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Ya'ver drink Brazilian bold from fkn dunkn donuts!
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Halo: Combat Evolved

Raising the stakes

It seems to be that for any console to be a serious contender, it needs at least one killer game to define its existence and to win the hearts of gamers everywhere. Nintendo has reached its glory thanks to Mario and Sega grew exponentially in part thanks to Sonic but for Microsoft, an evil corporate juggernaut as seen by the eyes of countless individuals needed that one game to at least have a glimmer of hope of having its brand new Xbox console surviving the cut throat and expensive market that is console gaming, especially considering Sony’s PS2 having such a strong grip and selling hand over foot. Answering Microsoft’s prayers, Bungie released Halo: Combat Evolved at the Xbox launch way back in 2001 and was that killer game that went the country mile in establishing the Xbox as a console that was in for the long run, much to the chagrin of many PS2 and PC owners at the time. After all, how could a lowly console shooter be any of a threat to the masterful creations that were available for the PC such as System Shock 2, Deus Ex and Half Life? So, was Halo really the killer game that so many cherish so dearly? Or was it a mediocre bland first person shooter that doesn’t deserve nearly half the praise it received?

Space Invaders

After making a daring escape from a group of hostile aliens known as the Covenant, commander Keys of the UNSC space ship the Pillar of Autumn is once again caught under fire from these aggressors and requests that the elite Spartan soldier on board is awoken in order to help defend the ship. This soldier is known as Master Chief, the last known of his kind and humanities best effort in combating the hostile’s intent of destroying humanity and is the character of which we take control of. After having to abandon the Pillar of Autumn after the ships interactive A.I construct, Cortana is unable to stop the attacking fleet, the marines along with Master Chief and Cortana in tow crash land on a mysterious ring world floating in space, a ring which has an entire eco system manufactured by some alien entity that is good enough to support living beings, however the creators are nowhere to be found. Tasked with stopping the Covenant and discovering the secrets of this Halo world, we as the player must take the role of the Master Chief and lead him and the marines to victory.

Set some 500 years into the future and adopting a visual style not to dissimilar to the marines of the Alien films, the basic elements of the story certainly set the tone that Halo is one sci-fi shooter that has borrowed elements from one of the most influential horror action films of all time and this naturally allows for some great and flawed design mechanics.


“I’m also an ultimate robot lover”

All those in favour, say die!

As a rule, first person shooters have always followed a very similar dynamic. Health packs to restore health, all the weapons in the world can be carried at once with enough ammunition to make Rambo blush and rather simplistic A.I that follows along the line of “see you character, run at character and open fire”. Some titles like Half-Life made good attempts at changing a few of these dynamics, especially with A.I, and others shied away from health packs, ala Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, however none of these titles every really completely overhauled the FPS genre in terms of design. Halo, in all its simplified glory managed to introduce a few elements that would end up changing the face of FPS’s for years to come.

First of all, the most important element of any shooter is the weapon set. Halo has a rather small arsenal with 4 or 5 weapons per race, with an Assault rifle, piston, sniper, shotgun and rocket launcher on offer in both human and covenant variants. UNSC weapons have the added advantage of being very damaging on enemies flesh, but rather poor against those who possess energy shields. The Covenant weapons on the other hand are very strong at weakening shields, but are prone to overheating and not being able to be reloaded. Being limited to only possessing 2 weapons at a time it is wise to approach each situation with what enemies are on hand. For instance, the plasma pistol from the covenant can be charged to shoot one bullet capable of dropping an enemy’s shield, and then quickly switch to an assault rifle with the Y button to lay waste to his unprotected body. Or use a sniper rifle to take out any commanding elites from a distance only to run in later and pick off the smaller weaker grunts. Any weapon can be switched by standing over one laying on the ground and holding X and considering that all enemies drop their weapons once killed there is rarely any point in the game where ammunition will become too scarce, as long as you take advantage of each situation at hand.

The best addition to any arsenal however is the grenade and the two on offer give different and brilliant results. The UNSC grenade is a simple device which can easily be aimed to bounce around corners or into a clustered crowd and explode rather quickly. As effective as it is however it is no comparison to the plasma grenade, possibly the best designed grenade of any shooter. Aim it correctly and it will stick to an enemy, only for him to realize his fate, run around with his hands in the air screaming, only for him to waltz right into a crowd and blowing them all to smithereens. It’s so deliciously evil and a great weapon to fall back onto when things get tough.


