Xbox Review: Halo 1. Master Chief evolves the console FPS
It is no secret that Halo has been Microsoft’s savior. Some have speculated that without Halo, there would be no Xbox 360, and that the Xbox would’ve went the way of the Sega Dreamcast. Of course no one can say for sure, but there is no denying that Halo was THE killer-app for the original Xbox; which at launch (and for some time afterward) swam in a sea of mediocre titles.
In 2007, Halo is easily one of the biggest video game franchises of all time. The soon-to-be-released third game in the series, Halo 3, is being marketed as if it was a big-budget summer flick, and Microsoft is expecting sales of Halo 3 to surpass $155 million, which would shatter Spider-Man’s record-opening weekend of $151 million, making video game launches comparable to Hollywood (which isn’t exactly new, Final Fantasy VII made the same comparison).
So with the launch of Halo 3 imminent (release date is September 25th), there is no better time than to review the game that started it all.
Also On: PC, Mac
Debut: Xbox – Nov. 15, 2001 (North America), PC – Sep. 30, 2003 (NA), MAC – Dec. 3, 2003 (NA)
Releases: March 14, 2002 (PAL), April 24, 2002 (JAP), March 10, 2003 (AUS)
Genre: Tactical First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-4 split-screen offline, 1-2 player offline co-op, 1-16 system-link offline, PC/Mac online 1-16
Save: Automatically at checkpoints.
Origin: United States
Halo is an epic first-person shooter that builds on FPS foundations set before it. The main difference you will find in Halo is quite simply how massive the game’s levels are. And how much technique and skill goes into using the game’s weapons, which are all expertly designed, making Halo more tactical than run-and-gun, although this doesn’t necessarily equate to using stealth (although you will use stealth at times as well).
Halo actually only has around 10 levels, but these levels themselves are huge, and they will take you upwards of an hour to finish each one your first time through on the normal difficulty setting. And plan on spending MUCH longer replaying sections of levels, over and over and OVER again on the game’s higher difficulty settings.
Direct from the instruction book:
“The year is 2552. Planet Earth still exists, but overpopulation has forced many of her former residents to colonize other worlds. Faster-than-light travel is now a reality, and Earth’s unified government, through the United Nations Space Command, has put its full weight behind the colonization effort; millions of humans now live on habitable planets in other solar systems.
A keystone in humanity’s colonization efforts is the planet Reach, an interstellar naval yard that builds colony ships for civilians and warships for the UNSC’s armed forces. Conveniently close to Earth, Reach is also a hub of scientific and military activity. Thirty-two years ago, contact with the outer colony Harvest was lost. A battle group sent to investigate was almost
completely destroyed; only one badly damaged ship returned to Reach. Its crew told of a seemingly unstoppable alien warship that had effortlessly annihilated their forces.
This was humankind’s first encounter with a group of aliens they eventually came to know as the Covenant, a collective of alien races united in their fanatical religious devotion. Covenant religious elders declared humanity an affront to the gods, and the Covenant warrior caste waged a holy war upon humanity with gruesome diligence. After a series of crushing defeats and obliterated colonies, UNSC Admiral Preston Cole established the Cole Protocol: no vessel may inadvertently lead the Covenant to Earth. When forced to withdraw, ships must avoid Earth-bound vectors-even if that means jumping without proper navigational calculations. Vessels in danger of capture must self-destruct.
On Reach, a secret military project to create cyborg super-soldiers takes on newfound importance. The soldiers of the SPARTAN-II project rack up an impressive record against the Covenant in test deployments, but there are too few of them to turn the tide of the war. Existing SPARTAN-II soldiers are recalled to Reach for further augmentation. The plan: Board a Covenant vessel with the improved SPARTAN-IIs and learn the location of the Covenant home world.
Two days before the mission begins, Covenant forces strike Reach and annihilate the colony. The Covenant are now on Earth’s doorstep. One ship, the Pillar of Autumn, escapes with the last SPARTAN- II and makes a blind jump into deep space, hoping to lead the Covenant away from Earth.”
You start Halo off being hastily awoken from Cyro-sleep inside of your ship, the Pillar of Autumn. You are quickly sent up-deck to talk to your superior Captain Keyes who hands you a weapon as the ship is attacked and turned to a war-zone. After battling some of the game’s enemies, Grunts, Elites and Jackals among them, all part of the alien race called the Covenant, you’ll eventually find yourself having to land on the titular Halo, which is a giant “ring” structure that is literally the size of a planet, and has a planet ecosystem on the inside of the “ring”.
