More than 20 years later the Halo system link is still reliable

More than 20 years later, the Halo system link is still reliable: I quickly saw why wires are beneficial after starting up Halo: Combat Evolved with some pals, entering the renowned Blood Gulch area, and dying very instantaneously from a few well-placed pistol bullets.

When my friends brought two original Xbox consoles along for a beach weekend, I expected that there would be some hassle getting them to work for our planned six-player matches. The game and consoles are more than 20 years old, likely predating even the dusty flat-screen TVs we were playing on. But to my surprise, just a few minutes after we had set up the consoles and connected them for system link play, we plugged in some controllers, made a Halo lobby, and began trash-talking each other across the entire house.

A significant counterpoint to how many hoops there can be in contemporary multiplayer games is how easy it is to start playing Combat Evolved. Consider Fortnite. Nearly every day, my wife and I play the game online on two separate systems—she plays on the Switch and I play on the PS5. We both have to launch the game, wait for it to load and download any required updates, party up, start matching and then wait some more for the match to actually begin before we can play together. The Fortnite island may then be traversed by running. Although the entire process doesn’t take very long, I frequently tap my foot impatiently.

original Xbox
original Xbox

Halo over system link was a lot speedier. One group would make a lobby that the other joined, then the lobby-maker would decide the map and the game rules, the game would count down, and then the match would start. Halo even lets you mash the buttons to speed up the countdown, which is something I now want in every local multiplayer game.

With online games, I get that starting a match takes longer by design. The infrastructure that lets you play games with anyone across the world is inherently going to need more time to make sure that everyone’s synced up than two Xboxes lashed together. But it was really nice to be able to hop into a Halo match almost as soon as I sat down to play — LAN parties are good!

Not only did networking gain with a cable connection, but the wired Xbox controllers were also surprisingly excellent. We planned to play some Super Smash Bros. Ultimate matches with six players later on in the weekend, but I had to spend a stressful few minutes attaching controllers to my system. There was more than enough for everyone, but a few folks were restricted to utilizing a single Joy-Con because the Switch can only connect so many controllers at once. And I’m grateful that the wireless controllers all had fully charged batteries. They saved me from throwing the controllers on the ground in despair and switching to a new game if they hadn’t.

With Halo, on the other hand, we just plugged three wired controllers into each Xbox console and then everyone was able to 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 paperclip to force open the tray on one Xbox that was having trouble reading the disc. A couple of the controllers showed their age; I had to rest my controller on my legs in just the right way so that a frayed wire wouldn’t disconnect my controller. And completing Fortnite challenges is a near-daily ritual with my wife — I’ll happily deal with the extra waiting time to keep playing with her.

But as tech companies continue to make gadgets and gaming hardware that’s increasingly wireless, it was nice to have an “it just works” experience with a game and consoles that are more than two decades old. And it helps that I had a few good Halo buddies to play with, too.

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