In 2007, there was only one thing that mattered to me: Halo 3.
Yes, 2007 also featured many other incredible releases like Super Mario Galaxy, Call of Duty 4, and The Orange Box. Yet still, nothing could take my gaze away from the impending tsunami that was, for all intents and purposes, the last Halo game. For a 14-year-old kid who put all his chips on the original Xbox, who remembers with envy his friends' varied adventures on PlayStation and Nintendo consoles, it was everything.
I originally was a Sega fan, growing up on a Sega Saturn while my closest friend played on his older brother’s Super Nintendo. We bickered endlessly about which one was better, which of course was silly — nothing could ever have been better than a Sega Saturn, but, well, you can’t always choose your friends.
Sadly, Sega’s console business failed after the Dreamcast, and I transitioned that unbridled love to the newly announced and untested Xbox — mainly because I recognised the company as the folks who made my home computer, or something.
While my older brother was the one to turn me towards Halo for the first time in Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001, my love for that game would carry forward. Countless hours replaying Halo’s campaign turned into countless hours of playing Halo 2 online. A few years later, when Halo 3 was finally on approach, and it felt like my life had been engineered for this singular moment. I can’t recall many other times I've been that excited for the release of a single game.
While I couldn’t get the game at launch — 14-year-old problems — a few weeks later I found myself playing with tens of strangers at a local cinema. Safe to say, the setting was the perfect place to play. Each gun had that sense of weight and satisfaction you’d expect, but multiplied. Each gunshot, especially those from a distance, were filled with power and meaning. Everything had this je ne sais quoi that overloaded my senses.
My introduction to the world of high definition gaming was there, playing Halo 3 on the same screen that, just a few months prior, had showed me the classic 2007 film Ratatouille, a movie about a cartoon rat chef. What I’m saying is, I like both Halo 3 and Ratatouille. Yet while that experience was the perfect appetiser, I eagerly returned home to a brand-new Xbox 360 and a copy of the game.
For the next few years, my love affair with Halo 3 could have been recorded like a romantic relationship. It had its ups and downs, short respites where I'd focus on Dead or Alive 4 or the original Rock Band, but at the end of the day I always came back to Halo 3.
That love I had for Halo as a series was probably mostly due to it being an Xbox exclusive. Growing up, I never had the games all my friends were talking about. My favourite Sega Saturn game was a space shooter that no one has ever heard of. I had a Nintendo 64 after that, but even that was eclipsed by discussions of Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII blowing everyone’s minds. Halo felt like the first phenomenon that I was a part of on the ground floor. It’s easy to grow an adolescent sense of ownership when you’re craving for it. Even more easy when you’re young. So, I fell in love with the game and by the time Halo 3 came around, that love had blossomed to its fullest.
Halo 3 was so much more than just a Halo game, though. Like the first two games, it offered a beefy AAA single-player campaign that got lots of attention and praise. It also offered an incredible multiplayer suite which, if I’m being honest, is probably my personal favourite in the series. But Halo 3 still did more. It introduced the theatre mode for the first time, allowing you to record entire playthroughs of anything in the game, as well as Forge, an in-game map editor.
Halo 3 spawned this immensely creative sect of the Halo fandom that would go on to create nearly anything imaginable, both inside the game and outside of it. For the first time, Bungie took the spotlight off of the Master Chief and put it on the player. They made our enjoyment of Halo 3 as a product the star of the show itself. People began producing montages of trickshots and power plays from the game’s competitive scene and posting them to places like Halo3Forum.com. Names like TM22 and iDrako become famous within the game itself and, one of the game’s most famous professional players, Tom Taylor (Tsquared) lead the biggest push for eSports in the states prior to League of Legends.
Today, I have my Xbox 360 set up in my computer room, hooked up to my monitor with an embarrassingly large catalogue of games stacked just above it. Inside it is a copy of Halo 3: ODST’s second disc, which was Halo 3’s entire multiplayer package. It’s a game I return to often, even after its re-release in Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Its menu music, its classic 30fps framrate; it feels just as I remember it.
My original copy of the game won’t ever be in my Xbox 360, though. Instead, it sits in my closet, still inside the “limited edition” steelcase it came in. Despite many Xbox 360’s dying on me and one inevitably destroying my original disc, I keep it in that case. It’s banged up, scratched all over, and unplayable, but I can’t imagine ever throwing it out. Like a worn book, lined with creases and barely holding together, it’s a game that’s been used because it’s a game that’s been loved.
(To my parents: you were saints for putting up with my complaints of not getting the “legendary edition”. I'm sorry for being such a ungrateful punk.)
I am like the critic at the end of Ratatouille, sitting down and playing a game that makes me feel at home. Halo 3 is my ratatouille.