Naturally, the story will have you as the Master Chief, along with your AI construct partner Cortana (who is the AI of your ship, the Pillar of Autumn) working to find out what exactly Halo is, why it’s there and who’s using it. This will lead to the discovery of an entirely new alien race that is a threat to both you as well as the Covenant, your previous nemesis. To say much more would spoil the story, so you’ll have to make due with this for now.
While the story isn’t very deep nor did I ever feel any kind of emotional attachment to any of the characters (who are a bit too one-dimensional for my tastes) what story and characters there is, are all solid, and you’ll never be completely bored of the story, as it provides enough of an incentive to keep on playing and it definitely does have it’s moments, both in gameplay and in story cut-scenes (of which there are few, you’ll definitely be playing more than watching).
The Pillar of Autumn and It’s Crew
The Pillar of Autumn is a Halcyon-class warship that has seen decades of service. An aging but sturdy vessel, and one of the smallest cruisers in the human fleet, the military High Command chose it specifically as an inconspicuous launch pad for a covert offensive against the Covenant. Genetically-engineered cyborg soldiers in state-of-the-art battle suits were supposed to board a Covenant vessel and locate the Covenant home world. A surprise Covenant attack on the human military base on the plant Reach annihilated all but one of the SPARTAN-II soldiers. The remaining SPARTAN-II, known only by his rank of Master Chief, was stored in a Cryo-sleep chamber upon the Pillar of Autumn shortly before the ship made a blind jump across the galaxy in a desperate effort to lead the Covenant away from Earth. The Master Chief is easily the best soldier aboard the Pillar of Autumn, but many of the human military’s finest also call the ship home.
Master Chief: The last of SPARTAN-II project. You play as him through the game. Not much else is known and you will not learn much about his mysterious past in the course of Halo 1.
Cortana – Cortana is the highly advanced AI at the heart of the Pillar of Autumn. Her design allows her to be uploaded into an appropriately configured battle suit for safekeeping. She is capable of hacking into alien computer systems, and has used this skill to intercept Covenant communications during combat. She interprets this data to provide her caretakers with directional waypoints and the best available information about troop movement and strategy.
Captain Jacob Keyes: Twenty-six years into his military career, Captain Keyes commands respect as a keen strategist and inspirational leader of his men. He became a minor hero early in his career, when he led a small group of security troops against a Covenant ambush of the colony ship Meriwether Lewis and held them off long enough for the ship to escape. His many decorations and years of combat experience against the Covenant made him a natural choice to command the Pillar of Autumn and its secret cargo.
The Marines – A rugged and diverse assortment of soldiers, the Marines on the Pillar of Autumn are fighting a losing battle against the Covenant’s superior weaponry and numbers. Under the leadership of Captain Keyes they continue to wage a furious struggle against the Covenant, even as their numbers dwindle. They’re the best of the best-but they’re only human.
Sergeant Major Avery J. Johnson – The main marine who will generally lead the fight against the flood alongside you and the other marines at his command. Like most marines, he is a tough, no-nonsense leader, although a loyal one and exactly the kind of guy you’d want in a dugout with you.
From the outset as you begin fighting the game’s enemies in the beautiful opening environment, you’ll immediately notice how “alive” they are. This also goes for the marines fighting alongside you. You definitely will be impressed by the game’s AI (Artificial Intelligence), which puts up a fight and fights pretty smartly. Enemies will take cover behind rocks, they will chase or run from you depending on the situation (Kill an Elite and watch the Grunts scatter! As they run for their lives), and enemies will constantly dodge and roll out of the way. As you get further into the game you’ll notice how insanely smart they are, which totally ratchets up the difficulty (and the higher the difficulty the smarter the A.I.).
For example, get in a vehicle and try to run over the enemies and watch as they roll out of the way. You may be in a vehicle and think a grunt will be easy to take out, but don’t cut him too short as he’ll likely throw a grenade your way! Throw a grenade yourself into a group of enemies and watch as the Grunts yell “grenade!” and they all jump out of the way. This type of stuff is extremely cool to see and back in the day was a leap up from console FPS enemy intelligence in game’s like Perfect Dark on the N64.
