Well, the wait is finally over. The hotly anticipated release of Halo 2 has come and gone and gamers everywhere are plunking down $50USD for Bungie’s media-hogging monster. While the Halo 2 hype machine continues to plow forward relentlessly, we at Mygamer thought it would be the perfect time to step back from the current media frenzy and cast a critical eye over the title that started it all.
Firstly, Halo isn’t technically Halo. It’s actually Halo: Combat Evolved. Nobody ever calls it this, though, because it’s really not necessary. It would be like calling Madden, Madden NFL 2005, or calling GTA, Grand Theft Auto. Few games reach single moniker status, and even fewer achieve this sort of franchise notoriety after just one title. Even Mario (the undisputed godfather of gaming) had several titles under his plumber’s tool belt before he could claim this status. But, Halo pulled it off almost immediately.
Before diving into the review of this much-loved title, feedback assistance was sought by asking fellow gamers what exactly makes Halo so great. The spittle heavy responses ranged from: “Dude, Halo rocks!” to “Halo rules, man!” Not exactly the keen insight we were hoping for. However, through further exploration it became increasingly clear that consumers view Halo as some kind of gaming deity. But, the only way to uncover the absolute truth in this matter would be to sink willingly into the Halo universe all over again. It will probably come as an unforgivable shock to Halo fanboys around the globe that this reviewer has only played through Halo once – about three years ago when it was first launched with the Xbox. Not that Halo can be forgotten, but a three-year sabbatical from hordes of Covenant and Flood perhaps provides the perfect candidate to review Halo in a semi-unbiased light.
So, what was discovered during the quest to uncover the truth behind Halo’s meteoric phenomenon? Well, simply put: “Halo totally rocks, man!” Sorry about that little outburst. An elaboration through utilized gray matter is required – starting with Halo’s storyline. The plot is always compelling without ever becoming overly complex or convoluted (Unlike the sequel – Ed). You play Master Chief; a badass Spartan, a genetically engineered marine tasked with the job of saving humanity from an evil alien race called The Covenant. The story unfolds over ten fantastically beefy levels, with several twists and turns along the way to keep you enthralled right up to the point where you obliterate your very last piece of Covenant scum.
The ten levels are crammed with varied forms of gameplay. Developers, Bungie, successfully pull off the challenging task of creating levels that are fairly linear but never truly make the player feel restricted. There is lots of sprawling environmental space throughout the levels and a variety of ways to explore it, including land-based and airborne vehicles that the Master Chief can pilot. These vehicles can offer somewhat of a bittersweet experience, though. They look awesome and provide the game with some great variety, but they can also be frustrating to control. The vehicles are essentially steered through the positioning of the in-game camera; wherever you turn the camera the vehicle will follow in that direction. To Halo’s credit the rest of the controls are incredibly intuitive and even the initially disorienting vehicle control scheme can be mastered with practice.
The gameplay is also impressive. Halo would have been great as a straight-up first-person shooter, but by adding other great elements it has raised the bar, making it difficult for more current titles like Doom 3 to achieve Halo’s greatness. Halo manages to combine key ingredients of the FPS genre with a great story, some strategy-based combat, and fabulously creative level design. Don’t worry, though, Halo will have you running and gunning with the best of them, but you’ll also be running for cover as you trade fire with intelligent enemy AI. There’s a definite element of strategy in Halo that’s usually absent in FPS games. At first you’ll be tempted to go out guns a blazing, but you’ll soon learn that the AI will take you out fast if you don’t adopt a smarter approach. The AI can actually be a bit frustrating at times, as enemies are often too aware of your presence. You can be a mile away, behind a rock, sniping unsuspecting enemies and they’ll soon return fire with uncanny accuracy. These aliens often prove better shots than Wild Bill Hickock. Overall, this strategy element works pretty well and it’s really cool to witness the friendly Marine AI fighting alongside you during intense battles. Halo also offers up a cool assortment of human and alien weaponry, including a surprisingly capable handgun. Pistols in most FPS games are usually just a teaser to the ?real’ guns, but you may well find yourself relying on Halo’s scoped pistol throughout the entire game.
Halo’s graphics, while not quite at the level of more recent titles like FarCry or Doom 3 are still damn good considering the game was released over two years ago. In fact, with the exception of the abovementioned titles, Halo’s visuals are still comparable with almost all of today’s best games. Lush outdoor environments and creepy alien interiors all look spectacular. You’ll anticipate reaching the next level just so you absorb all of the great eye candy. Halo’s sound is equally impressive; the audio really draws you into the action. In one of Halo’s earlier levels you’ll the impressive music used to great effect. The level, titled The Silent Cartographer is not time based, but you’d never know this from the music playing. The intense audio at the end of this level provides a sense of urgency never before experienced in an FPS video game. You find yourself running around frantically simply because the game’s music tells you to. The quality sound work is apparent throughout the game and truly adds to Halo’s overall quality. The voice acting is also good, providing a sense of realism and emotion at all time. Master Chief’s brassy cybernetic implant sidekick Cortana, is especially enjoyable.
Halo’s single-player campaign is worth the price of an Xbox alone, but several multiplayer options make the deal even sweeter. You can play with four friends on a single screen or with up to 16 through LAN connections. There’s also a fun co-op mode that allows you and another player to conquer the single-player quest. Halo also offers four difficulty settings. At the now reduced price of $29.99USD, picking up a copy of Halo is simply a no-brainer. It’s not difficult to understand why Halo is held in such high regard within the gaming community. While not a perfect title it certainly raises the bar of quality for console based FPS games. Can’t wait to pick up a copy of Halo 2.