reviews\ Jan 10, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Halo: Combat Evolved - XB - Review

"Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs."
-Malcolm Stevenson Forbes

The gaming community has been known to be harsh on long-anticipated titles, and even less forgiving to those which are delayed. Halo created quite a stir when it was first unveiled at it's first E3, but as time went on, and delays occurred - many wondered the fate of Bungie's newest venture. Then it was revealed that the game would not debut on PC, as originally planned, but on the upcoming Microsoft Xbox console. Were the odds stacked against Halo? Would a long incubation time and release on a here fore unseen next-gen console be a recipe for disaster or redemption? Halo did far more that justify to the gaming community that it was worth the wait - it became the veritable gem of the Xbox release and it launched it's own following that took the RPS genre by storm.

Lofty words, but if you've been making your rounds and checking out what's been abuzz in the FPS circles - you'll see that more than just this game reviewer (and the reviewer's gaming partners) have gloriously suffered from a terminal case of Halo-addiction. Set in a sci-fi world, Bungie's Halo casts yhe player(s) as a character known, at first, only as Master Chief, an elite (and cybernetically enhanced) warrior whose name precedes him and earns the instant respect of all whom the Master Chief encounters. Your mission is no small one: An overwhelmingly powerful and destructive race, known as the Covenant, is on a path of complete annihilation, and unless you and your team discover the meaning behind the Covenant and prevent them from further advancing in their conquests, Earth is next.

Let me first say that Halo is not an FPS of the most mudane degree. You're not going to be able to just run around and shoot willy-nilly all over the place  and think you're going to get anywhere. Instead, you are limited to two weapons at any time, and if run out of ammo - you better find some more right quick or consider a weapons change. Speaking of weapons, I doubt I have seen a game so intelligently well balanced when it comes to your array of weapons. Instead of having weapons climb in usefulness as your progress, leaving you with ultimately one weapons that far exceeds all previous ones, Halo forces you to choose your weapons wisely. Certain weapons that have more sniping rifle effects are fine when you need to pick off those annoying enemies who keep pummeling your from the flow above you - but if you've got that in your hands when you've got a force of shield carrying Jackals coming at you - you might as well be using a pea shooter. 

Surprisingly, even though your enemy types fall into four main categories - this is not going to in any way make you feel that the gameplay is repetitive. Same enemy types do anything but clone each other's actions - in the same way your own team will act independently around you as you do your job. The classes in a summation: Grunts (pretty self-explanatory in name) are the less bright crayons in the box who depend more on sheer numbers and kamikaze runs at you to wear you down. The next level are the Jackals who behave with a little more reserve and tend to use shields to block your attacks. The Elites get all the firepower and tech-goodies - complete with super-powered weapons and personal cloaking devices. Hunters are the  "techno-Barbarians" of the group - supplied with integrated weaponry and a pretty serious tank-like shielding capability. 

But it's the enemy AI that makes this game the most impressive, and addictively challenging. Overall, you get the impression that the more sophisticated enemies are like a well trained SWAT team (and not those lame teams you see in the movies who, despite all their training, seem to get wiped out easily by the bad guys) - and the realism is really going to take you off guard. Make good use of strafing behind those corners and barriers like that action fanatic you are - Halo is the closest thing to living it I've seen on any console.

There's also a rightly touted selection of vehicles that are more fun (and more complex) than you might think. Everything from the simple Warthog with mounted Gatlin type gun, to the much more intimidating enemy machines - you're going to enjoy using and mastering them. What's really cool is when you're in cooperative mode and, for instance with the Warthog, you can have one gunner and one navigator. You can slide your way up to a pack of enemies and one player can stay on the gun while the driver can exit to do a little more personal visit. This independent action kept us busy - and it was a lot more fun that having to wait for the other player to keep up with you.

There are just so many added touches of realism in Halo that make it an exceptional experience that I almost don't know where to start! First of all, you've got this exceptionally helpful assistant known as Cortana, who can keep you updated on missions and the status of your team and of the known Covenant activities. Along with this you've got realistic sounding radio activity from the team and team leaders. With that and your handy visual navigation menus to help you locate enemies - it's got a multitude of people to hear and keep track of.

