Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved is one of the most influential first person shooters of all time. Before Halo, the first person shooter genre was mainly confined to PC games. Popular online shooters reigned supreme on keyboard and mouse, mainly because no developer had found a comfortable control scheme for the genre on gamepads. Halo: Combat Evolved took the world by storm when it released on the original Xbox, and since then, we've seen numerous remakes and releases of the game. Not only is Halo: Combat Evolved a key title in the history of the FPS genre, but it's also a standout hit that remains tons of fun to this day.
The story of Halo is almost universally recognizable at this point. The story follows John, better known as Master Chief. Master Chief awakes out of a cryo-sleep at the beginning of the game, stationed on a spaceship. While exploring the vast reaches of space, the ship comes across a giant ring, dubbed the Halo. Master Chief, along with his AI partner Cortana, head down to investigate the mysterious ring.
The story of Halo works well as both a military-action and a sci-fi tale. As an enhanced super soldier, Master Chief feels vastly powerful. His limited dialogue makes it easy for players to become immersed in the character. The various futuristic guns and weaponry makes for excellent military action, but the deeply complex narrative is jam-packed with inventive science fiction. The story ranges in tone, dipping into elements of horror as well. Overall, the story of Halo: Combat Evolved sets a lot of ground work for later games to execute upon. However, it also works incredibly well as a self-contained story. By the time you reach the end, you will feel deeply connected to the character of Master Chief, as well as Cortana.
A great story isn't the only thing that separates Halo from the rest of the pack. Despite the clunky size of the original Xbox controller, developer Bungie managed to do the unthinkable. Halo's control scheme feels incredibly intuitive, tight, and responsive. It's a control scheme that set the mold for most modern shooting games. Games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and many other modern hits has modified their control schemes to feel more like Halo. Eventually, this base control scheme would be improved upon, but for the time, Halo: Combat Evolved felt incredibly good to play. Few other games offered the amount of precision and comfort that Halo's controls allowed.
The quality of controls, graphics, and overall gameplay had a huge impact on the gaming scene. Halo quickly became one of the most popular multiplayer games, filling up dorm rooms and gaming cafes worldwide. Before the introduction of Xbox Live, players would hook up multiple consoles together, playing locally over a LAN network. Like Counter-Strike before it, Halo: Combat Evolved revolutionized the competitive multiplayer scene. Not only did the game have an outstanding single player campaign, but it had one of the finest multiplayer offerings available.
Although later Halo titles might feel a bit better to play, Halo: Combat Evolved is a historical title that brought the FPS to consoles in a huge way. It laid the foundation for the genre moving forward, introduced a great new control scheme that would become commonplace, and was generally a fantastic game. Whether you play the original version, the remade modern version, or any other release, it's hard to deny just how fun Halo: Combat Evolved is.
Download Halo: Combat Evolved
It’s No Exaggeration To say this game has been on top of more most-wanted lists than any other game over the last two years. Beautiful graphics, usable vehicles, indoor and outdoor action, incredible artwork, amazing sound and music, all of this and more represent what could be the most thrilling futuristic first-person shooter the PC has ever seen. The good news is it’s complete and already shipping. The bad news is it went to Xbox first. Now we can’t claim to have magically gotten our hands on the secret PC version, but we have played the Xbox game, which is absolutely stunning, even though we had to risk RSI to master the ridiculous gamepad. Needless to say if it wasn’t for the PC version and the promise of even better graphics and superior multiplayer options, we’d almost reccomend importing a US Xbox to play it. As to a PC release date it would unrealistic to suggest the game will be on the shelves before the summer, even though the PC version was finished (so rumour goes) before the console version. Our guess is that! Halo PC will be out next Autumn, probably to coincide with the announcement of Halo 2, which is already being worked on and a cert to arrive on Xbox first. We’ll bring you more concrete news on the new features you can expect to see in the PC version as it’s available.
There is A distinct smell in the air, of damp earth and electricity charges, of anxiety, excitement and anticipation. The calm before the proverbial storm. There’s been a dearth of great games this year (if you want to be harsh, this century), particularly in shooters. I’m not talking about good games, I’m talking about true greatness, about the kind of experience that stays with you forever, and which is so depressingly rare.
But now we’re on the cusp of what should be a new era. We’re about to be shaken out of our tired routines and undemanding complacency. The leap is nearly here. I’m talking Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex: Invisible War, of course. So why should we give a damn about a console game released way back in ancient 2001?
It’s been called one of the best games of all time, on any platform, by too many people to ignore. It’s also by rights a PC game, stolen under our very noses to give Microsoft’s console some proper street credentials. And boy was that a good move by them. Because the truth is that while Halo was an exceptional console game, it is merely a very good PC game; and one that loses its way so spectacularly towards the end that you may end up cutting it short and starting again.
You’d think being given the opportunity to play it with mouse and keyboard - which, no matter how well the console controllers are implemented, is the only way to experience any first-person game - would make it a better title. After all, this was the reason I gave up on the Xbox version after a while, knowing the PC one would be along some time in the future. But what it actually does is set it side by side with every other shooter on the PC. And, while there is undoubtedly a multitude of truly great things about it, there is, in fact, very little that we haven’t seen many times before.
