A good (NOT great) game that is overhyped to the extreme
Halo has a loyal fanbase. The fanbase is so loyal that they are willing to ignore all of the game's shortcomings - and there are a few key ones.
There's plenty to like about Halo, though. For one, the game has some great visuals. Halo is eye-candy, and a real display of Xbox graphical power. Halo made me look at console games a little differently - as though maybe they can compete with PC games in terms of graphical goodness, finally.
Halo also did what Goldeneye 007 miserably failed to - make the first person shooter playable on a console gamepad. The dual-analog control scheme isn't as good as a PC mouse-and-keyboard setup, but it works surprisingly well. The left and right triggers handle the guns and grenades, and the sticks control smooth and responsive movement. Bungie deserves an award for doing what everyone else has not been able to.
Enemy AI is very good. The "smarter" enemies will take cover from gunfire, dodge shots and avoid grenades, and just generally act like they have some concept of self-preservation. However, while this is a step forward, they are still too easily outsmarted. Too often, an enemy will take cover, and remain behind cover until you flank him and let him have it. Still, while a few games (like Unreal's bots) have been able to accomplish similar AI tasks, it's great to see in the framework of a regular single-player game (as opposed to deathmatch bots).
Vehicles (like hovercraft and jeeps) add an extra dimension to the genre. Unlike Red Faction's vehicles (which were very limited and served little purpose), Halo's vehicles are a core part of the fun. The physics engine is pretty remarkable, and vehicles react like one would expect, as the physics are as real-world as possible (at least as real-world as a hovering vehicle can be).
The split-screen multiplayer feature, similar to Goldeneye, has many different modes. Vehicles add a twist to the standard multiplayer gunplay fare.
The single player campaign starts strong, and ends strong. Everything in-between, however, is plagued with constant repetition. Many stages feature the SAME room, OVER and OVER again. Many stages feature the SAME room, OVER and OVER again. See how repetition is annoying? Too many Halo levels are similarly annoying. Traverse a room, kill what appears there. Go to the next room, it looks exactly the same, kill the enemies, move onward. You may think I'm exaggerating, but many of these rooms truly are *exact clones* of previous areas.
The storyline really isn't very strong. This is very disappointing, compared to previous Bungie games like the Marathon series. Some cutscenes between levels moves the story along, but in reality, there just isn't much there.
Split-screen multiplayer, while a nice addition, pales in comparison to even an average online-capable PC shooter. Of course, it may not be fair to compare a console shooter like Halo to such games, but when the fanboys call Halo the "GREATEST GAME EVER", it's prudent to take a step back and see where Halo comes up short (and there are plenty of shortcomings). 4-player split-screen is a good time, but in the end, it's not great - especially since the Xbox supports online play with shooters like Unreal Championship.
The Bottom Line
Halo is a good game. Compared to PC shooters, however, it's just middle-of-the-pack. There's nothing wrong with that, but it quite possibly is the most overrated game of the PS2-Xbox-Cube generation of consoles. Halo's sequel will have plenty of things to improve upon. Halo is worth owning and playing through, but it does not deserve any special merit.