Hobby Hole: Halo: Combat Evolved and Me

Though I’ve been playing videogames ever since my late uncle connected a Nintendo Entertainment System to my 19” television back in the early nineties and showed me the wonder that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game, it wasn’t until I marveled at the sleek visuals found in 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved that I formally adopted the esteemed title “gamer.”

Sure, I’d dabbled in several PlayStation and Nintendo franchises by then, most notably Twisted Metal, Crash Bandicoot and The Legend of Zelda, but after 2001, after my initial taste of Halo, it was as if the levies broke, flooding my awareness with thousands of new forms of entertainment. Within the year, I had purchased a number of other seminal titles (Final Fantasy X and Red Faction both came out the same year, and were quickly filling space on my shelves), while becoming engrossed in all things videogames: I ordered subscriptions to Electronic Gaming Monthly, Official PlayStation Magazine and Official X-Box Magazine and dutifully checked IGN.com on a daily basis.

It had begun.

The first, and only, comic I ever published in the UConn Free Press
And I owe it all to Halo: Combat Evolved, a launch title for the newly developed Microsoft X-Box I first glanced at my markedly-wealthier cousin’s house shortly after launch (I wouldn’t get my own until incessantly hounding my parents delivered one beneath our Christmas tree the next month).

I slept over the house that night and, with his two controllers and a seemingly endless supply of Mountain Dew and Doritos, finished the game on normal difficulty late in the morning before collapsing in pure, exhausted glee. Over the next few months, we completed the game on Legendary as well, laughing hysterically at the hidden ending that made no sense at the time (and even less now), and subsequently ran through every level discovering its hidden Easter Eggs, glitches, and generally just having a ball of a time.

By the summer, we had concocted a way to bring more than one television together and, coupling not only my X-Box and his but others from around his neighborhood, began weekly LAN (local area network) parties that wouldn’t end until the food disappeared and we woke up crumbled within the couch cushions, the sweet operatic score of our favorite game lulling us into comfortable silence.

During this time, my cousin and I mastered the prolific weapon known simply as the Pistol, and between the two of us, we could conquer any obstacle. Needless to say, we were rarely on the same team, only supporting each other when met with a suitable challenge, a feat we only encountered once.

You see, that year, a friend of mine entered his freshman year of college at Fairfield University and emphatically told me about his newly discovered videogame club. Their favorite title? Halo: Combat Evolved, of course. Accepting an invite to play, my cousin and I gladly accepted, relishing our time with college students attuned to the glory of LAN parties, and proceeded to crush whatever team opposed us. Growing red with rage, one of the college students, who I only recall as wearing Clark Kent-like glasses long before they were the rage, challenged us to a game of 2 on 1. Us against him in a simple game of Team Deathmatch on the crucially important and incredibly popular Blood Gulch. Without pause, we accepted.

What followed was one of the most brutal displays of videogame carnage I have ever partaken in as the college student attempted, with Pistol and Sniper Rifle in hand, to destroy us. We fought with the same, pillaging ammo from his carcass whenever we could and using our own to its fullest extent.

The final score was something around 50 to 6. Us. We were never invited back.

Our prowess escalated us to such remarkable levels of confidence that we entered one of the initial waves of tournaments focused squarely on a Halo game. I believe the match, which was held in a GameStop down in New Jersey, and its results can still be found somewhere on the World Wide Web, but I can tell you now it wasn’t the stunning victory we had anticipated. Facing against four others equally talented in the game, my cousin and I were paired with the only two we could find willing to fork over cash and play: his little brother and our uncle, neither of whom (at that time) could hold a candle to our abilities.

Over the next hour, we played a single game of Capture the Flag wherein the victor only needed to score one capture. Due to their lack of skills, we stuck my little cousin and our uncle on stationary defense and went on the prowl, relentlessly holding back the other team, picking off their sniper, grabbing their flag over and over. But not scoring. When they finally managed to work through us and we unfortunately spawned in the wrong location, they wormed their way across the map and yanked our flag with little fight, leaving us desperately searching the landscape, hunting them to no avail. They scored. We had lost.

We didn’t stick around to watch the rest of the games. Instead, we grabbed some food and argued over our tactics, leaving the blame on our two lackeys, especially our uncle, who seemed only able to fill a chair and aim toward the sky. He’s gotten better over the years, but that was the moment it counted. And he failed.

Painstakingly created out of Mountain Dew cans. After all, it fueled the fun

We never tried another tournament. We didn’t need to. Sometime thereafter, Halo 2 released and with it online multiplayer. From there, the franchise only grew, as did my collection of Halo games, each of which brought its own sense of wonder, fascination and a slew of memories.

  • Halo 2 was the first to reach online and introduce us to the joys of Infection—easily overshadowing the lackluster, but incredibly difficult, campaign and infuriating cliffhanger. 
  • Halo 3, and finishing the fight, with more multiplayer goodness than you could shake a stick at dominating my college years and an ending reminiscent of the original but with a heightened emotional response. 
  • Halo: ODST, more a work of art than a game, with a beautiful soundtrack to match. Though critically lauded for its short campaign and lack of dedicated multiplayer, easily the best of the series outside of Combat Evolved.
  • Halo: Reach and its attempts to update the Halo formula with newly-introduced armor abilities included in hopes of competing with the ever-expanding Call of Duty franchise. And the first time I cried at an ending in the series (admittedly, this may be due to staying up for 48 hours or so straight, filming an as-of-yet unreleased documentary).
But my love and appreciation for Combat Evolved never vanished and my cousin and I would occasionally replay the campaign for kicks, and though we inevitably went our separate ways, I still play every year and look back at the time I spent with the game fondly. And when my disc no longer functioned, I bought a digital copy. When the Anniversary Edition was released, I pre-ordered it and had it shipped directly to my house. I even videotaped myself and my college roommate conquering the game on Legendary in honor of the release of Halo: Reach for the documentary mentioned above.

Still standing proudly in my game room
And while the world waits with bated breath for the release of Halo 4 this fall (yes, I’ve already pre-ordered it and screamed with ecstasy at the official campaign debut at this year’s E3), I will be freshening up my Pistol skills and reconnecting with one of the most iconic videogame characters and franchises of recent memory.

Some may look at it and say it’s just a game about killing things. But I know better. And I’ll never forget, either, because it's not just about the guns or the aliens or the strange enthralling vistas. It was never about that at all. It was about creating a sense of connectivity unprecedented at that time, at least in my own life. It was about seeing, feeling, experiencing things never before dreamed, and creating memories that would last a life time. That's what Halo: Combat Evolved was all about. That's what Halo has always been about.