In case you need some words of introduction to the whole thing, Halo takes place (for the most part) on a ring-shaped world full of aliens; the big draw being the massive landscapes, the use of vehicles and the large firefights where you team up with other marines. There's no stupid platform jumping, no ridiculous big bosses and no running around looking for keys to open doors. It draws you in superbly - Bungie clearly following Half-Life's example in many ways. And once you’re off the opening ship level and taste the fresh air of the planet, with large seas stretching out over the horizon and green hills rolling under a blue, starlit sky, you begin to see what all the fuss is about. There’s something very satisfying about seeing dots moving in the distance and being able to drive right up to them, until their big, ugly alien faces are right on the end of your gun.
The outdoor levels are huge and spectacular, yet require amazingly short loading times. Once you're there, you occasionally get a "Loading..." message, much as you did in Half-Life, but it’s over in a blink and you barely notice it. The graphics are not state of the art by a long stretch, especially the character models, but one of the first niggles we face is the system requirements. Turn down all the graphical options and you might get away with the minimum spec, but even then the frame-rate is choppy. You need a grunting beast with one of the latest cards for real smoothness. Something you’d expect from Doom 3 maybe, not Halo.
Superb though the open spaces might be, the levels do become a tad repetitive, and they’re complemented by rather flat and unimaginative interiors in bases and ships. But one of the biggest praises of the game was always the enemy Al. They run away when a grenade is thrown, the little ones get scared if you impress them, they hide behind objects, run at you when you’re reloading, co-ordinate their attacks. It is, in other words, all well and wonderful. The problem we had is it was all put in the brains of rather faceless aliens, and the best Al is the one that makes you feel you’re playing against human opponents. These look like aliens and behave like aliens, and once you recognise their patterns, they're easy to predict and you soon get tired of them. The small gnjnts are particularly irritating, causing little damage and speaking squeaky cutesy English that doesn’t exactly inspire awe or terror.
Now. you may want to skip this paragraph if you're obsessive about spoilers... but some way into the game another race of aliens is introduced, and the Al is thrown out the window. Suddenly, the orchestrated sophistication is forgotten and it’s pure Doomtime. Very disappointing.
By far the best part of the game is the vehicles, which, though they take some getting used to. are a pure joy. The Warthog jeeps bounce about while the gunman hangs on for dear life and whoops like a rodeo driver, and the tank is by far the most satisfying I've ever driven in a game. Sadly, there are not quite enough of them.
When they do appear, they provide a real tactical element, adding another option to what is already a very open approach to battle. Taking on a big fight with a hovercraft will be very different than going in with a rocket launcher or a sniper rifle. And. since you can only ever carry two weapons at one time, this tactical side is present throughout.
Saving is restricted to checkpoints, but you can save as many as you like (whereas you had a limit on the Xbox). and they appear so often that it's never really an issue. One console hang-up that’s noticeable though is the massive crosshair, not exactly conducive to sharpshooting, and rarely providing you with a sense of skill when hitting an enemy.
At least the real reason for its PC incarnation, the online mode, is very playable and provides as much vehicle-use as you could want. Just don’t expect Halo to live up to the hype. And with those PC heavyweights just around the corner and Halo 2 scheduled for spring next year on Xbox, this could soon become little more than an also-ran. Even if it is a very good one.
At Last, Halo Online
The online part of Halo is probably the most important in its PC incarnation and, while it’s a bit of mixed bag, there’s some good fun to be had here, and this is the best reason to own the game.
The only modes worth bothering with are the team ones, since Solo Deathmatch is like a less fun version of Quake III: Team Arena, until people get into vehicles, when it just becomes a bit of a mess.
Get a team behind you though, and driving while someone else controls the gun-turret or co-ordinating flying attacks turns out to be a blast. It’s not in the same league as Battlefield 1942 and doesn’t provide the continuity of PlanetSide, but with plenty of options and some excellent maps this could tide you over until those Half-Life 2 mods inevitably start taking over the world.
It's well past midnight. I've just staggered out of the offices on to the cold, rain-spattered London streets after a post-work Halo online multiplayer session, a big stupid grin plastered across my face. Bleary-eyed and haunted by images of plasma weapon blasts, flame-thrower assaults and four-wheeled vehicles slamming ragdoll bodies against walls, I reckon tonight has been one of the most enjoyable evening's gaming I've had for a long time. Developer Gearbox has taken over a year to take Bungie's groundbreaking Xbox version and mould it into an online PC title, but it's been worth the wait. President Randy Pitchford and his Texas team have used their extensive knowledge to ensure that Halo lines up comfortably alongside other popular online multiplayer heavyweights. Halo on PC retains all the multiplayer options from the Xbox - apart from the co-operative Story mode - and adds six hot new maps (for a total of 19), one new vehicle (the three-man missile-firing Rocket Warthog buggy) and, best of all, two brand new weapons - the flamethrower and the fuel-rod gun.
