Halo PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Wednesday, 25 July 2007 18:00
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Developers: Bungie Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
PC Port: Gearbox Software
Demo
ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Violence)
PEGI 16+ (Game contains depictions of violence)

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A Drop of Time
On consoles, Halo is legendary. For the first time since GoldenEye, here was a shooter designed from the ground up to work as well with a gamepad as with a mouse and keyboard. What’s more, it came included with a co-op mode to allow you and a friend to play through the single player game together. But how does the legend fare when ported to the PC, where it must not only square off against the genre’s finest but also do so without its coveted co-op mode?

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Ambient Wonder
In the Halo universe, mankind is at war with the Covenant—a religious coalition of alien races. The Covenant view humanity as an affront to their gods, bombarding inhabited planets with so much firepower that the surface literally turns to glass. At the start of the game the Covenant have just laid the planet Reach to waste, and the Pillar of Autumn—one of the few surviving starships—makes a blind jump through slip-space in a bid to draw the Covenant away from Earth.

To everyone’s surprise, they emerge in a section of the galaxy home to an enormous artificial ring world, the eponymous Halo. The Pillar of Autumn makes an emergency landing on the construct, its forces scattering across the surface in the process, and the Covenant are forced to follow—Halo holds religious significance to them, and they dare not fire upon it. What follows is down-and-dirty guerilla warfare between the resourceful humans and the technologically superior Covenant.

Thanks to well-directed cutscenes, rousing musical accompaniment, and several unexpected plot twists, Halo’s storyline proves to be one of its greatest strengths. Though the player character—a super-soldier known as Master Chief—is a man of few words, journeying with him is Cortana, the Pillar of Autumn’s onboard AI. She is the one who provides most of the game’s exposition and direction, and although I never really found myself endeared to her character, she gets the job done admirably.

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The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe
In your war against the Covenant, you’ll wield a variety of both human and alien weaponry. The former are your standard FPS fare, but the Covenant’s armament is much more unique. The bulk of their guns are energy based, overheating when fired too quickly, and unlike mankind’s weapons cannot be reloaded—once spent, the firearm must be discarded and replaced. That’s because unlike most first-person shooters at the time, in Halo you’re only allowed to carry two weapons at once.

Thankfully, the weapons are well balanced. Each fits a unique role, even between human and Covenant versions of the same thing. The human pistol, for instance, is surprisingly powerful and precise, and comes with a small scope. The Covenant pistol, on the other hand, can charge up a more powerful shot capable of knocking out energy shielding with a single hit. Add in a melee attack unique to each weapon and a cache of grenades (distinct from the two weapon limit), and you’ll never be lacking in options.

There are also several vehicles at your disposal, the undisputed standout of which is the Warthog—picture a Jeep’s wet dream with a minigun mounted in back and space for a third passenger to literally ride shotgun. It orients itself wherever you point the mouse, though the control is loose enough to keep things fun. Thanks to some great physics, there’s nothing quite like tearing through a battlefield in one, guns blazing, suspension rocking, dirt flying. It’s a wild ride.

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Enough Dead Heroes
The fact that the Covenant consists of multiple races means you’ll face several different kinds of enemies. The low level units consist of Grunts and Jackals, small support types that will run away screaming when the battle isn’t going their way. At the other end of the spectrum are Hunters, heavily armed and armored walking tanks, and the Elites, eight-foot tall humanoids with energy shielding and the occasional active camouflage or one-hit-kill energy sword.

The intelligence routines behind the Covenant is solid. They’ll dive out of the way of grenades and oncoming vehicles, employ cover, and will actually go to where they last saw the player. More than once I’ve duped them into thinking I’m somewhere I’m not, only to ambush them from behind. They’re not stupid, though. An energy sword-wielding Elite won’t expose himself at long range, but once you draw near he’ll come running like a bat out of hell.

Halfway through the game, a plot twist reveals that Halo is not uninhabited, introducing a parasitic enemy known as the Flood. True to their name, they attack through sheer numbers, mutating human and Elite corpses to serve as their minions. They can clumsily wield weapons, but will throw themselves into melee combat when wounded. They lack the intelligence of the Covenant units, but make up for it in sheer tenacity—they’ll just keep coming, even after being knocked down or losing a limb.

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Dust and Echoes
Halo uses a hybrid health system that combines two types commonly seen today. While Master Chief has a health bar that can be replenished by health kits, his first layer of defense is a recharging energy shield. If you can avoid taking further damage for enough time, the shield will automatically return to full strength. Once the shield is completely down, though, Master Chief himself begins taking damage. Even if you are killed, the game autosaves constantly and features virtually no load times.

It’s not without its problems, though. The autosave is often tied to clearing out groups of enemies, so if you run past them and die later on, you’ll be sent all the way back. The game can also seem unfairly hard at times, especially when it comes to the Flood. Late in the game, it isn’t uncommon to square off against dozens at a time in wave after wave, many of them carrying one-hit-kill rocket launchers. At times like this you don’t feel that you’re being beaten by the enemy, but by the developers.

Halo’s biggest problem, however, is in the level design. Let’s be clear, the outdoor sections are simply amazing in both gameplay and appearance. The ring world is just gorgeous to look at, and most of the outdoor missions emphasize the fact that you’re in a war with the Covenant. You’ll have backup from your fellow soldiers, and both sides will commonly have access to vehicles. Covenant tanks raining plasma mortars down on your position, dropships bringing in fresh troops… it’s all very well done.

Indoors, however, is a completely different story. You’re almost always alone, and the levels are repetitive and boring. There seem to be only a handful of designs—hallway, round room, square room, etc.—and they’re linked together over and over again. It’s so bad that there are literally arrows on the ground to point you in the right direction. It’d be all right if the indoor levels were kept to a minimum, but they’re tied to the plot-crucial Flood. That means over half the levels in the game are set indoors. Problematic.

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Conclusion
Halo is at its best when portraying grand outdoor engagements with the Covenant, and at its worst when it devolves into a generic corridor crawl against the Flood.  Which is unfortunate, considering what the game does well, it does very well. Co-op play would have definitely improved things, but that’s sadly a case of what-if. Still, even though it's not the FPS messiah it was when it first came out, Halo remains a solid entry in the first-person shooter genre.
  

Game Rated 8/10
 

 

 

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