The graphics themselves contain an immense amount of detail, and if you're familiar with the trials and tribulations of heavy computer-graphics work, you'll know that amongst the most challenging aspects of creating realistic graphics is completing the most intimate details of objects. The textures, lighting effects, smoke, and fire visuals are spectacular and they really silence the nay-sayers that didn't have faith in the Xbox capabilities. And when it comes to the Dolby 5.1 availability - this just blows away anything you've heard before. Even with two standard speakers, you get the surround sound type effect of your team members' voices coming from different directions. It's also comforting to know that Bungie retains some of their greatest score talent, and you can be assured that the awe-inspiring opening theme is the same work of Marty O'Donnell, whose pieces have been praised (and more than regularly downloaded) for his feature work the Myth series and the dramatic accents of the Oni score.

There's just simply so much more to say about Halo, but I can't give it all away! What I can tell you is that Halo could very well be the ultimate launch title in all of gaming history - shocking, awing, and ensnaring fans of the genre and gathering a new group of addicts into it's grasp. Bungie has done above par work in creating sound gameplay, immaculate audio/visual, and a game that has such excellent AI that your replay value is almost infinite. I'm telling you, if you bought an Xbox, and you don't have this game - you just have no idea what this puppy can do! Thanks Bungie and thanks Microsoft for reaffirming the old adage that sometimes the best things do come to those who wait!

Gameplay: 9.9
Halo has gameplay that will not only amaze and addict FPS fans, but also (and I've seen this firsthand), it will consume and/or convert newcomers or gamers that might not otherwise play them. It's hard for me to describe the extent to which not only is Halo a game that will have you addicted to it's intuitive controls and fast gameplay quickly, but also has such an incredible depth and scope to gameplay that it's anything from a mindless pick-up-and-play. The AI is delightfully un-computer like - keeping you especially on your toes as you raise up to more and more intelligent foes. Balance your vehicle and weapon choices wisely, my friend - this immersive realism demands to be taken seriously!

Graphics: 9
If you follow any computer-graphic technology discussions - you'll know that sometimes the most difficult features in the imagery to render are the minute details. Hence, while you may feel that at first Halo does not do anything extremely extraordinary for a FPS, it won't be long into gameplay before you notice all the fine tuning that went into making the textures and surrounds realistically detailed. The Halo team keeps it all running smoothly as well, and although those of a more stringent graphical nature may notice a slower framerate than they might expect, it hardly matters when you look at the amount of work that went into the game as a whole. 

Sound: 9
Cinematic. There's no better word for it. From the score to the voice acting to the actual spoken script - the sound of Halo creates a virtual sci-fi/action film surround sound that hasn't been heard before. The score itself was breathtaking - and it's worth mentioning that, although the game was not well received by some, the same person who composed one of the most moving pieces in the Oni score (done by Marty O'Donnell), has also created the ethereal introduction score to Halo. Even some of the voice actors seem to have familiar voices - and it's always fun to hear some of the creative scriptwriting that went into the exclamations of your team members.

Difficulty: 9
The difficulty in Halo is perfectly gauged. Easy allows you to get the hang of the exceptionally well thought out enemy AI - and it's bound to please the novice, as well as the most hardened of FPS gamers.

Multiplayer: 9
There are a ton of multiplayer options - including linking up multiple Xbox units for up to 16 player chaos, or split screen on one console which allows independent movement of each character. It's all the good stuff - capture the flag, team arena, and what you've come to expect from a FPS.

Concept: 8.5
Yes, it's arguable that the actual plot Halo is an sci-fi FPS which rings of familiar notes. But really, since when has ANYONE written an original story? There are universal themes (pardon the pun) that inevitably all stories fall into. The beauty of Bungie is that they've always striven to throw some serious thought into a plot, and have not just allowed their FPS to be a lifeless shoot-em-up. I won't spoil anything - but there's plenty of mystery to discover in the game's plot while you're enjoying being Master Chief.

Overall: 9.5
I don't care what genre you like to play, if you didn't buy Halo when you bought your Xbox - you just don't know what's good for you. We know some of you have been waiting a LONG time for this highly-anticipated game, and unlike many games whom have fallen at their time of debut, Halo goes above and beyond our expectations.  Incredibly intelligent AI, a wide selection of well-balanced weaponry and vehicles, and audio/visual to do the Xbox launch justice - this game has been well worth the wait - and it has validated my acquisition of the Xbox.


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