Less Is Never More
The lack of a co-op mode has been the cause of much teeth-gnashing on t'Net and it's a big mistake on Gearbox/Bungie's part to have excluded the most enjoyable feature of the console version. An update is supposedly being worked on to add this absolutely vital element back to the game, but it really should have been there from the start.
Each new level offers different experiences, encouraging you to use certain weapons and vehicles for tactical superiority. For example, Gephyrophobia takes place on a bridge over a huge chasm and has ledges on either side for sniping from distance, but with the Banshee flying attack vehicles dominating from above. Or there's Timberland, an open level with hills, trees and a river that's ideal for manic tank battles. Or there's Ice Fields, a snow-covered level that's awesome for skidding around in Warthogs, and is as playable in Race mode as it is in a Slayer deathmatch.
Although Gearbox provides gamers with a multitude of game types, the big pull is the customisable Create-Your-Own mode. You can set one life per game, include a set of the meatiest weapons for UT-style carnage or even add vehicles to Xbox maps - having Banshee dogfights high above the infamous Blood Gulch level for the first time is an experience to be savoured. Halo's key is the exquisite balancing on display, with each vehicle and weapon having advantages and disadvantages. You can pound numerous poor souls into submission using the Scorpion tank, but the slow-moving behemoth is extremely vulnerable to plasma mortars and rocket launchers. Flamethrowers are useful in tightly-packed corridors, but out in the open, the poor range makes you an easy target for snipers.
As Halo multiplayer doesn't involve the high-speed twitchgaming prevalent in games like Quake III, this admirable fine-tuning has paid off with gameplay that requires more tactics and skill. It's not as team-dependent as Battlefield 1942 or PlanetSide, but you cant deny it's huge fun. Solo Slayer games (deathmatches) are insanely enjoyable - especially in small levels where your default weapon is the rocket launcher -but Team Slayer and Capture The Flag is where the real fun's at. Although Gearbox and Bungie have set the maximum player limit at 16, eight versus eight will provide enough non-stop hectic action for most gamers.
There's a real thrill in jumping in a Warthog buggy with two other team-mates, one mounting the gun on the back and one filing a weapon in the passenger seat, as you take the wheel and bounce merrily over the terrain towards fortified enemy positions. In one particularly intense Team Slayer game, I had a race on with a rival player for a Banshee that another player had just crashed into the ground. Just beating them to the ship, I then managed to take off turn the craft around and plough it at full speed into his helpless body, killing him instantly -beyond magnificent.
Comparing Halo with other current online favourites is tricky because it doesn't really have the tactical finesse of Battlefield 1942 or the sophistication of PlanetSide, but for sheer no-nonsense fun and laugh-out-loud hilarity, nothing else can (ahem) kiss its ring (had to get it in, folks).
One other major criticism is that you do need a very high-spec PC and a broadband connection to enjoy games without annoying slowdown and lag, but patch updates should mean the network code -completely written from scratch for the PC version - should improve with every new version. Plus, Gearbox has already pledged its support for the online community with free tutorials and mod kits to follow very soon, ensuring that Halo really will shine brightly online.
"Halo Has The best Al I've ever played with, and I spent three years making Half-Life games." So says Randy Pitchford, president of Gearbox Software, as he sits playing a familiar-looking pastel-hued game in his Texas HQ. It's typical of the kind of admiration Halo inspires, and just one reason why, nearly two years after the game first appeared on Xbox, gamers are still clamouring to get their hands on a proper, PC-optimised version of the classic shooter.
A small team at Gearbox has jeen working on Halo for a solid year now, painstakingly re-making the game from Bungie's Xbox code, collaborating closely with the original developer to make sure, in Pitchford's words, "that we don't screw it up". The process is nearly complete. The new multiplayer modes and maps are in, the graphics have been overhauled, the gameplay sharpened. And now, confident that they have not, in fact, screwed it up, Randy's letting us play it.
For any hermit-like gamers out there who haven't had the opportunity to play the Xbox's best game, Halo is an FPS set on a colossal and mysterious ring-shaped world, casting you as a super-soldier fighting hordes of alien Covenant. When it was released to launch the Xbox in 2001, it immediately staked a claim to the title of best console shooter ever. Back then, it had graphics to match any PC game, along with an enthralling sci-fi plot, superb human and alien weaponry, fantastic vehicles, and, as Randy says, some hugely impressive troop and enemy Al.
Bungie also innovated in several areas of the genre, only allowing your character to carry two weapons at any time, thus forcing you to make strategic decisions on the fly. Halo introduced the idea of a gradually recharging shield, a superb convention that added tension as you skulked in the darkness praying that your personal force field would power-up before the next wave of aliens attacked. Plus there were the vehicles, which handled beautifully due to the game's excellent physics model. You could skid around the varied terrain in your three-man Warthog buggy, climb inside a massive Scorpion tank and pound the enemy from afar, or even commandeer the Covenant alien vehicles like the Ghost hover-ship and the Banshee flying attack craft.
