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Halo: Combat Evolved

Developer: Gearbox Software / Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-16
Similar To: Half-Life
Rating: Mature
Published: 10 :17 : 03
Reviewed By: Lawrence Wright

Overall: 8 = Excellent


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Minimum Req.: P3 933, Win 98/ME/2000/XP, 64MB RAM, 32MB 3D, 1.2GB hd, 8X CDROM
Reviewed On: AMD 1900+, 512MB, GeForce 4 4400, SB, Win XP Pro


Ahh, Halo. Where would the Xbox be without this game? Halo was setting the game world on fire long before it was released as a 3-million-selling Xbox exclusive, and when it finally was in our sweaty hands, it delivered. There were rough points, to be sure; repetitive level design was the number one sign that Bungie's baby was maybe rushed a little by the bosses at Microsoft. No one found significant flaws with the gameplay however. The single player game was world class, and the multiplayer was no slouch. Two years later Xbox owners are still playing through the single player game and throwing Halo parties - it's that good.

Gameplay: 8/10
It's hard to rate this game. Should it be compared to the PC games that have superceded it in the two years since the Xbox release? Should it be compared to the Xbox version instead? Perhaps a little of both is in order. For those familiar with the Xbox version you might best skip to the end for a comparison between the two. For those of you who've never played Halo, read on.

Through above-average voiceovers and throroughly adequate cinemas (rendered on the fly) we're introduced to the situation and our protagonist. The story is concise enough that you don't lose interest while it unfolds; your goals are laid out and you're on the move in very short order. Apparently the Human ship Pillar of Autumn was pursued by a force of baddies called the Convenant to this unnamed world with a ring around it (but not a Ringworld, that's been done). Outgunned and doomed to crash on the 'halo' the ship's captain wakes you, the Master Chief, from your cryogenic slumber, and after a short acclimitization period you're fighting your way off the ship and onto the surface of the halo. When you leave the ship you're tasked with protecting the ship's computer, Cortana, and for the rest of the game she accompanies you, providing intel and telling you what your goals are.

The game is intricately balanced from start to finish. You can only carry two weapons at a time, along with four each of two kinds of grenade. Typically the bigger weapons are less often found and have less ammunition available, and the player must balance availability with need at all times. Sure you can find a thousand rounds for the assault rifle, but the plasma rifle does more damage, and the plasma pistol fires faster, and the needler has heat-seeking projectiles...

The levels are large and the setting allows for some impressive variety of settings. Corridor battles in giant warships, outdoor fights in luscious green valleys, clearing rooms in alien machines, landing dropships on the beach, flying alien craft through blowing snow... That Halo manages to combine all these locales without once losing the plot is very impressive. There are some levels though that are very badly stretched out, and there are plenty of occasions where a firefight will leave you momentarily disoriented with absolutely no way to tell which way you're going - forward and backward look the same. In some places it seems the same room was slapped down on the map five or six times in a row. It's to Halo's credit that the pacing and story are so excellent that you don't often mind the cookie-cutter levels.

Throughout the game you're given a number of different goals, such as escaping the ship at the very start to following a disembodied voice through a massive alien machine. The Pillar of Autumn scattered scores of escape pods loaded with marines and these fodder will back you up, man the guns on your warthog, and in one stage sit on the side of your tank dangling their legs and cheering while you pound away at the enemy. There's a huge amount of voice, comment and radio chatter in Halo, more than any other game that comes to mind. In one particular swampy battle the chatter was so thick and varied, and the suspension of disbelief was so great that I momentarily forgot I was playing by myself. The alien fodder are provided as subtle comic relief with their constant chattering, throwing out squeaky comments like "They're everywhere!" as you tear a one-man hole through their midst.

There are savepoints at frequent intervals, and usually right before a big fight. The game saves automatically, which is quite handy - but it also pauses the game for a moment while it does, so you're sometimes in the middle of a move and the game shudders to a halt while it takes a second to save, and you'll find your nose up against a wall when it's done. This didn't happen on the Xbox. New to the PC version are handy pop-up windows during the first few levels when you find something new or need to know how to use something. Strangely these always appeared after I had used the item in question instead of before (perhaps because of my Xbox experience I rushed a little) but they would also appear in mid-narration, pausing the game and fading out the aural instructions, another problem the Xbox version didn't have.

Gearbox's main addition to Halo is its full-on internet multiplayer feature; which, unfortunately, isn't that good. The problem with Halo's multiplayer, and this is the running theme with Halo PC, is that it's two years old. Lag is bad, and even with a low-latency server (40ms or so) disconnects and de-syncs were the norm rather than the exception. While the measured pace of the single player missions is acceptable, the slow movement in multiplayer can make you quite frustrated if you're used to newer, faster games. As with any other multiplayer the people you're playing with determine the fun you'll have, but even with the many varied gametypes included with Halo PC the single player is what will justify your purchase. Unless the multiplayer changes a lot before release, it might not entertain for long.

Graphics: 7/10
It's been two years. Games look better now than they ever did, and Halo's showing its age. Low-poly backgrounds are the norm in most places, and the bump-mapping that so impressed in 2001 now looks flat and uninteresting. Most of the level design has stood the test of time however, and some of the levels are as visually compelling as they ever were. Just don't get too close, you might spoil the magic.

Sound: 9/10
The audio effects matches the game so perfectly you hardly realize it's there. Very professional and orchestral soundtrack combined with perfectly queued effects and environment sounds, echoes and voice acting, and the result is nearly perfect. Very well done. Some newer games have more and better effects, but the radio chatter and enemy voices really push this rating up a point or two.

Control: 8/10
There's nothing wrong with Halo's control, it's just showing its age a little. Playing with a mouse and keyboard is slightly different than with the Xbox pad, but it's no worse for it. If you were so inclined you could use one of Microsoft's Xbox-like gamepads (or any other) for that real console experience. Competent but unremarkable.

Overall: 8/10
The PC version offers two new weapons and six new maps over the Xbox version, but aside from this and a few tweaks taking advantage of newer, faster hardware the game is unchanged. That the game took so long to see release is almost certainly because the Xbox version continued to sell so well. It demands DirectX 9, and is surprisingly hard on your resources, showing fewer visuals, sounding not quite as good, and running slower than a more modern shooter. Bottom line: this is an excellent two year old game, and everyone should enjoy it for the amazing single player experience. This is, along with Half-Life, as good as it gets in a first-person shooter. (Note: 7/10 if you've played the Xbox version).

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