Last night, at 12:01 a.m., the final chapter in the Halo trilogy was released. At my neighborhood Game Crazy, thirty or forty people had gathered to be among the first in this time zone to get their hands on the game. Two of them had been there since 4 p.m. When I arrived at 10, there were already 15 people standing around the tiny store, playing Halo 2, Soul Calibur and Guitar Hero to pass the time, drinking putrid Mountain Dew Game Fuel (the official Halo beverage, of course) to stay awake, and watching the clock as the minutes ticked away painfully.
Store manager Chris Kemp told me his store had more than one hundred pre-orders, and some of the higher volume stores in the country had as many as 400. He assured me that my lack of foresight in not pre-ordering wouldn’t be a problem, he had some extra copies. At 11:30 or so, people began arriving in bunches, filling the store until we were forced outside to wait in the rain for the final fifteen minutes.
Finally, the time came and the first six people were allowed back in to make their purchase. Zach Vaughn, one of the guys who’d been there since 4, bought the first copy and I got mine about twenty minutes later. I went home to play it and the next four hours flew by. I didn’t shut it off until my drooping eyelids and slowing reflexes made further progress highly unlikely. I’m sure it will eat up every minute of free time I have – and plenty of minutes that I should be doing something else – for months to come.
Halo transformed me from a guy who plays video games to a gamer. Before Halo, I owned a PS2, I had a few games for it, but I had no intention of owning any other systems, and I didn’t think of myself as a video game guy. I was just a guy who liked to play video games sometimes, just like I watched movies sometimes – hell, I bought my PS2 partly because it doubled as a DVD player. Halo changed all of that.
Halo wasn’t full of big, new ideas. It added a few new twists to a well-established genre, made the experience feel at home on a new platform, and then just nailed nearly every element of the game to perfection. Okay, there were a few overly repetitive sections, but aside from that, it got everything right. The controls were tight, the graphics were gorgeous, the enemies were smart and tenacious and fun as hell to fight. Even the story was pretty solid, a nice little tale that blended the best elements of Aliens, Starship Troopers and a few other sci-fi popcorn classics.
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A few guys at my work would not shut up about it. How great it was, how I needed to play it. Finally, I decided to rent an Xbox and the game to check it out for myself. And from the moment it started, I was hooked. I played it every night until it was due back at the rental store, then dropped another $15 to rent it again so I could finish it. Two days after I took it back, I broke down and bought my own Xbox, and a copy of Halo to go with it.
I was already well on my way to addiction, but I didn’t reach the tipping point until I fired up the multiplayer with a few of my friends after a night of drinking. If the single player was a fantastic execution of standard elements, the multiplayer was a perfect distillation of those same elements into a brutal, adrenaline-fueled competition. Shooting my dear friends in the face with a shotgun, I found a place of purity, a fierce competitive spirit I hadn’t felt in years. We played until our fingers were all but blistered, our eyes failing as the sun came up.
And the next week, I did it again. And the next. And the next. I became the Halo guy, and every Friday night for ten months I had a Halo party at my house. I bought a second, 27-inch TV and talked friends into lugging their own 80-pound TVs over. Most nights, we had four Xboxes, four televisions and a party that ranged from six to fifteen people playing. We’d play for six to eight hours, breaking only to smoke cigarettes and talk shit. One of my roommates joined us, and became a pretty good player in his own right. Another took to renting a hotel room on Friday nights to get the hell away from us. My girlfriend threatened to leave me if she didn’t get at least the occasional Friday night date. I told her to go ahead. Saturdays, she could have. Fridays belonged to Halo. -- Cory Casciato