It’s also cool to see how all the enemies and your allies talk during the game, they’ll shout out lines, some quite funny, and will sometimes talk to each other. The Grunts in particular are hilarious as they’ll shout, in their high-pitched kid-like voice, lines like: “Enemy! Enemy!”, “We’re all gonna die!”, the aforementioned “grenade!” and make other various grunts and screams when you kill them that are almost cute enough to make you feel sorry for the little buggers, but not quite. This definitely goes a long way towards making the enemies fun to kill. For me personally I never got tired of killing grunts and chuckling at the funny sounds and comments they make. The Grunts are definitely some of the funnest enemies to kill of all time in my opinion. The other Covenant aren’t as funny, but the Elite’s will also make comments and even let out a hardy laugh when they kill you!
Enemies in the game also have locational damage, that is, they’ll die quicker if you shoot them in the head, and some enemies also have shields around them, similar to the one you have (a few even have physical shields or body armor).
Halo had many cool and original ideas for it’s time, among them were:
– A two-stick control scheme which Halo popularized. The left stick controls where you walk/strafe, the right-stick controls your aim. Nowadays this is the preferred control scheme for console FPS’ and almost every FPS uses it (not counting the Wii of course).
– The shield-feature. Master Chief is surrounded by an energy shield, which some of the enemies also share. This means that you will not take damage unless you’re shield is all the way down, and your shield will recharge if you can get out of the line of fire.
– Weapons. In most FPS’ before Halo you could unrealistically hold every weapon available in the game. Halo changed all that by forcing the player to choose between two weapons, as you could only carry two firearms and your grenades at any one time. This immediately changed the tactical dynamic of the game. Players now had to really think about what weapon to use and which to leave, and forced the player to actually use every weapon the game had to offer. This feature also set a precedent like with the two-stick control scheme and a lot of modern FPS now use the two-weapons-at-a-time scheme. In addition, every weapon can be used as a bludgeoning melee attack by pressing the B Button, this was another standard feature most FPS employ.
– Multiplayer. Halo featured both co-operative play for two-players on any of the single-player levels (so that you and a buddy can tackle the storyline together),as well as 4-player split-screen multiplayer in a number of modes and up to 16-player LAN (by hooking up four Xbox’s to four TV’s using a router). Unfortunately, Halo was released before Xbox Live was up and running so there is no online play in the Xbox version. You will find online play in the PC and Mac versions though.
As mentioned above, one of the biggest Halo innovations was in the weapons department, as you can only hold two weapons at a time, so I’ll discuss it a bit further. This limitation really forces you to use every weapon or pick-and-choose, and to discard weapons for a different one at times. Whether it’s because your weapon has run out of ammo or because the other weapon is more suited to the situation. Thankfully, weapons can be found all over the place, mainly dropped from slain enemies (and enemies will often carry different weapons, meaning all you have to do is walk-up and select the weapon you want off the ground) although you’ll also find special locations throughout the levels that are like ammo and health recharge stations, although these make logical sense in the levels and don’t feel out of place.
Every gun in Halo is useful, whether it’s an alien gun of the Covenant, or a human gun, and people will naturally have their favorites. Since you can only carry two guns, this also means that you’ll always have a gun with you, and you’ll start each stage with two guns (outside of the first one of course).
Given that weapons are what make or break a first-person shooter, it’s a good thing that Halo has very good weapons, if un-spectacular. They are designed well meaning that each weapon feels that care was taken in it’s development. As they are such a huge part of the game, I’ll list each one below with it’s description from the instruction booklet, with my own comments below each one.
M6D Pistol – This pistol is a recoil-operated, magazine-fed handgun. It is issued with a smart-linked scope capable of 2x magnification (press in the Right thumbstick).
It fires 12.7 mm semi-armor-piercing, high-explosive rounds. It can shoot either
semi-automatic or automatic fire (push and hold the Right trigger for automatic fire).
Shot placement is very important. The only shot that guarantees immediate and total
incapacitation is one roughly centered in the head, above a horizontal line passing
through the ear opening and below the crown of the alien skull. Very useful against
Hunters and a nice gun to snipe.
The pistol is easily one of my favorite weapons in the game, it’s both powerful and easy to use. It’s also useful, as you can snipe with it using the scope, although the scope doesn’t reach as far as the Sniper Rifle obviously.
