Why Halo: The Master Chief Collection belongs on PC
I've always loved Halo, and I've always believed that it should have had a bigger presence on PC. That sentiment is probably enough to get me drawn and quartered in the comments below—we always get a few people who believe that a holiday in console land warrants permanent exile from the PC's glittering clubhouse. I don't feel that way. If we ignored what consoles we're doing we'd never have brought Dark Souls to PC. If we don't pay attention the games that they're getting and we're not, we miss out on our chance to broaden the range of experiences on our chosen platform.
Halo: Combat Evolved was a PC game before it became an Xbox exclusive later in its development, and it shows. The series has always been about clever, systems-led design: dynamic AI and logic-driven interactions between weapons, vehicles, and the player. It's a linear shooter that rewards experimentation and gets better with repeat play at higher difficulties. The later Halo games function as score-attack shooters and narrative-driven adventures because the systems powering them are so taut, consistently implemented, and exciting to tinker with. They're games about blasting aliens that are deep enough to become a hobby. That's one of the core tenets of gaming on the PC: the notion that the game is a big box of working parts for you to manipulate, not a movie that you sit passively and consume.
In multiplayer, Halo kept the flame burning for arena deathmatch long after it had sputtered out of mainstream favour on PC. This, in particular, is an area where the games stand to do very well today. Unreal Tournament is coming back. They're making a new Doom. A battle-tested online shooter with a huge amount of maps, a solid competitive reputation and a passionate following belongs on the PC. This is where the e-sports numbers are; where the Twitch and YouTube audiences hang out.
When Microsoft announced the Master Chief collection at their E3 conference on Monday I was convinced that a PC announcement was about to follow. It was a smart move at exactly the right time. GameRanger had just come along to rescue Halo PC after the closure of GameSpy. People were talking about the series again. Microsoft has been on the back foot for a year, desperately needing to assert its gaming heritage and long overdue a change of direction (and fortune) on PC.
A well-produced Halo box set on Xbox One and PC serves both of those goals. It should be a no brainer. And it's not happening, at least not yet.
343's Frank O'Connor told OXM that "it needs to be the right product at the right time". I'm arguing that this is the right time: that if there was ever going to be a moment when Microsoft needed to step up and establish a new identity for itself on the PC, it'd be now. Putting the Master Chief collection on Steam for £29.99 would do that. It'd express understanding of the way the market has changed and the reasons why Games for Windows Live got left in the dust. It'd generate interest (and money) in perpetuity, on a distribution network that requires little to no upkeep. I'm not even convinced that it'd eat into Xbox One sales that much—PC gamers aren't going to buy a new console to play some remastered shooters, but they might pick them up on Steam.
There'd be some issues to conquer, for sure. The games are designed for a controller and it'd be necessary to figure out how to structure encounters between players with a pad and players with a mouse and keyboard. But this is all solvable stuff.
Halo is perfect for the PC. It might be emblematic of the worst parts of noughties bro-gaming, but that's an association—not a fault of the games themselves. Well-designed competitive and co-operative shooters have always done well here. Let's drop the anti-console rhetoric for a bit and encourage Microsoft to release these games on PC. It worked with From Software, and now Dark Souls is part of the fabric of our hobby. I would love the opportunity to cover a growing Halo scene on PC. I would also love to spend my lunchtimes throwing plasma grenades at Sam. Microsoft: break the habit of a lifetime, do something cool, and make that happen.