Bungie got famous making Halo, and while Halo is famous for a few things—grumpy little aliens, green jeeps, Gregorian chants—I think its most enduring legacy is the way it completely reshaped the idea of what a singleplayer shooter could and should be.
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Like, yeah, its multiplayer was and remains popular, but it’s easy to forget just how important this game’s singleplayer was. To Bungie, to Xbox, to the how we viewed first-person shooters. The original Halo’s vast levels, vehicular hijinx, mysterious story and seamless co-op were all ground-breaking, in ways that many rivals still haven’t been able to match (at least all at once) decades later.
Halo followed on from the (relatively) cult success of Marathon, would be followed by a few huge sequels and, between ODST and Halo Reach, was part of a series that for ten years carried the standard for big-budget singleplayer gaming. Reach came out in 2010 and you’ll still find people who say it’s one of the best solo story-telling campaigns around.
It sucks, then, that Reach was also the last time Bungie released a singleplayer video game! That was 13 years ago! Sure, Destiny has some singleplayer elements—I have fond memories of firing up its intro back in 2014—but its a multiplayer shooter, and the company’s freshly-announced Marathon reboot is, despite the series’ singleplayer origins, another multiplayer game.
I understand why that’s the case, from Sony and Bungie’s perspective as companies who want to make the most amount of money possible. Multiplayer shooters can release more expansions and seasons, can sell skins, can be updated and bring in revenue for years beyond their initial release. We’ve had NINE YEARS of Destiny, believe it or not, and that thing just isn’t going away.
But I don’t have shares in Sony. I’m not in Bungie management. I don’t care! I miss the way Bungie could take a crashed ship and big dumb aliens and somehow make a haunting story out of it, could play a few strings over a battle cutscene and make me feel something, could assemble a generic squad of Army Guys—whose faces we don’t even see—and make me increasingly sad every time one of them died.
Bungie is real good at singleplayer shooters! The guns, the vehicles, the pacing, the characters, the art, there’s something about the studio’s worlds that are just begging to be explored, at leisure, as part of a solo experience that has real characters and a story and an unfolding mystery.
Just look at this Marathon trailer again. This is the coolest fucking thing I have seen in a long time. Given its lack of gameplay footage I sat there for almost the entire clip losing my mind, simply assuming that a world this bold and new—and a studio already tied up releasing Destiny content until the end of days—was going to be fertile ground for a return to Bungie singleplayer gaming. Marathon was, after all, a singleplayer video game. The fact it’s actually an extraction shooter has bummed me out enormously.
If you’re into those kind of games that’s fine! I’m happy for you, just like I’m happy—if also slightly concerned—for everyone still playing and finding joy in Destiny after all these years.
But this studio, these artists, these worlds are so good when they’re part of a lavish singleplayer experience, I just think it’s a shame we’re now at 13 years and counting since Bungie’s last one, and the next one—if there ever is a next one—is nowhere in sight.