MA5B Assault Rifle – This rifle is gas-operated and magazine-fed. It fires 7.62mm armor-piercing rounds. Rate of fire is limited by a soldier’s ability to aim, fire
and change magazines. Short, controlled bursts are more accurate than fully automatic
fire. The MA5B’s integrated computer displays rounds left in the magazine on-screen and the
relative direction of the gas giant, Threshold, for point of reference. This feature
is particularly useful for orienting you in areas where it’s easy to get turned
around and lose your sense of direction. Very useful for swarms of enemies and it has a
great melee attack.
The Assault Rifle isn’t a bad weapon, but it packs less punch than other weapons, although I use it often. The burst-fire is of course good at taking out groups of enemies and it also has a far reach, though not nearly as far as the pistol. A solid weapon that’s useful in almost any situation.
M90 Shotgun – The shotgun is a pump-action magazine-fed (dual tubular non-detachable type) weapon. It fires 8 gauge magnum (3.5″) rounds. This weapon is very effective against targets at close range and may be used to engage several targets simultaneously at medium and long range. Very useful to take out Elite in a few shots – the only drawback is reloading.
I love the Shotgun in Halo, which is not something I can say for the shotgun in other FPS’ I’ve played. Not only is the Shotgun extremely powerful, but it also loads fast and is fun to use. It’s main drawback is that you cannot hit far away targets with it and do much damage.
S2 AM Sniper Rifle – This rifle is a gas-operated magazine-fed weapon. It is issued with a smart- linked scope with two levels of magnification (press in the Right
thumbstick once for 2x magnification, press again for 10x magnification, and
once more to deactivate). Also, while still in zoom mode you can press the White
button to activate light amplification. It fires 14.5mm armor-piercing fin-stabilized
discarding sabot rounds. Very useful during the night and for sniping from very
far. Can alternatively be used at close range if the target is not moving.
The Sniper Rifle is extremely powerful, and having two zooms as well as night-vision in zoom is extremely useful. It does have a few drawbacks though. It only holds four rounds, and also having to press the thumbstick twice to get out of zoom can be deadly.
M199 SSM Rocket Launcher – The M19 SSM is a man-portable and shoulder-fired rocket launcher. It has two major components, the launcher and the magazine. The magazine (the expendable part of the system) contains two 102mm shaped-charge, high-explosive rockets. It is designed for fast, easy detachment from the launcher. The launcher
contains the sighting and fire control systems. Good for medium-range and destroying
Covenant tanks and swarms of enemies.
The Rocket Launcher is great. Having a zoom for it is nice and it’s the preferred way to take out Covenant vehicles and groups of enemies. It only holds two rounds though.
M41 LAAG – The Warthog’s M41 light anti-aircraft gun is a three-barreled, electric-powered, linkless, drum-fed weapon. It fires 450 to 550 12.7x99mm armor penetrating rounds per minute. Turret traverse rate is 100 degrees per second and weapon elevation rate is 60 degrees per second. Recoil from sustained fire is prodigious and negatively impacts accuracy at long range.
This isn’t a pick-up weapon but the weapon that’s mounted on the drivable Warthog vehicle (which you’ll learn about in a bit). This weapon is extremely powerful and if you have someone to shoot it (or you have a drive and you shoot) it can be extremely effective.
M9 HE-DP Grenade – The M9 high-explosive, dual-purpose grenade is a thrown fragmentation device. Use it to suppress or disable vehicles, except tanks. It can be thrown, rolled, bounced or ricocheted into places direct fire weapons can’t reach. Increase the angle of the throw to toss it farther, or to get it over obstacles. Be careful not to throw it too close to your own location.
This grenade is the normal type of grenade you are used to seeing. It can be more useful than the sticky grenade since it blows up quicker, and it can be bounced and rolled. Never forget that you can hold two types of grenades! You use the black button to switch between the two at any time.
Plasma Pistol – This weapon is a semi-automatic directed energy weapon. If you pull and hold the Right trigger, the weapon may become over-charged; when the Right trigger is released the bolt is launched. After the over-charged bolt is launched the weapon temporarily stops functioning as it dumps waste heat. Use of the over-charge capability rapidly depletes the weapon’s power core. The Humans do not understand how to replace or recharge a power core at this time, so it is useless when the battery depletes.
