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Halo: Combat Evolved (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168604)
Written on  :  Jul 26, 2010
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Repetitive and shallow FPS that can't hold a candle to the classics of the genre

The Good

Halo has three stand-out features: enemy AI, teammates, and controllable vehicles.

Much has been said about the AI of the Covenant. Indeed, after Half-Life's marines, Halo's Covenant have perhaps the most advanced and interesting behavior patterns I've seen in an FPS. Although after a while they begin repeating themselves, it was a nice feeling at first to deal with organized groups of enemies that actually employed some tactics. Stronger aliens would elegantly side-step, take cover, and generally behave in a smart, believable way. Smaller ones would block your attacks with shields or try to compensate strength with quantity. Perhaps the most memorable enemies are the Grunts, who get easily demoralized, running away at the sight of a defeated Covenant leader.

The marines will actually help you in this game, fighting on your side. It is a somewhat welcome change from the usual "lone hero saves the world" philosophy. Don't get too excited, though: the AI of your teammates is just functional, far from being revolutionary. But at least those allies are not completely useless, they won't throw bombs at you or get killed at the first opportunity.

I absolutely agree with the other reviewer here on MobyGames: praising the character AI in Halo only reveals the general weak state of AI routines in games. Halo did what every first-person shooter should have done. That is not to say that the AI in this game is amazing. After a short time, you'll learn to predict enemy patterns, their AI being less of an obstacle than their high endurance.

The best feature of Halo are the vehicles. That could be the saving grace of the game for those who have the patience to endure the rest of its gameplay. Vehicle segments are the only ones that feel genuinely exciting. While driving the Warthog is just moderately fun, things change when you get hold of cool alien technology. Hovering or flying around while shooting at poor unsuspecting Grunts or destroying the same vehicle controlled by a fearsome Elite warrior is very fun. Vehicle levels are usually large, and the choice of strategies is quite vast. Getting our of a damaged vehicle and quickly occupying another one before an enemy gets there certainly belongs to the most entertaining moments Halo has to offer.

What else? The weapons work reasonably well. There is just enough variety and balance to try out different stuff - though in the end, I found that aliens take a while to kill no matter what you are using. Naturally, rocket launchers and alike shred them to pieces instantly, but the other weapons inflict more or less the same damage. The feeling of using human and alien technology at once is quite rewarding, though. The two-weapon system, which forces you to choose instead of just grabbing whatever is available, is a good idea. I also liked the implementation of grenades: they were easy to find, easy to use, and caused considerable damage that made me choose them over other approaches from time to time. Melee attacks also work well, and were actually more useful than they usually are in this type of games.

The Bad

Halo is, at best, an average FPS with fundamental, unforgivable weaknesses.

The game has the worst level design I have ever seen in a FPS. The indoor locations of Halo consist of identically-looking rooms and corridors that were put together without any care or attention to detail. Maddeningly monotonous, they were designed with such crudeness that I almost couldn't believe my eyes. My impression was that whoever designed those levels was an amateur badly in a hurry to finish the job before he got fired. The levels of Halo are boring almost beyond belief. Outdoor locations are slightly better, but only because they are outdoors. Natural components are more interesting than the yawn-inducing materials they chose for the indoor locations.

The level of detail is incredibly low. Every room is as bland as possible. The rooms you see in Halo could be anything. They are just rectangles, mathematical constructions without any soul. At one point, you explore an alien battle cruiser. What can you say about it? That it consists of dozens of identically-looking purple corridors. Nothing else! There are hardly any objects in the rooms, and if there are, they repeat themselves verbatim, copy-paste style, ad nauseum. Those rooms serve no purpose. They are simply there, ugly, dull, empty, and tiresome.

To ignore this as a small flaw would be, in my opinion, to miss the whole point of what makes first-person shooters enjoyable and immersive. When I play an FPS, I want to be a part of its world. It doesn't depend on the premise. The premise of Halo is not bad: a mysterious planet, alien civilization, two different alien races, place of religious worship... It's the execution that is horrible. Just before Halo, I played Blood II; it hardly has a better premise, but the colorful locations make it actually more enjoyable than this miserable collection of grey corridors.

Halo destroys a long, respectable tradition of FPS design philosophy. What we loved doing in those great FPSs of the past is no longer there. It is really amazing how "successfully" Halo eliminates from its gameplay nearly everything that made shooters fun in the first place! Forget interactivity. Forget destructible environments. Forget secret areas. Forget puzzles of any kind. Forget different goals and objectives in every location. Forget humor, forget set-pieces, even forget boss battles! It is as if Duke Nukem 3D never happened. It is as if Half-Life was released on the moon. It is as if No One Lives Forever never saw the light of the day. But why go this far? Doom had, by far, more variety and depth than Halo! Halo disregards almost everything that was achieved in the genre before it. To ignore this, to praise Halo as some sort of a FPS Messiah is not only dubious taste; it's simple lack of knowledge concerning the history of the genre.

With the exception of vehicles, which is really the only gameplay element Halo does well, the entire game consists of shooting waves upon waves of enemies, without anything else. Sure, the AI is good, but how many times do you want to shoot the same mechanically appearing Covenant group? At what point does it become tedious and boring to out-smart yet another Elite and finish off a fleeing Grunt? By the time the Flood enters the scene, you are already bored. But the Flood finishes the deal. I wouldn't be hurt by their primitive AI if they had anything else to offer. But they don't. They are not scary at all, not even disgusting. Almost every FPS I know offers more interesting enemies of the same type.

Everything else in Halo is average. The graphics are good, but who cares if the world is so empty? The graphics of Blood were below the technical standard of its time, yet I had much more pleasure contemplating its locations than the drab, pitiful installations of Halo. The music is nice, but very sporadic. The story? It's just your ordinary sci-fi tale that has been done many times before. Cut-scenes are competently made, but something is missing in the whole thing, something that would give the story more personality and appeal. You don't really feel the grandeur of a mysterious alien civilization. Emotions run low in this story, it leaves you cold and indifferent. The story greatly lacks detail and therefore can't compete with good sci-fi tales. For example, we learn nothing about the different races that constitute the Covenant. The whole idea of the Flood and the ways to stop it is contrived and unconvincing. The dialog is completely unremarkable. At its best, it's just "normal"; at its worst, it becomes corny, with occasional awkward, badly done comic relief, that doesn't fit at all the supposedly serious story of the game.

Perhaps the funniest (well, actually, saddest) part of it all is how Master Chief became the first video game character to make it into Madame Tussaud's museum. Think of your favorite video game characters and now think that Master Chief, of all people, got this honor! Unbelievable! I vote to immediately replace him with Lo Wang from Shadow Warrior. At least he is funnier and has more personality. And is more handsome, too.

The Bottom Line

Halo has a solid premise, controllable vehicles, and good enemy AI. But all this means nothing compared to its glaring flaws. Repetitive gameplay and awful level design kill this game. Halo feels like a fancy AI-testing held in amateurish 3D constructions with no appeal whatsoever. It is a cold, unpleasant, shallow, and ultimately boring experience.

Oh, and I don't give a damn about why it was so overrated. I don't "hate the Xbox" (I do hate this whole moronic "console war" concept, or whatever they call it). I actually have this console, which has some nice exclusives to offer. Though I definitely prefer playing first-person shooters on PC, I enjoyed, for example, the console-exclusive shooter TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, which is in my opinion much more interesting than Halo. Bottom line: I try to judge games for what they are. And for whatever it's worth, here is my judgment: overrated or underrated, Halo is a strictly mediocre game that doesn't deserve to be mentioned together with the great classics of the genre.