A fantastic 'smart' first person shooter-- miles ahead of everything before it.
The Basics: Xbox release title Halo, by Bungie, ported to the PC by Gearbox. Science fiction FPS which follows the Master Chief (player character) on the strange artificial world of Halo as he tries to stop the Covenant, a horde of aliens intent on destroying humanity.
Halo looked fantastic when it came out for the Xbox, still looked good when it came out for the PC almost two years later, and looks just as nice today. Alongside well crafted models and top-notch texturing, fancy effects such as projected textures for flashlights and specular mapping on metal surfaces make the game quite visually attractive. Character animation is fluid and believable.
The draw distance is fantastic. You can stand at one side of a large plain and see all the way to the other end without any fogging. This goes especially well with the maps, which generally have a good deal of interior and exterior design and are very, very large as FPS maps go.
There are also a lot of nice little touches here. There’s a great blurring effect with sniper zoom, real shadows cast by objects; Banshees leave behind fancy trails in the air, and when you get the invisibility power-up in multiplayer the player model doesn’t just go transparent; it becomes translucent, slightly warping what you can see through it, a really fantastic effect.
High display resolutions are supported. The only real way this field suffered in the port to the PC is that it runs just a bit slower than it really should, especially at low detail levels. Only people with fairly powerful computers will be able to get the most out of the game.
Halo’s sound effects are top notch. Every weapon has distinctive sounds that fit it perfectly; every enemy also has unique sounds, often voice clips also. Not only that, but their AI makes use of these speech clips perfectly; grunts will shout out to take cover when you throw a grenade their way, panic if they’re hit with a sticky grenade, etc. Your human allies have great voice acting that is also utilized flawlessly by the game. All the main characters are well acted throughout.
Halo also features a phenomenal musical score. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. It’s the kind of score so good that you can just launch the game and sit back and listen to the main menu for five minutes. It never seems to intrude upon gameplay but always improves it.
Console ports’ weak point is almost always the interface. It’s rare when a game’s control scheme is successfully ported from a console controller to a mouse, keyboard and/or joystick system, despite the flexibility of the latter. Halo, however, does not fail in this aspect. Any FPS regular will be right at home here; the standard mouselook, WSAD movement control system works flawlessly and the game is very responsive to input. They didn’t fix what wasn’t broken with controlling vehicles, and the wonderfully intuitive navigation system works perfectly on the PC.
The game has some problems stability-wise. After first getting a report that the game was incompatible with my drivers, which were brand new, I had to frustratingly downgrade them; after that it ran fine, but crashes are not unheard of here. Unfortunately, they’re rarely pretty crashes either. While I’ve gotten a couple ‘clean’ crash to desktops, more often than not after a few hours of play the game would lock up cold on me. I have not, however, experienced any trouble with memory leaks.
The game’s utilization of technology is sound as far as graphical appeal goes, and it doesn’t actually *require* a great PC to run, but if you don’t have one it’ll look pretty bad and run quite slowly. It’s frustrating how steep the system requirements are for even the low-detail game, in fact; there’s no way the engine was optimized as much as it could have been.
I’ve also experienced problems with collision. Now and then you actually fall out of the map; vehicles can occasionally be driven through other objects. It’s good, but it’s far from perfect.
Single Player Gameplay/Balance
The single player campaign is a treat to play through and no doubt about that. The story is a bit weak at parts, but it’s generally quite engaging and the flawless voice acting and musical score help keep you completely immersed. From the moment you’re woken up on board the Pillar of Autumn, you’re IN the game.
There are plenty of weapons in the game, but you can only carry two at once, which makes for plenty of interesting tactical choices. Weapon balance is quite sound, but not perfect. The needler and assault rifle weapons are rather underpowered. Apart from that, I never noticed any problems. Placement of ammo and health packs was sensible.
Enemies are a real challenge to fight. They’re extremely intelligent, knocking Half-Life’s marines from the top spot as far as enemy AI goes. They’ll hurl grenades around corners, duck, dodge and jump out of your fire, sneak up on you from behind, and overall simulate real enemies trained for combat. The marines on your side are just as good; not only that, but thanks to well recorded and fantastically implemented voice acting, they’ll shout warnings when a grenade falls nearby, tell you to get out of their line of fire, et cetera. They’ll also take the gunner’s seat in vehicles, which is a big help
Vehicles are great, as mentioned before. There are plenty of human and covenant vehicles to play in and they’re all well balanced, well modeled, and easy to control.
The biggest complaint I have is with the level design, in that interiors are quite repetitive. Exterior worlds do not have this problem but the claustrophobic, dark metal tunnels do. After you’ve been through what seems like the same base for about the eighth time, it gets very tiring.
Multiplayer is fantastic from the beginning. The server search is powered by Gamespy, and whatever you think of their business, their game services are fast and reliable. There are several game modes, the usual suspects with FPS games, the most enjoyable being in my opinion capture the flag. There are a good deal of fun multiplayer maps to play on which have a couple secrets each but mostly just take a bit of getting used to and then eons of experience to master.
Vehicles are incredibly fun in multiplayer, especially running people over in the warthogs. You’ll occasionally get people complaining about this or that vehicle being ‘lame’ or ‘for noobs’ but in point of fact the balance is impeccable.
The PC version of the game features two new multiplayer weapons, the fuel rod gun and the flamethrower. The former is nice and useful; the latter is mostly just nice to play around with and very rarely get a kill.
Teamwork becomes crucial if you're playing against experienced players, which only makes the game funner. There is nothing quite like getting a successful flag capture with a handful of dedicated allies.
The many layers of tactics, well designed and balanced weapons, and fantastic vehicles make Halo a truly amazing game to play online. It has flaws, however. Most notably it lags a good deal more than games such as Unreal Tournament, Quake 3, etc. There’s also an annoying cap on the length of messages you send, which did not exist in the aforementioned games and I have a hard time believing is necessary. The game also messes up now and then on who killed who; if someone is shot out of their vehicle, jumps out and hits the ground alive but dies from the impact, for example, the game often reports that kill as the shooters’.
There are no criteria for the game that fall below three out of five, but I will recap the problems it has:
-System requirements are too high for too low frame rates
-Some minor balance issues in single and multiplayer
-Lag issues in multiplayer
-Repetitive interior levels
The Bottom Line
Halo is a masterpiece, and one that revolutionized first-person shooters. Many games have followed in its footsteps, notably Unreal Tournament 2004 with its vehicular multiplayer action, but Halo retains a unique glory of its own. It is a treasure; great to play through in single player and with potentialy endless hours of multiplayer enjoyment. This is easily one of the best first-person shooters ever made, and if you have a computer that can handle it, it is a must-buy.
Final Value: 4.5/5