I snatch a couple of games here and there, but this weekend I'm going to sit myself down in front of my Xbox 360 and get a few games in, possibly with a focus on the recent map pack. And even with time away, as soon as I'm joined by old comrades in arms, I know the old team dynamics will fall right back into place.
It's akin to school reunions - despite time passing and people changing, everyone unconsciously resumes familiar roles within the classic group structure.
The same can be said for online multiplayer: everyone has a role they've worn a groove into and are unable to escape. From Camper to squad Captain, Driver to Demolition expert, gamers tend to gravitate towards specialist classes not outlined in any manual or load-out guide.
Historically speaking, Tuesday was Halo Night. On that most auspicious of evenings it was not uncommon for me to be joined by several of my friends for a healthy slice of first-person action. More often than not the serving of choice was Halo: Reach, it's the game that all of us owned.
Time has weathered this tradition away, and now it's far more likely that you'll find me and my team mates playing online over the weekend. Time is divided up between Modern Warfare 3 and Halo: Reach in fairly equal measure. However, when there is three or four players, the choice is nearly always Halo: Reach.
There are plenty of ways to play Reach. There's the Firefight modes, with single and multiplayer options; there is the campaign mode, which boasts one of the most re-playable adventures of recent years (also available in single and co-op); and then there is the real beating heart of every major Halo game, the multiplayer.
There are so many different modes that I'm not even going to bother listing them all. Needless to say it's a mixed bag of objective and slayer based game options. Where possible we'll go for either SWAT or Team Slayer (on anyone of the various playlists it pops up in).
The core of the team has been playing together since Halo 3 was still getting DLC. While many Halo 3 players quickly abandoned Reach because of the changes Bungie made to the core gameplay experience (armour lock and jetpacks anybody?), my buddies and I persevered with Bungie's swan-song. Our shared experience of Halo 3 provided us with a solid footing in the new game, and it wasn't long before we had assigned our own names to the key locations on the various maps.
Our familiarity with the maps wasn't the only thing that developed very quickly. Our mutual understanding of each others tactics and gameplay styles quickly meant that we became a formidable team. Sure we co-operated when we played Halo 3, but this team work didn't often stray much further than "you drive, I'll shoot" and "rockets on my X". On Reach we took it to the next level, but without ever consciously trying. We managed it because we started taking very specific roles whenever we played.
It wasn't a natural progression from Halo 3, where I would typically be one of two people in the team that would drive, in Halo: Reach I hardly ever get in the Warthog (and if I do it's not long before I remember why), I always leave that to someone else now. I quite often go for the sniper and a DMR, then tank forward down one side of the map and get sniping from a corner somewhere.
We've got one guy on our team who constantly camps. A lot of people despise the tactic, but he's got his defensive game down, and if you come and try and get him, you better come well armed. He often forms the foundation from which we then operate, providing a safe spawn point from which to restart.
Then there's the Warthog drivers. As soon a game starts, there are two or three on our team who straight away go for the vehicles (if they're available). I preferred the slightly more durable Halo 3 version of the vehicle, and a Warthog rampage never lasts as long as it used to in the 3rd game. These guys like nothing more than getting in behind enemy lines and letting rip with the turret gun. They die a lot, but it often provides an excellent distraction and they can, in the right circumstances, dominate matches for us.
There's one boy on our team who, like me, tries to get stuck into action as quickly as possible. We often form an offensive partnership, pushing on behind the inevitable Warthog charge, and mopping up whats left behind by our four-wheeled friends.
Then there is our captain. For some reason, when he's playing, responsibility for picking games tends to fall to him. He uses rockets, turrets, Warthogs, grenades and guns; basically he's a jack of all trades and a solid overall player.
There are a few others who join us from time to time, like our buddy the Halo pro (he always puts in an outstanding shift), but the characters I mentioned above form the core of the team that still meets up regularly. We've played so many games together now that everybody knows what their specific role is within the group dynamic, and this makes us very difficult to play against. Put it this way; we very rarely have to buy anyone a steak dinner.