Does the 2001 game of the year really need an introduction? To know the background story behind it, yes it does. Halo has had a long coming, ever since the days of being one of the most anticipated Macintosh games, to being the best game on Xbox, this gameís history is as long and confusing as the story of Bungieís previous games. Bungie has always been a developer of Macintosh games, and very good ones at that. They have always taken pride in delivering an exceptional game, with an extraordinary story to compliment it, and Halo is no exception. Halo has been in development for Mac since the late 90s. It was shown at countless Mac expos, and had Mac gamers frothing over it. Soon before it was about to come out, MS came in, and bought out Bungie, and had them make Halo exclusive to their new Xbox game system. Bungie had to scramble to port this game to Xbox in less than a year, and as a result, they had to leave out some features that they wanted to include.
While on the surface, Halo may seem to be nothing more than a regular shooter of humans vs. aliens, itís actually much more complex than that. The year is 2552; you are John 117, the Master Chief, a SPARTAN II soldier, the last of your kind, and mankindís last chance for survival. An alien race called the Covenant is bent on the destruction of all humans, and the only reason they have for it is that itís the ďwill of their godsĒ, which isnít a very good excuse to me. Nevertheless, the humans, nor the Covenant will back down without a fight, and itís pretty much up to you to make sure that the humans do not lose. You were taken from your home planet at age 6, and bred for combat along with hundreds of other SPARTAN soldiers. The other SPARTANs were eliminated by the Covenant during many other battles, and you watched helplessly from space as the planet was glassed which contained the last few remaining SPARTANs. The cruiser you were on had no choice but to escape, with you on it. You were put in cryo sleep and you would live to fight another day. A short time after, the Covenant attacked your ship, and your cryo sleep was cut short, because duty called...
Halo at its core may seem like a regular FPS, but it is much deeper than that. For the majority of the game, you are on foot mowing down aliens with various guns that youíll pick up from dead aliens and Marines. One of the features that sets Halo apart from other games in the genre is the fact that you can only carry two weapons at a time, plus grenades. Other FPSís usually allow you to carry around ten weapons, and many of them often have a very fake feel. Although Halo is set 500 years in the future, the weapons were purposely kept similar to guns of today, in order to keep a semi-realistic feel to the game. The guns in Halo include your basic pistol, machine gun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, alien rifle, alien pistol, and a fairly odd gun called the Needler which shoots out little needles which explode on impact. All of the guns in Halo also have a melee ability, which by pressing B, allows you to hit with the butt of your weapon to deliver a powerful blow at close range. Halo was not meant to have extremely odd guns which are completely absurd and it prides itself on simplicity. This game established the now Xbox standard and preferred method of moving, which is using the left joystick to move, while the right joystick will look around. After only a few minutes playing, youíll find yourself in love with Haloís control scheme and not wanting anything else. The smooth and easily accessible controls allow for quick and responsive controls, which is perfect for this type of game.
Another thing that Halo does differently, is the teamplay in the game, it's not a one man army game a la Serious Sam, or a game based very heavily on teamplay and tactics like Ghost Recon, it's a mixture of both. There are many moments in the game when you truly feel like the Master Chief, which further contributes to the epic and monumental feel of the game. Many places in Halo will have you in partake in very intense battles with the Marines backing you up, or you backing them up. Regardless of how you feel about fellow soldiers, they are an asset to you. The part of Halo where the Marines are most detrimental are when youíre in vehicles with them and they are your backup gunners. Halo is full of many drivable vehicles including a jeep with a machine gun on back called a Warthog, a Scorpion battle tank, a flying alien craft called a Banshee, and a speeder bike type hovering vehicle called a Ghost. These vehicles aid in your many assaults, and Marines can take up the Warthogís gun, or jump on the side of the Scorpion and help you shoot, while you do the driving. The Marines can only drive one vehicle, the single seated Ghost, and this does not happen often. When you do not have Marines aiding you, youíre not alone, the Master Chief has an A.I. named Cortana built into his armor which gives him advice, tactics, and details of his various missions. The levels of the game are massive in size, and usually take over an hour to complete. The best parts of the game are found outdoors, which is where you will pilot vehicles. The indoor environments give you a huge feel that the game was rushed, as they are very repetitive, and one level, The Library is incredibly boring, as itís just you fighting wave after wave of enemies in a dull and bland interior level. The A.I. of the game is exemplary and it makes Halo worth playing over and over, as missions do not become stale over time. Some great examples would be aliens retreating when higher classes of aliens are killed, when an Eliteís shield is depleted, they will run until it is replenished, or when you destroy a Jackalís shield, they will run for cover. The lowest class of the Covenant, the Grunts are cowards and will run away screaming over almost anything. Marines jump out of vehicles or backing away from a crowd of fellow Marines when a grenade is stuck to them, now thatís dedication. Marines and aliens will dodge grenades, use flanking tactics, retreat, and take cover, and all this makes for some very interesting battles. However, as great as the A.I. is, it does contain some flaws. Sometimes NPCís (non playable characters) will ignore grenades thrown at them, use poor tactics in battle (ie, get in your line of fire), or even become seemingly stuck in the ground instead of running to a dropship for evac, which is just a rare glitch in the game.