With Gearbox's intervention, the single-player game on PC now supports the latest video cards, running up to a resolution of 1600x1200. Mouse and keyboard support goes without saying, as does a proper quicksave function, but Gearbox has also tweaked the gameplay ever so slightly, taking the best bits of the Xbox PAL and NTSC versions of Halo to make the definitive version. For example, the sniper rifle, always a favourite, has the less extreme European 8x zoom, rather than the USA's original 10x zoom. "It's surprising how many times we favoured the PAL version," says Pitchford. "It came later, so Bungie had more time to balance things."
See The Ring
Halo's multiplayer modes on Xbox were also great, but completely offline - to play with or against friends you all had to cram around the TV like laboratory animals or create a crude network by painstakingly connecting several Xboxes together. Gearbox believes it is about to deliver the ultimate Halo multiplayer experience, with a host of original and new multiplayer modes, maps, vehicles and weapons - all playable with up to 16 players over LAN or Internet. "For most of the project we had six people working on Halo, with half of those manipulating the network code," says Pitchford of the process of getting Halo online.
"That's more than we've ever had, and more than any game I've ever known had on that problem, but we wanted to make sure we did it right. Online multiplayer is a vital part of this product."
For existing fans of the game, you'll be glad to hear that all the maps and modes from the original Halo are still in the game. So you'll be able to enjoy King of the Hill, Slayer (deathmatch), Oddball (future sport), CTF and Race on levels such as the infamous Blood Gulch, which featured two bases at either end of an open battlefield.
But it's new content that we're really concerned with, and of this there's no shortage. For starters, there are six additional maps designed to cover as many different kinds of multiplayer mayhem as possible. Ice Fields is a snowy map that's as fun in Race as in CTF, causing any vehicles to skid around hopelessly on its frozen surfaces, whereas Timberland is a very open level with lots of cover -perfect for tank combat. Gephyrophobia ('fear of bridges') is hugely playable and takes place on a central bridge with sniper platforms on either side - great when you take control of the aerial Banshee and swoop down between the struts to pick off any enemy soldiers below.
Also new is Death Island, a variation on the Silent Cartographer level in Halo, which kicks off with a dramatic Private Ryan-styie beach-landing among dozens of aggressive Covenant troops. Then there's Danger Canyon, which has a nasty L-shape in the middle allowing you to launch a major assault without the enemy spotting your approach. Finally, there's Infinity, which is a large figure-of-eight that Pitchford says was inspired by a childhood toy called Criss Cross Crash, where vehicles can race around the loop before smashing dramatically into each other in the middle.
Four On The Floor
Crucially, Gearbox has added full vehicle support to all these maps, as well as introducing a new Rocket Launcher Warthog - a buggy packing explosive missiles for powerful long-range strikes. But we reckon the biggest thrill for Halo fanatics will be the chance to unleash the firepower of two brand new weapons - the flamethrower and the Fuel Rod Gun.
The flame-thrower was something that Bungie has wanted to include in Halo, but didn't have the time to implement. Pitchford and his team have made sure that this new weapon hurts big time, so just a few bursts of flame will toast any troops nearby in seconds. It works a treat and is great in confined spaces, but is balanced by its range - wielding a flame-thrower makes you hugely vulnerable to snipers. The Fuel Rod Gun is basically a huge mortar, pumping out devastating plasma shells that can be fired far into the distance. The coward in us had a great time with this weapon when we tried a multiplayer match, as it allows you to stand at the back and shell enemy positions while your teammates surge forward. Both weapons are a hugely welcome addition, offering many new possibilities for team tactics in multiplayer games.
Throw in the fact that you can now take command of many more vehicles on all the maps, and you can have battles that are more intense than UT 2003. more tactical than Tribes and way funnier than any other FPS out there. "We spent a lot of time balancing the new weapons because we didn't want to mess it up," said Pitchford. "Gearbox and Bungie are ruthless. If there's something we don't like, we're not afraid to say it."
On top of all the gameplay tweaks and additions, the enhanced graphics make a massive difference. All the latest whiz-bang bump-mapping and specular lighting techniques are in place, at resolutions that offer 1,000 times more pixels than the original game. It's like having a new pair of glasses after years of looking through broken Coke bottles.
If there's any remaining worries about Halo on PC, it's that the slightly slower pace of the game may frustrate hardcore shooter fans, and the notable lack of a co-op campaign mode (so superb on the Xbox) could significantly weaken the package. However, having spent some time playing the game in an all-but-complete state, there's little doubt in our minds that Halo is absolutely still worth playing on PC. With Bungie's groundbreaking creation finally playable online, including new maps, weapons and vehicles, Halo PC could be every bit the classic we've been hoping for.
If you're after an epic third-person action/adventure, look no further than Halo. Set on a strange ring-world, you play the part of a human recon soldier who wages a one-man war against an alien race. It may sound like your usual run-of-the-mill plot but, believe us, Halo promises to be something very special indeed. The main reason for our enthusiasm is the inclusion of a graphics and physics engine of the kind we have literally never seen before. Every vehicle in the game (of which there are loads - including flying and driving) moves in such a realistic way, you can't even tell that they're computer-generated models. We watched a running demo and it was like watching a film. There's still plenty of work to do, but rest assured - Halo is one game we will be keeping a very close eye on.
