors, open rooms, and platforms. The Silent Cartographer takes place on a tropical island with a few beaches and grey alien architecture coming from the center, the same type of architecture out of the level ‘Halo’.
It requires the player explore the grey inner ruins of the mysterious alien architecture. Assault on the Control Room has the player exploring a “winterized” area of the Halo Ring. Most, if not all the mysterious alien architecture is featured in this level.

343 Guilty Spark is the volta of the game.

The game goes from beautiful environments and wonderfully crafted architecture to a muck bogland. The player must navigate this swamp environment until they reach the familiar mysterious architecture.
Unlike before, the architecture seems more foreboding and ominous in its presentation. Once you enter the catacombs of the level the atmosphere changes to a sense of concealment and desperation.

The Library enhances the previous anxiety and ups it to a feeling of pure dread. The player is trapped in this dark and dangerous place with few light sources other than the flashlight they’re given. The way the level is designed is to wear down the player as they navigate the same space over, and over again, with the only difference being that they’re on a different floor than before.

Two Betrayals has the player exploring the Assault on the Control Room by backtracking at night.

The layout is pretty much identical. ‘Keyes’ does a similar thing to the Two Betrayals but has the player explore a completely destroyed and dilapidated Truth and Reconciliation. An identical pattern is beginning to show: Each level’s appearance that you return to is getting progressively worse and worse as you backtrack to where you started.

The Maw is the last level and follows the previous pattern laid out to us. The player navigates the crashed and irreparable Pillar of Autumn level. This level has more changes compared to the other repeated levels.
It features many new areas that were not explorable and has a much more complicated level design than the predecesor. These environments and designs are what truly made Halo: Combat Evolved fun and exciting to play through time and time again and are designed beautifully with the utmost care.

Even if the graphics may appear aged and outdated, there is one thing that’s not: the music.

The Halo Combat Evolved soundtrack was done by Martin O’ Donnell and Michael Salvatori. This soundtrack is one of the most iconic soundtracks of all gaming history. It would be a mistake to say that Halo: Combat Evolved would be as good as it is without its soundtrack.

  • Brothers in Arms fills the player with hope, confidence, and power since the piece is usually played when Marines are about to be dropped off as reinforcements, conveying to the player that help is on the way.
  • Under Cover of Night provides the sense of stealth and awareness. The piece is played when the player has the element of surprise.
  • Lament for Pvt. Jenkins and Devils… Monsters… would have inscribed trepidation and paranoia into an entire generation of gamers. This piece is accompanied by the third faction of the game: The Flood.
  • Alien Corridors provides a sense of uncertainty and disorientation. This piece is played when you begin to explore the Covenant ship: The Truth and Reconciliation.
  • Rock Anthem for Saving the World is played when there is a race against time and the player needs to turn some aliens into swiss cheese. This piece fills the player with motivation and impulse. 
  • Halo, the piece that has become an anthem and reference point to all Halo games, it really fills the player with the sense of awe, mystery, and wonderment. It makes Halo, Halo.

The gameplay is wonderful and keeps the player entertained with beautiful and scenic environments that enhance the gameplay and a wonderful soundtrack that ties everything together.

This game contains the best of the best and without a doubt is one of the best games out there.


One thought on “Halo: Combat Evolved – A Retrospective Glance At A Beloved Franchise.

  1. I’ve been a huge fan of Halo for years and this article does Halo: Combat Evolved justice! For those uneducated in Halo lore, more back story would have been nice but a solid read at that.

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