Aside from the regular single player campaign, Halo has a co-op mode, similar to Perfect Dark, which allows you and a partner to complete the campaign mode together. Unlike Perfect Dark, the co-op in Halo does not punish either person for dying, and you have unlimited lives. Whenever one person dies, the other can continue on alone, or retreat to a place away from the action until the other player can respawn. The unlimited lives allow for a less pressured gameplay experience, and also allow for in depth exploring of maps. While the campaign modes are excellent, the most popular and most enduring part of Halo is easily the multiplayer mode. The multiplayer mode in Halo sports many modes including a race mode, a ďkill the carrierĒ type mode, along with the basic deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag, along with many more. Halo can support system link for up to four Xbox units, and up to sixteen players. Two of the maps support vehicles (no turrets or Banshees however) and they are very large maps. While, some people may have be disappointed about the lack of inclusion of any A.I. bots, as soon as you get a good system link game going, you wonít even want them there. Even if you arenít exactly Mr. Popular, if you have broadband you can use certain applications such as XBConnect to trick your Xbox into thinking youíre playing a system link game, when youíre actually playing it over the internet. With loads of multiplayer modes, spot on controls, tons of features, excellent A.I., an overall non-glitchy game, mostly great levels, and a seemingly always fresh gameplay experience, Halo is a game thatíll have you coming back many times.
For a first generation Xbox game, Halo is beautiful, hell, itís one of the best looking games out there for any platform. Everything is detailed, each surface has itís own unique look and feel to it. There is no detail that has been skimped on in this game. The massive environments have incredible draw distances to them, which aid to in adding to the realistic and awe inspiring feel of this game. Each character is extremely detailed, with even the most miniscule things given attention to. The Marines have little computer screens that come down over one of their eyes which displays scrolling information. The Elites have jaws they sway and they have individual sharp teeth. Bullet holes seem like no two are alike, and they give a different mark depending on which weapon is used to make them, and on what surface theyíre made on. The mouths on Marines open and close when they talk, their eyes blink realistically, and there are many different variations of them. The textures are smooth, the grass looks excellent, the water seems almost photorealistic, and even the bland indoor environments look excellent. Since this is a first person shooter, youíd expect the guns to be highly detailed, and they are. Guns like the assault rifle have a bullet counter on them, and other guns like the rocket launcher have words on them, and even the ammo has little text on it, that few developers would bother putting on there. Grenades cause the water and sand to shoot up when they are thrown, and bullets look great going through the water, it seems reminiscent of the first scenes in ďSaving Private RyanĒ if done on a large scale. Everything is smooth in Halo and lacking of jagged textures (depending on the TV you use) and this makes for a very good looking game. Even places where youíre not supposed to go have not been ignored. The level of detail in Halo is massive, and itís all the little things that make it come together.