There were three two-hour long queues at E3 this year: one for the shitter; one snaking around the Microsoft stand to snatch a peak at Microsoft's X-Box console; and the other camped around the Bungie booth, with people waiting patiently to see the third-person game Halo in action. The difference between the latter two queues was that while the line for X-Box was filled with Satan-worshipping marketing types, those encamped around the Bungie stand were predominantly games developers, curious as to what all the fuss is about - the people in the know, basically.
Being awarded VIP status and herded around the back, we were able to jump the line and sneak in through a secret entrance to take all the best seats. The presentation, although brief, certainly had impact. First we were treated to a few minutes of real-time action, which although revealed nothing of the game's structure or Al, certainly forced the odd jaw to drop with the graphics alone. The alie ring world on which Halo is based stretched far into the horizon. Firing each of the game's dozen weapons caused casings to roll downhill and when our wise-cracking host climbed into a vehicle, we could even see gravel particles shoot from the skidding wheels as the jeep took off and its occupant bounced in his seat. Little details perhaps, but it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say Halo was the best-looking game at E3 by quite a margin, so good in fact that it looked too good to be true.
Next up was the meat and veg of the presentation - a multiplayer ten minute rolling demo, recorded in real-time in the Halo offices prior to E3. Without going too over the top, it was almost like watching a film. And the promise is that within a year it will be an experience we will all be able to savour, with sleek aliens and their anti-gravity vehicles taking on a human force - all with realistic AI - across a dynamic and seamless world, featuring as realistic a physics model as you're ever likely to find. In terms of its graphical style. Halo manages to hit the right balance in that rather than pitch the humans as good and the aliens as evil, there is almost the same tension as between the colonial marines in the Alien films and the same morality as the honourable hunter of the Predator films. As a multiplayer game Halo could seriously take the crown. As a single-player game we will have to wait a few months to see what Bungie can add. In the meantime, it is clear that graphically Halo is light years ahead of anything else.
Halo: Combat Evolved is arguably the finest console FPS to date. Originally released as a launch title for the Xbox, it was the one title that made it worth owning an Xbox. Now a bit older and with gamers a bit wiser, Halo has finally arrived for the PC ' but can it stack up with the big boys of the PC world?
Halo: Combat Evolved ' sounds like a cocky title, doesn't it? Believe me though'Halo_ really has upped combat in the first-person shooter genre. Gunplay in Halo is fast, fun, and methodical thanks to both the incredible AI and smart gameplay features. The AI is intelligent and unpredictable on both sides of the gun. Allies are actually useful in Halo, which is particularly nice since the enemies are quite smart, to the point where each fight feels unique. You never know what tactics enemies will use, whether they'll be evasive, aggressive, or just run and take cover. The AI coupled with the health system guarantees you'll be ducking in and out of combat constantly, and meticulously planning your moves. Throw in some vehicles into the mix, and you have a fantastic FPS on your hands.
Halo as a whole is wonderful title, but there are some obvious problems, particularly with level design. You'll think it's either genius or just very rehashed. The outdoor levels are fantastic, but the indoor levels are forgettable at best. Granted, it's not confusing and doesn't take away from the action, but it doesn't match the other ingenious aspects of the game. Halo also moves a bit slower than what's ideal for a PC FPS. Sure, the speed is ideal for consoles, but Master Chief could afford to quicken the pace a little, especially with the precise mouse and keyboard setup of the PC.
Aside from the mouse and keyboard controls, the single player game in Halo is essentially unchanged. Cooperative play has been removed, but in its place is the online multiplayer mode, which is just as fun as it ever was on the Xbox.
Halo has the potential to look beautiful, but you'll need a stacked rig to see it's complete graphical prowess. If you're running on a mid-end machine, the Xbox version will look noticeably better since the textures aren't as sharp and the effects are really dumbed down. On a powerful rig, however, the PC version of Halo outdoes the Xbox's visuals, though the differences are subtle. Simply put, it looks stunning at 1600x1200 with full effects on.
Immersive is the one word that sums up Halo'saudio. From the ambient music to the great voice acting and sound effects, you'll feel like you're the Master Chief from beginning to end. Really, there's not much to complain about here.
Halo: Combat Evolved is a fine FPS any way you cut it. It may not be the pinnacle of the genre on the PC, but it can certainly hold it's own. Unfortunately, there aren't enough differences between the Xbox and PC version to make it worth owning both, but if you missed Halo the first time around, there's no better time than the present to make up for your past mistakes.
The year is 2552, and humanity struggles to survive. A terrifying race, calling themselves the Covenant, has swept out of the stars and threatens to purge humanity from the galaxy. Armed with fantastic technology, and an almost religious fervor to destroy humanity, they are the worst threat that human beings have ever encountered. With faster ships and more devastating weapons, the Covenant seem an unbeatable opponent, until the Spartan-II soldiers present Earth with the opportunity to retaliate in kind. The humans, led by the United Nations Space Command, muster their forces to repulse the alien threat and prepare for a special mission to capture a Covenant vessel. The mission will field the Spartan-II soldiers, amazing cyborg soldiers that stand eight feet tall and have been trained since childhood to be the greatest weapons that humanity has ever fielded. Launching from the planet Reach, Earth's effective backdoor and the greatest shipyard in all of Human space, this mission was to turn the tide of the battle against the Covenant and save the entire human race. That was, until the Covenant arrived in a mass of ships, destroying Reach and nearly everything in it.
