Halo system link still holds up over 20 years later
August 14, 2022
Moments after startup Halo: Combat Evolved with some friends, stepping onto the legendary Blood Gulch map and dying almost instantly from some well-placed gunshots, I remembered exactly why wires are good.
When my friends took two original Xbox consoles for a beach weekend, I expected it would be a bit of a hassle getting them to work for our scheduled six-player games. The game and consoles are over 20 years old, probably older than the dusty flat screen TVs we played on. But to my surprise, just a few minutes after we set up and hook up the consoles for system link play, we plugged in some controllers, made a Halo lobby, and started talking to each other all over the house.
The simplicity of indentation Battles Evolved was an important counterbalance to how many hoops there can be in modern multiplayer games. To take Fortnite. My wife and I play the game almost every day, but we play online on two different systems; I’m on PS5 while she’s on Switch. To play together, we both have to start the game; wait for it to load and download the necessary updates; party; start matchmaking; and wait until the match actually starts. And then we can run around Fortnite Island. The whole process doesn’t take too long, but I spend a lot of time tapping my foot impatiently.
Halo via system link was a lot faster. One group would create a lobby that the other would join, then the lobby maker would determine the map and the rules of the game, the game would count down and then the match would begin. Halo even lets you mash the buttons to speed up the countdown, which is something I now want in any local multiplayer game.
With online games, I understand that starting a match by definition takes longer. The infrastructure that allows you to play games with anyone around the world inherently takes longer to make sure everyone is synced than with two Xboxes together. But it was really nice to be able to jump in one Halo match almost as soon as I sat down to play – LAN parties are good!
Not only the network benefited from a wired connection; the wired Xbox controllers were also unexpectedly awesome. Later in the weekend we wanted to play a few games with six players from Super Smash Bros. ultimate, but I had to spend a frustrating few minutes connecting controllers to my console. We had more than enough for everyone, although a few people were stuck with a single Joy-Con because there’s a limit to how many controllers can connect to the Switch. And I thank my lucky stars that all wireless controllers had batteries charged. If they hadn’t, I would have just thrown the controllers on the floor out of frustration and switched to another game.
Of Haloon the other hand, we just connected three wired controllers to each Xbox console and then everyone could play.
LAN parties won’t be the only way I play multiplayer games in the future, and things weren’t perfect. We had to use a paper clip to open the tray on an Xbox that was having trouble reading the disc. A few of the controllers showed their age; I had to rest my controller on my legs in just the right way so a frayed wire wouldn’t disconnect my controller. and complete Fortnite challenges is an almost daily ritual with my wife – I will happily deal with the extra wait time to keep playing with her.
But as tech companies continue to create gadgets and gaming hardware that are increasingly wireless, it’s been nice to have a “it just works” experience with a game and consoles that are more than two decades old. And it helps that I had some good ones Halo also friends to play with.