The Halo System Link Still Holds Over 20 Years Later

A few moments after starting Halo: Advanced Combat with friends, walking the fabled map of Blood Gulch, and dying almost instantly from a few well-placed pistol shots, I remembered exactly why leads are good.

When my friends brought two original Xbox consoles for a weekend at the beach, I expected there would be issues getting them to work for our scheduled six-player matches. Gaming and consoles are over 20 years old, probably even before the dusty flatscreen TVs we were playing on. But to my surprise, just minutes after setting up the consoles and hooking them up for system-linked play, we plugged in a few controllers, did a Halo hallway and started talking to each other all over the house.

The simplicity of jumping in Combat evolved was a major counterpoint to the number of hoops there can be in modern multiplayer games. 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; to party; start pairing; and wait again for the match to actually start. And then we can run around Fortnite island. The whole process does not take too long, but I spend a lot of time stamping one’s foot impatiently.

Halo on the system link was much faster. One group would create a lobby for the other to join, then the lobby maker would decide the game map and rules, the game would count down, and then the match would begin. Halo even lets you mash buttons to speed up the countdown, which is what I want in every local multiplayer game now.

With online games, I understand that starting a match takes longer by design. The infrastructure that allows you to play games with anyone across the world will inherently take longer to ensure everyone is in sync than two Xboxes tethered together. But it was really nice to be able to jump in a Halo match almost as soon as I sat down to play – LAN parties are good!

It wasn’t just the network that benefited from a wired connection; wired Xbox controllers were also surprisingly great. Later in the weekend we wanted to play a few six-man games Super Smash Bros Ultimate, but I had to spend a few frustrating minutes connecting controllers to my console. We had more than enough for everyone, although a few people got stuck using just one Joy-Con because there’s a limit the number of controllers that can connect to the Switch. And thank my lucky stars that all wireless controllers have charged batteries. If they hadn’t, I would have just thrown the controllers on the floor in frustration and moved on to another game.

With Haloon the other hand, we simply plugged three wired controllers into each Xbox console and everyone could play.

LAN parties won’t be the only way for me to play multiplayer games in the future, and things weren’t perfect. We had to use a paperclip to pry open the tray on an Xbox that was having trouble reading the disc. A few 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 completing Fortnite challenges is an almost daily ritual with my wife – I’ll be happy to manage the extra waiting time to keep playing with her.

But as tech companies continue to make gadgets and game material it’s increasingly wireless, it was nice to have a “it just works” experience with a game and consoles that are over two decades old. And it helps that I’ve had some good Halo friends to play with too.

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