You are the Master Chief, the last of your kind. Cyborg, warrior, and the last, best hope for humanity -- you were the only Spartan-II to escape the destruction of Reach. Fleeing on the UNSC vessel Pillar of Autumn, you jumped to a random star system, away from Covenant forces. In a stunning and mysterious move, the entire Covenant fleet pursues the Pillar of Autumn as it escapes. The Pillar of Autumn is commanded by Captain Jacob Keyes and armed with some of the best technology in the human fleet. Onboard is an Artificial Intelligence, indispensable to any capital ship in the UNSC navy, and in this case an amazing battlefield tool, able to handle massive amounts of data. Arriving in an unknown star system, you find a strange artifact orbiting a small planet. The object, called Halo, is a massive ring structure, lined with a breathable atmosphere and alien ecosystem. Attacked by the pursuing Covenant forces, the Pillar of Autumn is disabled, forcing you to escape to Halo. Perhaps this alien artifact contains some answers to the mystery of the Covenant and a way to defeat them.
Armed only with your wits, backed by the survivors of the Pillar of Autumn, and assisted by the Pillar of Autumn's AI, Cortana, you are the greatest weapon that humanity has to offer, and the only human that the Covenant truly fears. As a cyborg, you're incredibly strong, possess impeccable reflexes, and are trained in a wide variety of weapons with which to defeat the enemy. You're armed with the Mjolnir armor, a powered armor suit that protects you from all manners of weaponry, enhances your strength and reflexes, and has an energy shield system reverse engineered from the technology used by the Covenant. With it, you are nearly invincible.
Still, the Covenant are not to be taken lightly. Their Grunts are small, numerous creatures that, while weak individually, can pose a threat in great numbers. Elites stand nearly eight feet tall, and use an energy shield system to protect them from attacks while they command the battle. Jackals are shield troopers, using a strong shield to protect themselves and their allies from your attacks. Rounding out their number are Hunters, massive war machines that mount a gigantic hand explosive fuel rod gun and have a massive shield of impenetrable material. Together, these forces seek to destroy you and every other human that still breathes.
Halo is the amazing new title for the Xbox, a First Person Shooter (FPS) that has been anticipated for quite some time. Halo has a deep, driving storyline and many innovative elements that make it a contender for one of the best games that the FPS genre has ever seen. Immersed in a rich, sci-fi backstory, Halo provides plenty of material for single player and multiplayer fans alike.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Halo is, at its heart, a strongly story driven First Person Shooter. Normally, FPS games aren't really suited for a console like the Xbox, but the design of the Xbox controller, and the way Bungie (Halo's developer) laid out the controls, makes Halo an excellent console title. The analog sticks control your movement and aiming. Shoulder buttons let you fire and toss grenades, and their analog quality in controlling the rate of fire on a full auto weapon makes them perfect for the task. You can jump, crouch, and even perform attacks with any of the game's weaponry. Unlike other FPS titles, you can only carry two weapons at any given time, although you're free to scavenge the battlefield for any weapons you can find. This is slightly more realistic than the normal "carry everything" style of gameplay, and requires you to rely on quick wits rather than an endless supply of weapons and ammunition.
The controls can be set up in a variety of ways, including the sensitivity of the analog sticks you use to move and aim. Being able to switch between a normal control set and a legacy southpaw, which completely alters the way you're shooting and moving, is something I consider important. Given the wide diversity of play styles, a good selection of control schemes is important for any multiplayer or single-player game. One of my other peeves in a game like this is the power-up syndrome, where you'll find little power-ups over the course of the game that give you temporary invulnerability or quicker ammo. No such thing in Halo, as these items only come in three flavors: Health to replenish your health stats, Overcharge to boost your shielding, and Active Camouflage, which turns you invisible. Plus, all of these items are explained in game, as the health units are actually medkits, and the other two items are shield enhancements that the Elites use, making them perfect for your energy shield, given that it was reverse engineered from Covenant technology.
One of the first things you'll notice is just how deadly this game is. Gone are the days of a poor man's blaster, weak and ineffectual against your opponents. Halo gives you real guns that can actually defeat your enemies. That means they'll need to use tactics against you. And use tactics they will. As you notch up the difficulty settings, from Easy to Normal, Heroic, and finally Legendary, you won't notice your enemies becoming incredibly damage resistant. The difficulty settings generally increase the number of opponents, give them a little bit more armor, tougher energy shields, and significantly increase their tactical abilities. You'll see the enemies make better use of their weaponry, talk to one another, flank you, and eventually kick your ass. It's intriguing to see a game make such use of tactics, as I've never seen a FPS approach this level of thought. The enemies can talk to one another, make battle plans, and while they are a little predictable, they'll actually outthink you if you give them the chance.
