With Halo 5: Guardians prepping to release for the Xbox One, it seemed like a good idea to rank all the previously released Halo games from least to greatest.
Halo 5 is being propped up as the next great Halo entry, but will it finally be able to top the genre-pushing efforts that Bungie introduced to the gaming world nearly 15 years ago? Well, before we get to the newest entry in the series it's time for us to first take a look at where the older entries rank and what makes them as great as they are.
10. Halo 2600
Ed Fries, a former vice-president of publishing at Microsoft made an actual Atari 2600 Halo game. The ROM was flashed onto a working cartridge and is actually playable on the Atari 2600 game system. And yes, it's an actual playable Halo game with fully featured gameplay, bad guys, guns and exploration. The game is also available online for those of you out there who don't have an Atari 2600.
Halo 2600 would be pretty awesome it if were made back in 1979... really. It has crude mechanics and flickering 4-bit graphics. It has a basic control scheme where players can shoot and kill baddies and collect items, moving around a mostly green terrain presumably made to resemble moving around on the Halo ring. It's good in the sense that it's basic and playable, but it's not something that holds up to the high-end games available in today's market. If you have an appreciation for Atari titles then you might like Halo 2600.
9. Halo: Spartan Assault
This is the first of two twin-stick shooters that Microsoft released for mobile devices, the Xbox One and PC. Halo: Spartan Assault was an attempt to give gamers something different to play apart from the real-time strategy title from Ensemble Studios and the first-person shooters from 343 Industries and Bungie. Spartan Assault put players in the role of a Spartan battling through the Covenant forces using a variety of weapons and vehicles in isometric fashion.
The game is a-okay if you're looking for nothing more than a simple shooter with some basic arcade gameplay and a Halo theme lobbed on top. The Xbox One version gets a slightly higher shout-out over its PC counterpart only because it at least supports two-player local co-op, something decidedly missing from the PC port. Of course, this ranks where it does on the list because it's a serviceable game but not because it's one of the best that Microsoft has to offer in the series.
8. Halo: Spartan Strike
It's really hard ranking the twin-stick outings of Halo games because both do something halfway decent that the other doesn't do. For instance, we get more of a look into the story that bridges together Halo 3 and Halo 4 with Halo: Spartan Strike. The game also sports more weapons and special achievements over the previous outing, but only in miniscule fashion. Of course an argument could be made that the original Spartan Assault is still better than its sequel.
The major drawback with Halo: Spartan Strike is that it doesn't even have the local co-op mode that the first game had and it was relegated to mobile phones and Windows PC. No Xbox One or Xbox 360 port for this game. So how does it rank higher than Halo: Spartan Assault? Well, purely for the reason that it has better graphics, slightly better playability and more options than the first game, but not by much.
7. Halo 4
There will obviously be some fans who feel as if this should rank higher, but let's be honest here: Halo 4 is the black sheep of the main Halo games. Everything about it screamed generic and it's mostly relegated as the game that 343 Industries needs to redeem themselves from with the release of Halo 5: Guardians.
A purely serviceable story latched on to gameplay that was neither innovative nor creative really held back Halo 4's potential. 343 Industries did what they could with the Xbox 360's aging hardware but the limitations were very apparent. While the graphics were good for what they were, the gameplay had neither the scope or nor content depth of Halo 3 and the soundtrack suffered from a lack of the original series' roots. It also moved the multiplayer closer to the likes of Call of Duty, making it less memorable than previous outings. The Forge mode helped with replayability and the multiplayer worked well enough, but Halo 4 could best be summed up as a quality made but generic first-person shooter.
6. Halo Wars
How does Halo Wars rank as a greater Halo title over Halo 4? Well, because it was ambitious, different, original and a console exclusive. Ensemble Studios nearly pulled out a seemingly impossible feat trying to put a competitive RTS title on a home console, but they did it with class. Bungie may have saw it as “whoring out” the franchise but this was a rare and well done RTS that still holds up.
Not only that, but the game's soundtrack was one of the best out that year and composer Stephen Rippy really paid huge respects to Bungie's Martin O'Donnell with his action-oriented yet thoughtful score for the game. This was a very serious attempt at branching out the Halo brand into new territory, and despite the sales not being blockbuster-worthy, the game was done well enough that it stands as a truly memorable entry in the 15 year history of the franchise. Added to this, the story and cinematic sequences in the game were absolutely top notch, and the final action sequence involving the Arbiter and the Spartans was totally unforgettable.
5. Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST didn't really push the series forward but it did offer a very different take on the gameplay experience. Instead of playing as a Spartan and being able to blast through enemies with ease, players took on the role of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. The gameplay was still set as a first-person shooter, but it was more about stealth and tactical gameplay, since the humans couldn't take anywhere near as much punishment as a Spartan.
The switch-up in gameplay and the really badass accompanying soundtrack to the game helped it stand apart from the standard Halo 3 experience. It was a different route for Halo insofar that it was closer to the exploration and freedom found in something like Half-Life 2 and it featured the cooperative Firefight mode that had gamers playing against wave after wave of enemy AI. ODST didn't have to break boundaries but it did do what previous Halo games did and did it well while offering something slightly different.
4. Halo Reach
Bungie's swan song for the Halo franchise. There was little that could be asked of them for this game that they didn't already deliver, from the multiplayer co-op to the fine-tuned competitive multiplayer, Halo: Reach was a game that ended Bungie's tenure with the franchise by explaining what happened leading up to the events of the first Halo: Combat Evolved.
It was a bittersweet game but Bungie did everything they could to push the Xbox 360 to its limits, using in-engine cinematics where necessary and having a tear-jerking story where the outcome was painted out well in advance before players even booted up the game. The multiplayer was practically refined to perfection and the weapon selection, maps and Forge all helped to mold Halo: Reach into an unforgettable experience. The campaign maps weren't quite as big as Halo 3 and innovation was practically brought to a halt, but the game was kind of a combination of all the highlights from previous outings.
3. Halo 2
There's obviously going to be some complaints about this not being higher up on the list, I mean this game did revolutionize Xbox Live for Microsoft and catapulted Bungie into the stratosphere with the hype it generated. That's not to mention that this game beat out Half-Life 2 for many of the GOTY awards. But being as high up on this list is a testament to its greatness, not its failings.
The game included a new way to use dual-wielded weapons in first-person shooter, games, had an interesting story mode featuring two different protagonists, and took a lot of what was featured in the first game and expanded it by a significant margin, including the graphics and physics. The only downside was that the OG Xbox was pushed to its absolute limits with Halo 2, and Bungie had to cut the four-player co-op, scale back on some of the level sizes and reduce their overall vision for the game. Even still, there was a lot to love about Halo 2, and even though the campaign mode wasn't quite as replayable as the first game, it was enjoyable enough. The addition of Xbox Live to the multiplayer also elevated the game above and beyond any other first-person shooter out during that time.
2. Halo 3
This was obviously Bungie's most feature-rich Halo. The game introduced the Forge, allowing gamers to create their own maps and content, as well as huge multiplayer maps and the first ever campaign mode with four-player cooperative gameplay. The game also retained the trademark split-screen co-op play, as well as the game's massive library of weapons, many of which could be dual-wielded.
Graphically, Halo 3 didn't really push any boundaries and the competitive multiplayer was just a further refinement on Halo 2, but the solid online play, the addition of Forge – a mode that allow players to create their own maps and share them – and the large selection of multiplayer maps, the massive four-player campaign maps and all the weapons (with dual-wielding) at the disposal of players made Halo 3 memorable for the sake of how much was jammed into the game. It didn't have to push the genre forward but it collected everything that gamers loved over the years from first-person shooters and shoved it all under one roof.
1. Halo: Combat Evolved
It's hard to deny the influence that Halo: Combat Evolved had on the first-person shooter genre after its release. The game came hurdling onto the scene in 2001 with the sort of presence and bombast one would expect from royalty... and in a way, that's exactly what the series became thanks to Bungie's innovation and creative drive. It introduced large scale battles previously unseen before on home consoles, it made vehicular combat with multiple players a standard expectation in the first-person genre and it had a kick-butt theme song.
There was nothing really bad to say about Combat Evolved because it literally lived up to its name. It evolved first-person combat to all new heights, giving gamers more than they bargained for, including a very cool split-screen local cooperative mode, a nice cache of different space age weapons to use and plenty of multiplayer maps to play around in. There are few first-person games that really pushed the genre forward like the original Halo did and that's why it stands head and shoulders above the others. While it didn't have online play, it did sport LAN modes for local tournaments and the four-player split-screen deathmatch is still as enjoyable today as it was when it first launched back in 2001. This isn't just a great Halo game, it's one of the greatest first-person shooters I've ever had the privilege of playing.
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