There are hundreds of memorable moments in games, but often, there doesn’t appear to be a distinction between narrative and player experience. The Halo series, for instance, is jam-packed with memorable story moments, but how many of those are memorable gameplay moments? I wanted to go back and relive parts of my childhood to see just what parts of the Halo franchise stuck out while boots were on the ground.
Anything is fair game as long as the meat of the moment is happening under the player’s control. These moments might also be in levels that are not necessarily the best around, but they had a moment that stood all the same. These are moments that I still look forward to playing now when I replay these games. Pretty simple. Now that the rules are laid out, “check your mouths, find your chairs, and get set for a combat drop.”
The Introduction of the Flood – Halo: Combat Evolved
I don’t remember a lot from my childhood, but I remember the night I made it through the maze-like hallways of the strange research base on 343 Guilty Spark. Blood splattered the walls for no apparent reason, and Covenant forces appeared to be scared of something that wasn’t allied forces. It wouldn’t be until I reached a quarantined section of the base that the truth began to reveal itself to me.
Flood spore forms began to break down doors and rush my position. My radar completely lit up as these strange new creatures moved forward. It was terrifying, especially for eight-year-old me. Everything that had led up to this moment makes the player realize that this threat might be even more catastrophic for humanity than the Covenant. Combat would never be the same for the rest of the game.
Jail Break – Halo 2
Halo 2 introduces the player to another playable role in the Arbiter and begins to complicate what the war between the Covenant and the Human race even means. The entire game is designed to show that the war is partially just the manipulation of the majority by a select few through false religious beliefs. By the end of Halo 2, the truth has come out, and a subsection of the Covenant has split off to temporarily align themselves with the Humans in an attempt to prevent the end of all life in the universe.
There is no better area that helps to showcase this than when the Arbiter teams up with a squad made up of Hunters and Elites to help release other friendly forces that are being kept in jail cells. It really is a complete change of perspective as Elites take up arms against their former Brute allies, and you get to help orchestrate the whole thing.
Sniper Defense – Halo 3: ODST
Halo ODST has a special place in my heart for how unique it is, but the moments where it shines are always the ones where you feel like your back is up against the wall, and no giant spartan is coming to bail your butt out.
NMPD HQ offers one of these great set pieces when Romeo is precariously walking over some girders that are being held in the sky by a crane. The wind sweeps the platform back and forth with the only salvation being a small landing pad where a firefight has already broken out. Once you are able to make it to the other side, you have to prepare to hold out against banshees and drop ships laying siege to the platform. It’s one of the best firefight holdouts in the series.
Warthog Run – Halo 3
There are few things as synonymous with Halo as the final vehicle run that’s present (in some way or another) in almost every game. While Combat Evolved set the precedent, I think Halo 3 upped the anty and made it much more exciting in its presentation and definitely its difficulty.
After putting the latest Halo ring on the path to self-destruction, Chief jumps in a warthog with the Arbiter, and the two make their way to the Forward Unto Dawn, conveniently parked a little ways away. All the Chief needs to do is avoid the crumbling infrastructure of the ring as he drives through hordes of sentinels and Flood forms. Easy. The entire sequence feels like such a rush as entire sections of the map fall away into the abyss until you make the final jump into the cargo hold the friendly ship.
Hornet Assault – Halo 3
The first and only time a hornet is used in a Halo campaign is also one of the best uses of vehicles in the franchise. On The Covenant, Chief is given a hornet on two occasions. The first is to storm the last tower where Sergeant Johnson went missing, and the player must dodge anti-air fuel rod cannons, blast banshees and phantoms, and make a landing on the final tower. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bungie once had “Ride of the Valkyries” playing overtop before Martin O’Donnell finished the score for that scene.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. A little while later, Chief is given another hornet, and just after he takes off, two scarabs crash into the snowy landscape below, and it is up to him to take both out. This can be done in the hornet exclusively or by jumping out and boarding the scarabs. Up until this point, just one scarab gave us something to worry about, but Bungie was able to surprise us and throw two at us while giving us one of the most powerful weapons in Halo.
Returning to the Pillar of Autumn – Halo: Combat Evolved
Few moments are as bittersweet as returning to the Pillar of Autumn in the original Halo. While it can be seen as a beacon of hope to put an end to the Halo ring and help to discourage the spread of the Flood, it also symbolizes all the loss that has occurred up until that point. Walking through the burned halls of the ship, the player is left to think of their first time aboard.
All the allies who were lost before and after the Autumn’s final landing. However, nothing beats getting back to the bridge where Captain Keyes once stood. At the time, it felt like he was as unstoppable as the chief but seeing the empty and charred remains of the Autumn’s bridge makes the player realize that no one is really safe in this parasitic world.
Storming the Beaches – Halo: Combat Evolved
As versatile as the Chief is, there are few levels in the Halo franchise where he is thrust directly into a firefight, and one of the best examples of this is the beginning of the Silent Cartographer. Dirt is flying through the air as grenades explode at marine’s feet and plasma fire flies over your head as you land. It all feels like you are entering a living combat scenario instead of the action holding until you cross a line as it does in most other levels.
These moments help elevate Halo a little bit higher from what could have easily been a very standard shooter experience. I only hope that we get more live moments like this that feel organic and not overly escalated like something out of Fast and Furious.
Clearing the Skies of New Alexandria – Halo Reach
Halo Reach isn’t necessarily my favorite Halo, but I really do enjoy climbing into a falcon with a couple of friends and liberating the skies of New Alexandria. The dark skies and quietly burning city remind me of ODST while I’m rescuing allies on rooftops.
It isn’t epic like the hornet fights in Halo 3, but it still leaves me with a sense of purpose. The Spartan III’s are doing their duty to the best of their ability despite Covenant ships showing up and glassing parts of Reach in the distance. It’s all a reminder of the futility of this early battle and the dedication of the soldiers participating.
Mammoth Defense – Halo 4
Halo 4’s mammoth took the concept of Halo 3’s elephant and turned it up to 11. The giant mobile base is supplied with a host of weapons and vehicles for the UNSC to use. It feels like one big firefight battle, but the best part is when an enemy dropship comes in, and the Master Chief is told to take it out.
Chief must find a way from the mammoth to the ship, takeout the ship, and jump out unscathed for success. The entire scene feels like an organic movie moment, and I wish there were more opportunities like this in the new trilogy.
Bridge Control – Halo 2
Metropolis is one of the most famous levels in the Halo series, and one of the reasons is how it starts. Master Chief just pulled up to a marine squad that is watching the enemy scarab walk towards the cityscape of New Mombasa, leaving a trail of destruction behind it. Chief needs to chase after it but first must cross a bridge that is swarming with Covenant forces.
You have three choices: You can take the tank, you can take the warthog, or you can walk. Whatever you choose, you’ll need to prepare to fight ghosts, banshees, and a wraith all within one chokepoint, so there is no proper flanking, only head-on confrontation. And with the enemy phantoms flying overhead towards future battles, it all feels like you are only beginning to fight your way to the thick of things.