The first weapon you'll get is the Pistol and, for my money, it's one of the best weapons in the game. An Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle, Shotgun, and Rocket Launcher round out the human weaponry. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but all of them are effective against the enemy. Use a rocket launcher if you're attacking a fortified structure, a gun emplacement, or a vehicle. The Shotgun is a good close up weapon and, unlike other games, maintains the lethality of a real shotgun out to good distances. You shouldn't need to ask what the Sniper Rifle does and the Assault Rifle has a great high rate of fire attack against unshielded opponents. The Pistol has a zoom feature and is one of the largest caliber shots the Marines have, making it perfect for one-shot kills with a headshot. Although they're all good weapons, most of these aren't good at dropping the energy shields packed by an Elite or a Jackal. They can finish off an unshielded opponent like no one's business, but against shields, you'll see lots of ricochets. Marines also get Fragmentation grenades, which are timed high explosives that can be bounced around corners for a nice surprise.
Covenant weapons are another matter. The Plasma Pistol fires a steady stream of plasma shots and the trigger can be held down to generate an overcharge. An overcharge shot, aside from being more powerful, can drop enemy shields in one hit, making it extremely useful for taking on Elites and Jackals. Plasma Rifles are slightly better than the pistol, losing the ability to overcharge for a higher damage and overall rate of fire. Needlers fire shards of charged glass, which not only seek the opponent, but also explode shortly after contact, for extra damage. Enough of those in an opponent and he'll disappear in a pillar of purple plasma, but you'll want to be careful, as not only will the explosion damage you, but the needles bounce off of certain surfaces, rendering them inert. The Covenant also use Plasma Grenades, which are slightly more powerful than their frag counterparts, but they don't bounce, have a longer fuse, and tend to stick to things. It's pretty funny when you manage to score a plasma grenade hit on someone's head, as you can then point and laugh as they run around screaming until detonation.
Last, you've got a series of vehicles you can use in the game. The Warthog, the first vehicle you'll use, might end up being your favorite. It's certainly mine. An all purpose jeep, the Warthog has room for a driver, a gunner, and a passenger. The weapon on the Warthog is a large anti-aircraft gun with unlimited ammunition. This one is fast and easy to use, so it'll be good to rely on. After that comes the Scorpion, a giant tank packing a mortar launcher and a coaxial machine gun. Heavy and slow, it's great for taking out big targets, but suffers from its lack of speed and still leaves the driver partially exposed to enemy fire. Four of your allies can also climb onto the exterior of the tank to provide you with fire support. Next is the Ghost, a small Covenant speeder. It's fast, maneuverable, and packs a pair of plasma guns. Since it hovers, it has a tendency to bounce around at higher speeds, but still has the ability to kill an opponent by running over him. Finally, later in the game, you'll use a Banshee, the Covenant flying vehicle named for the screaming sound it makes during turns. It doesn't obey the laws of physics like other vehicles, thanks to the Covenant technology, and while easily destroyed with a Rocket Launcher, packs a mean punch with its plasma guns.
Halo's single player campaign is laid out over a series of ten chapters, all of which are pretty large. I found, when all was said and done, that I'd spent about ten hours or so running through the game on Normal mode. Inside each chapter are a series of small missions that are assigned to you as you're running through the game. Thanks to the Xbox internal hard drive, the large chapters are the only thing that slows down the loading process. It takes a few seconds, up to a minute to load a chapter and then, inside that chapter, switching between missions and the automatic checkpoint save occur on the fly, and they're so close to seamless that you'll think they're framerate skips at first. The storyline is integrated with each mission and, while it isn't as detailed as I'd hoped, it gives you the impression that you're doing something other than running between areas, hunting for bad guys.
Once again, Bungie proves that it's got the right stuff. Taking advantage of the Xbox's multiplayer features, you can play a versus game with up to four players on the same TV, sixteen players through a System Link game, using four TV's and Xbox units, and even a cooperative mode, that lets you play through the single player storyline with your good friend. The only multiplayer mode that suffers from framerate loss is the System Link mode, as with sixteen players, the performance can sometimes jitter. On top of this, playing against other people means that you get to use Bungie's many different multiplayer modes. They've got five different modes: deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill, oddball, and rally. Each mode has different settings you can adjust for a different performance. My favorite so far is Rally, where you race one of your friends in the Warthog. With so many options, it's easy to enjoy a multiplayer game.
Halo is the Xbox's killer app for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the graphics. Every texture in the game is amazingly beautiful and has so much detail that your eyes may just pop out of your head. Look down at the grass and you'll see the individual blades. Approach a rock and you'll see rock striations. The Marines even have scuffs in their armor. These overly detailed textures are really satisfying when you get to see the alien artifacts inside Halo, and you find control panels with these strange rune-like symbols and panels. They haven't skimped on the background either, as you can look into the distance and see the curve of Halo, as well as the weather effects in the distance and the ripple of water in the river as it curves up towards the horizon. There's one mission where you jump onto a troop transport and as it takes off out of the area, you're treated to an in-game picture that looks like you could frame it and put it on your wall.
Halo is absolutely beautiful.
