Let's say you're new to a series. Or are in a position where you're recommending a series to a friend who's never played it. Or just feel like debating the finer points of a franchise with a friend, and deciding which of a big gaming franchise is the best.
Since you can't play loads of different games at once, you'll invariably need to start somewhere. With the one game in a series you think is better than all others. Then, when you're done with that, move onto the next-best, and so on, until you get to that poor little game that, for whatever reason, stands as the worst entry. Worst sometimes being a relative term, and sometimes, an entirely fitting one.
We'll be doing just that in this new feature we're going to call "Pecking Order", and given the games out this week we figured the Halo series was the perfect place to start.
Excluding Halo Wars and Halo 4: King of the Hill fuelled by Mountain Dew, which so don't count, there have been six entries in the core Halo franchise, the first being released in 2001 and the latest, Halo 4, hitting shelves this week.
It's safe to say the series has had its ups and downs in that time, with things like franchise fatigue and some poor decisions on both Microsoft and Bungie's part giving us games that range from "OK" to "oh my Lord that's amazing".
Throw in the length of time between major releases, the platform divide between games and changes made to multiplayer over the years and if you asked 20 Halo fans for their rankings on the series, you'd probably get 20 different answers.
For what it's worth, then, here are mine. Note that I'm not trying to tell you which is the best, and that your pecking order is wrong. Just that this is mine! And yours? Why, you can leave those in the comments below.
1. Halo: Reach (2010)
Easily the pinnacle of the series. Freed from Master Chief's bombastic space opera plotline and stuck on a world with a finite amount of time to live, Halo: Reach is the tightest Halo game to date, in terms of both its story and its pacing. Its multiplayer changes, while resisted by purists, were also a necessary boost. Seriously, unlike any other Halo game, I can't think of a single level or section of Halo: Reach I'd want to skip.
2. Halo 4 (2012)
Is it too early to say this game is this damn good? I don't think so. Microsoft's first in-house Halo game doesn't just make the Master Chief a little more human, it peels back the series' skin and shows its fundamentals can thrive outside the old reliance on a UNSC/Covenant/Flood conflict. The fact it's one of the best-looking (and best-sounding) games of this console generation doesn't hurt, either. That soundtrack is a work of art.
3. Halo (2001)
Play Halo then Halo 4 back-to-back and you'll realise just how little has changed in the last 10 years. That's not a slight against Halo 4, either: it's praise for Halo, which was so special at the time it single-handedly thrust Microsoft into the console arms race. A decade later, though, its singleplayer lapses (The Library...urgh) have it sliding down the pecking order, even if many of its local MP maps remain the best in the series.
4. Halo 3 (2007)
Quite possibly the most-hyped (or over-hyped) video game of all time, Halo 3 was a blockbuster, and stands as the refinement of Bungie's original model for the game before it started making bigger changes. Still a great game five years on, it's this far down because its singleplayer story was perhaps the most overblown and self-indulgent load of crap the Xbox has ever seen. Five years later and I'm not exactly sure what the hell happened.
5. Halo 3: ODST (2009)
I loved what ODST set out to do - just tell the stories of some ordinary soldiers caught in an extraordinary war - but the open-ended structure just didn't do it for me. The whole thing felt more like an expansion pack than a full game, probably because that's what it sort of is. Its "Firefight" multiplayer game remains an example of how to do horde mode right.
6. Halo 2 (2004)
Ah, poor old Halo 2. The only one on the list I genuinely think is a poor game. It's not Bungie's fault, of course. Having the rug pulled out from under them halfway through development, when they basically had to give up and start concentrating on Halo 3, meant this game was always going to feel under-done. And it does. Deserves credit for pioneering online multiplayer, but the singleplayer was such a disappointment not even the surprise reveal of playable Covenant sections could stop the sighs.
So, in a nutshell, that's how I'd rank them. What about you? I'm guessing some of you might put ODST a little higher...if you would, drop it below, let's hash this out.