Halo: Combat Evolved stands today as a seminal achievement in first person shooter design. Much has been said about its campaign, its excellent enemy AI, its two weapon limit, and its grand environments. Less has been said about the game’s multiplayer. Halo‘s brand of Slayer is going strong to this day in Halo 5: Guardians, but Combat Evolved just has a different feeling. The lack of online play and the game’s collection of arena-sized maps are all complemented by a well-balanced arsenal of weapons that reward dedicated players in every situation. The M6D might be a jack of all trades, but Halo: CE at its highest levels is a game about situational awareness and quick reflexes.
The first gun you see when loading onto Chill Out is the Assault Rifle. This reliable bullet hose is the standard tool of many newer players, as logic would dictate that an automatic machine gun would beat out a sidearm in the long run. Of course, we all know this isn’t the case, and the AR is mainly a great backup for cleaning up unshielded enemies after a long pistol duel. It is also a much better melee tool than the Pistol, especially when quickly combined with a grenade for the always lethal Double Melee combo.
Pressing Y will switch you over to the star of the show, the always controversial three shot M6D. Scoring three headshots will kill anyone not using an Overshield, making the pistol your primary damage dealer. Some, including staff that have passed through Bungie over the years, have argued that the deadly accurate nature of this weapon made the game unbalanced, but I’d argue the opposite. Combat Evolved is truly a test of skill, as each player has a tool of destruction right from the get go. A spawning player can kill a player on a rocket launching killing spree if his reflexes are fast enough. Every new opponent is a new challenge, so the thrill of victory is that much sweeter when you start racking up the kills.
You might wonder, with such a powerful starting weapon, why would anyone ever want to change things up? That’s the beauty of the remainder of the arsenal. It’s a small collection of situational tools that will slaughter someone who is relying solely on starting gear. The Sniper Rifle gives you range without completely shielding you from crack pistol shots, forcing players to find the perfect spot to camp and surprise foes. The SPNKR Rocket Launcher turns you into a charging bull of destruction (especially when paired with the Active Camouflage), but the limited ammo makes it a weapon best used to clear out an opposing nest or make up a score deficit.
There is a lot of focus on range in Halo‘s arsenal, so much so that the game’s Shotgun packs a punch even at a medium distance. It’s usually placed on maps near tunnels and blind corners, giving you plenty of opportunities to get the drop on opponents. You can use the Covenant Plasma Rifle to similar effect, as its stunning shots will mean instant death if you can get behind someone and charge in for a back whack. The weapon’s lack of ammo concerns also makes it a decent replacement for the AR when you can find it.
The Plasma Pistol is at its low point in the series here, lacking its vehicular stopping power or its quick charge. It is able to actually kill players in Combat Evolved, but its best use comes in draining shields before switching to something else. Finally, there is the Needler. In multiplayer, the Needler exists for the same reason that Dan shows up on the roster of Street Fighter. It is an underpowered weapon that is almost useless, but the kills you can manage to eke out are glorious to behold thanks to their violet explosions. There is nothing more humiliating during a game of Slayer than being blown up by that purple mist.
The gameplay foundation that Combat Evolved established was one of the greatest reasons why Halo multiplayer became as big as it was. After many experiments with dual wielding SMGs and marching around with turrets, Halo 5: Guardians has settled into a familiar formula of headshots, ranged action, and map control, and the fact that the M6D is back in action after all these years speaks to the debts that Guardians owes to its forerunners. So, if you started with a later Halo game and wonder about all the big changes that were made in the latest iteration, it might be worth your time to head back in time with the Master Chief Collection and play the game that started it all.