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
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

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