It was some time in 2005 that I happened across a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved for PC on a software store shelf somewhere. I'd heard of the game, but having long since left behind games consoles for PC gaming, I hadn't had a chance to play it, let alone get wrapped up in the online gaming community that was forming around it and its home system, the X-Box. The last time I'd played a multiplayer shooter, it had been the hours sunk into Perfect Dark, and its predecessor Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64. For some reason, the store had marked down this copy of Halo, so I picked it up.
I understand there's a lot of people who play these games, and others, solely for the online community and competitive multiplayer, but I'm not one of those people. For one, I'm terrible at competitive multiplayer. My brain simply cannot track an irrational human being, but put me against an AI, and no matter how random the movements seem, I can track a pattern. It's for this reason that when I try a game's competitive multiplayer, be it free-for-all, team deathmatch, or capture the flag, I rarely play more than a few rounds before going back to the campaign mode, usually in a state of frustration.
I still remember the first time, waking up in that cryo chamber in the Pillar of Autumn, testing my suit systems and hearing Jen Taylor's voice for the first time ever. Cortana is the reason I wish I had an AI as a friend. I remember seeing those little grunts for the first time, thinking just how incredibly stupid they looked as they fired their little needle guns at me, and the silly noises they made when I fired a shotgun into their carapaces at point-blank range. Being freaked out by the Flood and the corpses they re-animated to attack me with. The lonely walk through the Library. Racing a warthog through the wreck of the Pillar again, ending on a tense moment, with the first time Master Chief took his helmet off being teased.
I've always been, obviously, a big sci-fi fan. I grew up on the tail end of the original Doctor Who series, with classic Trek reruns and late nights watching The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, with Doctor Who following minutes afterward on PBS Saturday nights, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 sometimes showing late, late afterward. I can't help but feel, when playing through the first game, that Halo was almost a parody of high-concept sci-fi, with the overtly green, hyper-militaristic UNSC squaring off against a garishly purple, weird (and sometimes ridiculous) mix of alien species. Whatever it was, the aesthetics of the UNSC attracted me greatly and Covenant’s repulsed me.
I wasn't the only one, as around this time I started following the Red vs Blue web-series.
Several years later, Halo 2 was released. It's no coincidence that Microsoft delayed releasing it until after the X-Box 360, it's shiny new jewel in its gaming crown, was released. As a PC gamer, you get used to this sort of thing. It may have even gone unnoticed, if it weren't for a change in the landscape of PC gaming. Halo 2 was released the same month as Half-Life 2. I'd played the first Half-Life game, and was entranced. It may or may not be a contributing factor to how I never finished university. I was psyched for Half-Life 2, until I saw it came with this intrusive bit of software called Steam, which required me to be online whenever I played the game, and seemed to track what I was doing with my PC.
Needless to say, I uninstalled it and didn't touch Half-Life 2 or Steam for several years. My tune has, since, changed, but that's a story for another day. Instead, I played Halo 2. I had a blast racing on foot through the streets of Future Kenya, my powered armor propelling me along, trusty shotgun back in hand. What really surprised me, though, was the introduction of a second playable character. I had my hands on the enemy, it seemed. The Arbiter was introduced, the one whose very plans I had thwarted in the previous game, now disgraced and cast out because of *my* actions. I think it was about here that Halo stopped edging on parody and started taking itself seriously. I stood toe to toe with the Gravemind, with the only man tougher than Master Chief, Master Sergeant Avery Johnson, and I got a chill down my spine at "Sir, finishing this fight."
Then something happened. Or rather, it didn't happen. I look at a certain shelf in my apartment. At the figurine of Master Chief. The MegaBloks Warthog with the various UNSC and Covenant mini-figures fighting around it. The two different figures of Cortana. I waited. Six years later, I'm still waiting to finish the fight.
Halo 3 came and went, with no PC release. As did Halo: ODST, Halo: Reach, and now Halo 4. Most frustratingly, Halo Wars, a tactical real-time strategy game, which have *never* been successful without a mouse, was an X-Box 360 console exclusive. They even re-released Halo: Combat Evolved, the first game, with an updated engine and graphics. There's been rumors, here and there, of ports to the PC platform, but nothing concrete.
Recently, I got a huge twinge of nostalgia when “Forward Unto Dawn,” a web-series on YouTube premiered. It was a thrilling story chronicling over-achieving pretty young cadets, at least until things went sour and the Covenant attacked. Seeing a Covenant elite, in the flesh, being treated with the awe and dread that one of Alien's Xenomorphs would normally be afforded was chilling. And then He showed up. The man himself, Master Chief. Big damn hero personified, walking those scared kids straight out of hell.
Now, I talk a big game, about the "Glorious PC Gaming Master Race," but part of that's just bravado. I miss you, Chief. And you, Cortana. If I didn't have to buy an entire console just to see you again, I'd be right there in the fight with you. I hope, one day, to be running alongside you again.
Until then, I'll be waiting.. to finish the fight.