The part of the game thatís usually ignored the most, is the part in Halo that received an unprecedented amount of work. The voice work in the game does not suck, and that alone makes it worthy of a good score. The Covenant will talk in garbled English (itís actually Marine talk played backwards and slowed down) and they will yell when they see you approaching, or yelp when you startle them. The Marines will give battle cries as you ride with them into battle, and they have many different accents, which shows that Bungie didnít skimp on the voice work. Cortana has a voiceover that seems to fit her perfectly, and you can sense urgency and many different emotions in the way that she speaks. The Master Chief doesnít speak much, but he has a low monotone voice that is reminiscent of Boba Fett from ďStar WarsĒ (the armor adds to that illusion as well) in more ways than one. Each gun has a different sound, and it depends whether youíre in a cave, or underwater, there is a distinct sound difference to them. The plasma alien weapons give off a ďsplashĒ kind of sound, while the human bullet weapons give off a different sound whether they hit metal, rock, ground, water, or many other surfaces. Each gun also has a distinct reloading sound, and a melee sound from when you hit something with the butt of your weapon. Explosions sound amazing in surround sound and you feel like youíre right there, in the action. The music in Halo is some of the best original music thatís ever been in a game, it even won ďBest Original SoundtrackĒ from Rolling Stone magazine in 2001 (buy it, itís worth it). From the chanting monks in the menu to the rock music when running with Marines, Haloís soundtrack changes to fit every mood. Itís all instrumental music and youíll know something is amiss when you hear it change. When there is something dramatic about to happen (youíll know when it does) the music changes and becomes tense and up-tempo, so be wary of your surroundings. To have such a masterpiece of orchestral beauty made just for a game is above and beyond what a development company should do, but Bungie does it because they care.
I cannot think of any other word to describe Halo's controls, other than perfect. They are simply excellent, and I couldn't imagine them any other way. Every other shooter game released for Xbox has wisely copied Halo's controls, and sometimes those games will alter the controls in a small way, and often that will become a minimal annoyance that ruins an otherwise superb gaming experience. Halo has set the standard, and it's wonderful that one of the easiest things to get right in a game, was done right with Halo. Halo also includes many different settings for using the controls, some of which allow the right joystick to move, while the left looks around, which is the only way that some people can play. Other games which have not included this simple change often become impossible to play for some people. It's great to see that Bungie went to great lengths to make everybody's control preferences included in Halo, it's the frosting on the cake, and one of the main reasons why Halo is so enjoyable to play.
If I was stranded on a desert island that had electricity, an Xbox, and a TV for a month, I could live with just this game. Halo is one of the few games out there that remains fresh after more than a year. Itís a game that you can still pick and play and have fun with at anytime. The co-op just further extends the replay value in this game. You can always experiment and try new things, like getting to places youíre not supposed to go, or completing a mission a different way. However, the most addictive and repayable part of this game is definitely the multiplayer. Even with just three other people, the multiplayer is a blast, especially in levels with vehicles. I hear countless stories of system link games going on with six or more people in houses and college dorms all over. Halo is without a doubt, the most fun youíll ever have with a console LAN with a bunch of friends. The ease of play really makes Halo accessible, itís just so easy to pick a map and go with it. The addictive nature of Haloís multiplayer will remain on its throne until Halo 2ís release, enjoy it as much as you can now, because once you start, you wonít want to stop.
In short, Bungie is a company of magicians, in less than a year, they managed to convert and optimize a game from Macintosh to a new system, Xbox, and they pulled it off without a hitch. Thereís a reason this is the highest rated and best selling Xbox game, itís because it currently is the best Xbox game out there. To not pick this up for any reason is almost foolish. Halo has converted many FPS haters into fans, which is a feat few games can boast. Sure, there are minor annoyances like The Library level for example, but some people like that type of level, and you only have to play through it once per user file if you want. Halo has excellent graphics, superb sound, great A.I., unparalleled replay ability, and itís just damn fun. Now if Halo is this great and it was a rushed game that had lots of stuff left out of (Bungie was disappointed about rushing it), just imagine how great Halo 2 will be, especially considering that it will not be rushed, and Bungie already has lots of Xbox experience. Halo is without a doubt, a superb game, itís not a perfect game by any means, but itís tons of fun, and the best Xbox game out there.
Edited by Barnolde, 02 March 2004 - 06:39 PM.