"Ah, computer dating. It's like pimping, but you rarely have to use the phrase "upside your head"."

Do robots dream of electronic sheep?

One of the other stronger elements of Halo is the A.I system and how it affects tactics of every battle. In the Covenant command structure the Elites are the leaders of any troop, followed by the cowardly jackals and the all too common grunt. Enemy forces are strong and well structured as long as the Elite is still alive, enemies will try and surround you, overwhelm you by spreading out, yet taking out the Elite will undo that chain of command and send the enemy into a spin. Grunts will lose all faith in their abilities and will more often than not give up fighting and will run away screaming. Knock out a Jackal’s shield and he too will run for the hills. These enemies also have weaknesses that can all be exploited. Elites will succumb to a well placed strike in the back, Jackal’s have small gaps in their shields, weary to a well placed pistol shot and the behemoth, well armored Hunters have vulnerability in their back when they strike. Taking advantage of these weaknesses are and how to disrupt the chain of command is key to winning a fire fight and on the harder difficulties essential if you wish to survive more than 5 minutes. It’s not an overly complicated or sophisticated construct, but having that hierarchy among enemies does allow for a more tactical approach to each situation, even if it boils down to throw sticky grenade at Elites face and watch the rest scatter.

After years of being refined to corridors and straight approach to level design it was high time that a fresh approach was taken and after landing on the Halo ring it is clear that Bungie wanted to take a newer approach. One of the best designed levels of the series sees the Chief travel throughout a canyon in order to recruit and liberate marines holed up from Covenant fire, what is most impressive is how open ended it is. By not taking the linear approach you can choose to save whatever survivors you want to first, and it also introduces the Warthog, a UNSC vehicle which can see the Chief scale the landscape rather quickly. Simply point the camera in whatever direction you want to go and the warthog will drive you there, it may sound a bit too simple, but it plays well to the console and helps to reduce stress and
introduce more of a fun factor to the occasion.


"Yes! In your face, Ghandi!"

This level also introduces us to set piece battle zones, a dynamic that is littered throughout the Halo ring world. In one scene, you come across a hill, with rocks providing cover for the marines who are frantically defending themselves against the Covenant. After fighting your way to the top of the hill, you must defend your position from incoming troops and after a successful defence you along with your marine buddies jump into the warthog and move in on the next position to lend a hand to other survivors. In another set piece you are flown into a covenant infected beach and you must storm it with a number of marines to back you, it’s all over in under a minute, but for that brief time there is so much action going on around you it is quickly apparent that the enemy will no longer single you out as a lone target. Having this sense that you are not the center of the universe and that battles are being waged without you allows for a more entertaining time. I’ll never forget walking out of a doorway and seeing a group of marines hiding from tank fire and constant bombardment of covenant bullets only for you to take an enemy turret by surprise, shoot out the tanks and see the freshly liberated marines join in on the counter attack you started against the ground troops. Halo is littered with moments like these and they are extremely cool to participate in.

All of this excitement is heightened in co-op mode, which has to be one of the most brilliant moves Bungie made. Yes the campaign can be enjoyed with more than one player and it is where the longetivity of Halo can be enjoyed. There are moments where one of you can take control of a warthog or tank and the other to ride shotgun or take control of the machine gun turret on the back, charge into the heart of the enemy and lay waste to them, one of you using energy weapons to take out shields, the other spraying the minions with machine gun and grenade fire. The ability to work as a team adds new life into the campaign and changes the game from being a “let me show you this” type game to being “grab that controller and jump in” affair. This is without a doubt Halo’s crowning achievement is that it becomes an epic party game. Connecting up two Xboxes and getting 7 mates around, mix in beer and pizza and you have a recipe for intense deathmatch sessions, vehicle shenanigans, trash talking and before long you realize you’ve been at it all night and at no point have you ever stopped cheering.


"Fine! I'll go build my own lunar lander! With blackjack! Aaaand hookers! In fact, forget the lunar lander and the blackjack. Eh, screw the whole thing."

