Halo Wars 2 (opens in new tab) is just around the corner. It's designed to rejig the series and entice gamers who don't traditionally play RTS games, offering a fresh way to enjoy a universe familiar to everyone who's ever owned an Xbox. And while 'new' can be scary, it can also be exciting - don't let the fact that something is different from what came before scare you off. After all, even Halo: Combat Evolved (opens in new tab) did things which, at the time, felt jarring and different. Don't believe me? Let's take a trip to 2001 and see what critics said about the first Halo game for the Xbox.
Halo was generally well-received among critics, with nary a dip below the 8/10 line. Reviewers praised the (at the time) fabulous graphics, now-iconic soundtrack, in-depth story, and reactive enemy AI. Critics also tended to agree on the game's drawbacks, frequently citing … well, let's take a look.
Perhaps the greatest divide over whether Halo: CE was good or bad stemmed from its controls. Remember, this was an age when first-person shooters were still largely considered PC games. The fact that Combat Evolved helped refine those controls for a gamepad is one of its defining legacies. However, this also meant that many players of FPS games were uncomfortable with the game's changes and limitations to the FPS formula. "Those of us weaned on PC shooters may find it a little frustrating that you can only carry two guns at a time," Eurogamer (opens in new tab) wrote in their review. Meanwhile, GameSpy (opens in new tab) called Combat Evolved "a PC game trapped in a console's body." GameRevolution (opens in new tab) said that using dual analog sticks "will quickly frustrate before they gratify." It's kind of funny to see how much we struggled with what has since become the de facto control scheme, isn't it?
THE FREAKING LIBRARY
The Combat Evolved level "The Library" is to Halo fans what the prequel trilogy is to Star Wars fans or Voldemort is to Harry Potter fans; you either pretend it doesn't exist or you don't say its name for fear of summoning it. And yes, players hated it just as much 14 years ago. GameSpy said players were likely to bang their heads against the TV as they played through the "video game equivalent of Groundhog Day." IGN (opens in new tab) argued that Combat Evolved hits a rut halfway through the game (which would be when players enter The Library) and it never quite comes back around. The first half, reviews say, is brilliant. The second half is marred by repetition and traversing the same locations you've already fought through.
Halo has always supported co-op, but its initial implementation in Combat Evolved led to technical issues. IGN noted that "the more players, vehicles and explosions you add," the more noticeable the dips in framerate. Eurogamer called the performance "choppy." GameSpot (opens in new tab) complained that to get the most out of Halo's multiplayer, gamers would have to create an "impractical" setup of multiple consoles, copies of the game, and televisions. GameSpot also criticized the map selection, saying that most maps were too large for one console, leading to matches that felt like playing a game of tag.
Of all these criticisms, I find those centered around controls the most fascinating. We've since become used to the idea of carrying two guns instead of two hundred and using the left analog stick for movement and right to aim, but back in 2001 that stuff was unfamiliar and, for some, uncomfortable. I imagine many felt the same way when they played the Halo 5 multiplayer beta and learned that aim-down sights were now present in Halo.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Cortana is still uncomfortably attractive (seriously, why do other AIs wear clothes but she doesn't?) and The Library still sucks. However much the series has evolved since 14 years ago, Halo is still Halo.