Much like its visuals, Halo's soundtrack is like aural candy. An awesome and inspiring score, designed by Total Audio (run by Marty O'Donnell and Mike Salvatori), the music behind Halo is perhaps as amazing as any other part of the game itself. Epic and very dramatic, it picks up action perfectly during battle, and when the storyline takes a slightly sickening twist later in the game, it ramps up the creepiness with music I can only describe as 'ooky.' My favorite part of the score is a sad, haunting theme that comes up if you let the game sit on a menu long enough. It perfectly accents the tragic fate of Humanity, and is a perfect frame to the important role that your character plays in the events of the game.
While I've never been able to say much about sound effects for any game, I still know when I'm hearing good ones. Everything that you listen to in this game sounds good. You'll hear the difference between marble and dirt underfoot as you run, and the satisfying rat-tat-tat of the Assault Rifle is something I can still hear if I think about it. The sound work for Halo is simple amazing.
Although you can rave about Halo's amazing visuals, its rapacious enemies, or the realistic physics modeling, kudos must be given to Bungie for the work they did on the AI in this game. Starting on Easy means that you'll face opponents who can be broken in combat, don't communicate well, and don't always take advantage of their terrain or weaponry. You'll rarely see a grunt toss a grenade in this mode, and you're more than a match for any Covenant troops. Notch the difficulty setting up to Legendary and the Covenant become crack troops, breaking only under the most unnerving circumstances. The Elites form the backbone of their forces and can direct the Grunts and Jackals to perform flanking maneuvers, or even just deliver more force at a given location. You'll need to be aware of the weaponry they're packing as well, as Grunts are grenade tossing freaks in this difficulty and the Jackals like to use their Plasma Pistol overcharge to drop your shields in one hit. This AI isn't exclusive to the Covenant however, as your allies, the Marines, can also deliver indispensable assistance in a pinch. While they're only lightly armored, and carry an Assault Rifle, they're good at covering an area for you and picking up the slack in a battle you can't win by yourself. All together, these elements make your enemies and allies respond more realistically than I've ever seen elsewhere.
Hmm... there seems to be a lot of this. It might take a minute for me to explain it all. First off, Halo was originally intended as a PC and Mac title, something that I think would've made it much better. Playing through the single player campaign, I got the distinct impression that a lot of things had been left out for sake of making the game work well on the Xbox or to save some extras for a PC and Mac release. The storyline, anticipated to be a detailed sci-fi plot, is dumbed down to the point where you don't get much exposition, and are left in the role of grunt following Cortana's orders. The physics engine and inverse kinematics are everything they were promised to be, realistically handling shadow, fog, falling, and the Warthog suspension. I only saw it break down a couple of times, and I think that's just because I put it into a strange situation (like laying down three active plasma grenades at my feet. Wee!).
If you haven't heard about it before, Halo has a global physics model. Instead of animating each different thing in the game with its own physics, there's a single model that affects everything in the game equally, which can be altered based on what kind of technology you're using. The Warthog, being a UNSC jeep, has suspension that responds completely realistically, hugging the terrain and bouncing appropriately. Fly one of the Covenant Banshee aircraft and you'll feel how different the physics are, as the Banshee uses special technology to break the laws of physics to perform slick maneuvers. Inverse kinematics is a catch-phrase Bungie has been throwing around since they announced Halo. It allows a model to perform several animations at once, letting you perform a backflip, fire your rifle, and toss a grenade all at the same time. While you can't actually do that in the game, it gives it a greater sense of realism, allowing for proper animation of characters, and helps them look so realistic while gripping their weapons or sitting in the Warthog.
Given how Bungie originally marketed Halo to the gaming industry, it appeared that you'd have a lot more freedom in playing the game, with a much more non-linear storyline and mission format. In one of the larger trailers, we even got to see a Covenant equivalent of the Warthog, as well as two different types of animals apparently native to the Halo. Sadly, these things have been left out. As I was playing, although there were scenes that gave the artificial impression of depth to the world, with wonderful background images, I was struck by how much some of the levels appeared to have a normal A->B->C format, without much give and take for your approach. In particular was the chapter Truth and Reconciliation, where you're funneled through a series of enemy strongpoints, each of which you'll need to defeat before moving onto the next. Just take a look at some of the early impressions of Halo on one of the fansites and you'll see how it has changed, a bit for the worse.
I'm biased. Very biased. As someone who has been looking forward to the game for quite some time, I must say that I'm a big fan of Halo and probably would've been even if it hadn't been the game that it is. Still, even with my bias aside, Halo stands tall on its many strengths. It is far and away the greatest title of its kind ever to grace a console system and stands par, if not better, with any PC-based First Person Shooter. It's innovation and high quality design show that a lot of care went into its creation.
A few poor elements hold it back from being the best it could be, like the overall lack of many story elements that were hyped during its creation. Also, it does seem as if a few elements have been purposefully left out, either from lack of development time, or holding them back for a PC and Mac release. Still, these items are more annoyances than anything and most certainly don't keep it from being an amazing title. In the end, there's really only one sentence of this review that you need to read to understand my point.
If you have an Xbox, purchase Halo.