The Best Halo Game of the Decade is a Fan-made Mod for Combat Evolved
18 years ago, Halo: Combat Evolved was released on the XBox to massive commercial and critical success. It almost single-handedly put the Microsoft console on the map and ushered in a new era of competitive multiplayer and single player shooters. An entire generation of gamers grew up playing this game and its sequels, including myself, and I credit it as one of the principal causes of my interest in gaming. While I will always have a soft spot for this series, as I have said before, it has become something of a shadow of its former self, especially in regards to the single player campaign. However, if you’re unwilling to wait and see if 343 Industries will manage to breathe some much needed life into the series with Halo Infinite, there is an exceptional alternative available to fans right now if you know where to look.
Halo SPV3 (Single-player, Version 3) is a mod of the PC-based Halo: Custom Edition that completely revamps the campaign of the original game. It was developed by the Custom Mapping Team headed by user Masterz1337, who have created several other Halo projects in the past, though I would consider this their crowning achievement. The mod features new weapons, vehicles, enemies and in some cases completely new sections of the levels to explore. On top of that, the graphics have been completely overhauled in order to give the game a much more modern aesthetic. Yet despite all these additions, the core gameplay of SPV3 remains virtually unchanged from the base game. It is this sense of familiarity along with a massively improved sandbox that made me feel as if I was playing through Combat Evolved for the first time again.
Interestingly enough, SPV3 may be the the best Halo sequel that we’ve gotten in almost 10 years despite just being a remake of first game. It does everything a good sequel should, especially for a shooter. The game looks and feels larger than it ever did before, giving you a ton of new weapons to use and enemies to contend with. Every level feels slightly different than before and encourages you to experiment with the vast arsenal at your disposal to find the playstyle that fits you best. Like I said before though, it still plays like the same recognizable Halo you remember all those years ago. One problem with some of the previous Halo sequels was the addition of more and more armor abilities, such as sprinting, dashing, clambering onto ledges, and other mobility enhancing features. While these definitely succeeded in making you feel more like a powerful super soldier, they also took away some of the creativity you needed to rely on previously. When you found yourself cornered or in a sticky situation in prior games, sometimes you had to get clever in order to fight your way out. Whether it was waiting for enemies to cluster so you could blast them all with your one remaining rocket, or swapping for a sniper rifle and picking off the tougher enemies from a distance, the games always gave you a degree of agency in how to navigate a bad situation. Now, you simply have to sprint or jump onto the nearest ledge in order to get away. The addition of an “aim down sights” mechanic in Halo 5 was also seriously detrimental, in that it allowed players to engage enemies at ranges far in excess of previous games, thus requiring enemies to fire faster and more damaging projectiles. This resulted in firefights that were more reminiscent of the “peek and shoot” style of games like Call of Duty and Gears of War. This isn’t necessarily bad game design by any means, but it does actively discourage the style of gameplay that made Halo so memorable in the first place.
On the other hand, SPV3 takes the gameplay philosophy of Halo to its logical extreme. Many new weapons have utilities that you may not even know about until you discover them accidentally. For instance, the new gravity grenade will pull all other grenades in the area towards it and detonate them in a massive chain reaction - a great way to clear out rooms, but also an easy way to get yourself killed if you’re not careful. It still has abilities in the form of “equipment,” but these are all optional pickups that don’t necessarily have a major effect on the game at large. There are an infinite number of approaches to every encounter, and it seems ironic that by restricting the player’s mobility you are forcing them to play in ways they may have never thought of before, providing an almost liberating experience. While SPV3 is a completely fan-made project and thus is not endorsed in any way by either Microsoft or 343 Industries, I would sincerely hope that someone at one of those companies is taking a look at this game for inspiration. It is exactly the direction that a Halo sequel should be taking at this point in time, and I can’t even imagine what they could accomplish with the resources of a major game studio and the new tech being developed with the Slipspace engine. For any Halo fans looking for a solid dose of nostalgia or even just FPS fans in general, SPV3 is a absolute treasure and one of the best fan made games I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.