Shine those boots gunny

FPS games have often been the poster child for advertising all the latest in shiny graphics and Halo was no different. Used as somewhat of a benchmark for the capabilities of what Microsoft’s big black box can produce and Halo certainly does not disappoint. Solid lighting effects from the environment as well as from the weaponry, like the fully charged plasma pistol leaving a green hue as it travels through the air, or the blue tail of a plasma grenade as it finds its way to being stuck on a Grunts face, only to illuminate the surrounding area with a blue wave of light. Character models are bold and well defined with nice detailing for those up and personal moments and it is all tied together with a soundtrack that is truly impressive. The orchestra on hand sets the scene perfectly and when played in the heat of battle, with bullets flying, war cries and explosions going on all around and blasting through the 5.1 surround sound, the audio experience is nothing short of breathtaking. Voice acting is also sublime, the actors have outdone themselves in establishing small nuances for their characters, and even the support for regular foot soldiers is done with finesse. The only questionable thing is why does the Covenant speak English? Even so Halo not only looks the part, but it sounds twice as good.

Gun jam

There are a few problems however with the most obvious being level design. While the set pieces are brilliant and stick in your mind quite vividly, the sections which link these great moments often bore on the tedious side due to the design approach being incredibly bland and taking too long to get through. In one section you must walk through a construct in the side of a mountain which is nothing more than a series of circular rooms joined together with straight corridors of which are composed of harsh steel and little imagination. After trying so hard to escape from the all too familiar corridors, the majority of the time is being spent charging through these far too common scenes, all which seem to take forever to get through. This also really affects the pacing of the game, as the beginning is quite well thought out, but around half way it levels off, meanders around a bit and before too long you are starting to feel frustrated and longing for the level to be over.


"Hey. What kind of party is this? There's no booze and only one hooker."

The second issue is the movement of Chief which can be a bit of a mixed bag. While aiming is quite sharp and surprisingly well defined with the dual analogue stick control, it’s the walking about which seems to drag the whole thing down just that little bit. There is no ability to sprint forward towards the enemy, instead Chief meanders just a bit too slowly, and when he jumps he has more hang time than Michael Jordan leaving him open to enemy fire. While it might feel a tad slow on the console, the issues with Chiefs moving speed are highlighted even further in the PC version. Aiming with the mouse is a dead set advantage for quickly paced shooters like Quake III or Unreal Tournament, but for slower paced titles like Halo it seems to take too long to take aim and the whole operation seems far too sluggish. Although to be fair, it is a bit hard to have quick paced and snappy aiming on a console, so the trade off to slow the pace somewhat to make aiming and giving the ability to the player to actually hit the enemy with a degree of success does play to the gamepads strengths.

Maybe then that is where Halo’s strengths truly lie, in the fact that it is not a rapid shooter, but a slower, more accessible shooter. Halo slows things down just enough so that anyone can comfortably get into the action and in no time at all be sticking it to the Covenant and having a blast. That must be why so many folks fall in love with Halo and why so many are disgusted with it, by simplifying the pace a little and introducing brilliant co-op, any player, even those without much skill can join in on the Halo party and leave with a smile on their face. For this reason alone, Halo was without a shadow of a doubt the best console shooter since Goldeneye, and one of the most influential game releases during the Xbox, PS2 and GameCube era.

Visuals – 96
Audio – 97
Gameplay – 95
Overall – 96


One of the most memorable console shooters of all time.
 

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Premium Member
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Utterly killer review, oddly enough I just got Halo and Halo 2 again a few weeks back for the Xbox. There on my list of games the tear through again. Wicked review.
 

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Fantastic review. Possibly your best yet.

No gaming experience has ever beat the system link battles I used to have with my friends and Halo a few years back. We'd have 10 to 15 Xboxes linked together with 4 or 5 games going on at once.... ****ing epic.

Sadly Halo 2 came out and everyone went to playing on XBL and noone felt like system linking it anymore.

I'm going to have to gather some friends and get another Halo LAN party going... for old times sake.

i prefer the PC version,
I never liked the PC version, as I stated above, Halo was basically my "party game". Gather up some friends and a few Xboxes and TVs and you have a fun night. On the PC however you're always playing with people over the internet and that's not as fun.
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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very nice review once again :)


I played all 3 Halo games, the first two on PC and 3 on 360.
I liked them; all 3 of them seem to follow pretty much the same direction with the difference that 2 and 3 have more narrative and (fortunately) a lot less repetition in the level design.
The first time you see the ring world and start exploring it in Halo 1, though... there can only be a first time ;)
 

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Ya'ver drink Brazilian bold from fkn dunkn donuts!
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you all for the nice comments.

This review was without a doubt the hardest one that I had ever written, manly as I wanted to elaborate why this was one of the most important FPS's for a console without coming off as a gushing schoolgirl playing favourites. BigIg and Samor hit home the points which make this game as great as it is, the kickass multiplayer and the sheer spectacle of laying your eyes on that ring world for the first time.
 
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