I’m not a big fan of the Plasma Pistol, I much prefer the human one, but it definitely comes in handy. The biggest feature of the Plasma Pistol is the fact that a fully charged shot will completely deplete an enemy shield! And not just forcefields, but physical shields (like those that the Jackals carry) will also be destroyed. This means that you can easily lay waste to strong enemies like Elites by blasting away their shield then switching weapons and shooting or continue shooting uncharged shots with the pistol. The biggest drawback to this weapons is that it depletes quickly, and once it’s out it’s out, you cannot pick up ammo for it, although it’s pretty easy to find other pistols to replace it with for full ammo. All Grunts carry Plasma Pistols.
Plasma Rifle – This is a directed energy weapon. It is capable of either semiautomatic or automatic fire (pull and hold the Right trigger for automatic fire). Continuous rapid fire overheats the weapon – this in turn depletes the weapon’s power core.
The Plasma Rifle. is great because, like the pistol, it will go right through the Covenant’s defenses. The weapon can also shoot very fast. It’s major drawback is that it can overheat if you hold the weapon down long enough. Has a great melee attack too.
Needler – Very little is known about this weapon other than that it is a magazine fed weapon capable of automatic fire. Its projectiles penetrate soft targets no matter what the angle of impact. They ricochet off of hard surfaces at oblique angles, however, and are always deflected by energy fields. The only exceptions to this are the shields generated by the MJOLNIR battle suit and the Elite’s combat armor. The composition and energy signatures of its projectile is unknown. The manner in which the projectiles home in on their target is also unknown. Not very useful for combat, alright for long range. Overall, not recommended when there are other weapons nearby.
The Needler is a strange weapon indeed, although definitely a cool one. You have to get used to using it and use it right to do damage, but if you know how, you can be extremely deadly. I’m not a big fan of it though.
Stationary Gun (Shade) – Although the Shade appears to be a light anti-vehicle weapon, the Covenant uses it almost exclusively in an anti-infantry role. The operator sits directly behind the gun and an armored control suite, but relies entirely on the infantry support for protection to the sides and rear.
Stationary guns are really fun to use, and you will find them scattered about many environments, often having to take out a Grunt who will hop in and shoot at you before you get to use them yourself. They are pretty powerful though and can take out enemies pretty fast, so take advantage of them when you can. Be careful though, Grunts love to throw grenades when your inside a Shade!
Plasma Grenade – This weapon is similar to the Human’s own hand grenade in that it is a thrown anti-infantry and anti-vehicle weapon. It has some kind of internal mechanism that allows it to distinguish between targets and background. For example, it will stick to a soldier or vehicle, but not a tree or wall. It has a three- second fuse that is activated after it sticks to a target or otherwise comes to a rest. A better result than human grenades, very effective against swarms and Elite.
Halo: Grenade Fun Video
Ahhh, the sticky grenade! Who doesn’t love these? These will stick to enemy targets, whether humanoid or vehicle, and it’s always oh so satisfying to do so, and watch as other enemies around your target get caught in the blast. Or better yet, watch as that one grenade starts a chain reaction, blowing up other grenades that are laying in the vicinity. There’s no doubt that you’ll often get a smile across your face when using grenades. Particularly when launching one onto an Elite, laughing as he panics! 😀
As stated above, every weapon in the game has it’s uses and they are all expertly designed, meaning that you won’t feel that any weapons are “throw-aways” or “filler”, and every weapon takes technique and skill to master. Which is all very good . . . BUT, I am still disappointed with the weapons in the game.
Almost all of them aren’t anything out of the ordinary, and while all the weapons are designed well, none of them will surprise you (outside the Needler) and none of them are very cool. I mean, I love a shotgun, machine gun and rocket launcher as much as the next guy, but why on Earth do the Covenant only have three guns that you are allowed to use? You’d think that with the Covenant (not to mention the other alien group) being aliens, that you’d be able to get your hands on some very cool alien weaponry, but nooooo. Perhaps I’m just spoiled by the Turok franchise and it’s totally kick-ass weapons. But I digress.
Since Halo has such expansive levels, that literally stretch on for miles and miles (the game features a great draw-distance too, letting you see way far ahead, which of course should come as standard if you have levels so large), Bungie thought they’d do something that had rarely been done in first-person shooters before-hand . . . they threw vehicles into the mix.
The vehicles really add another dimension to the game that you rarely saw in these kinds of games, especially when you get later into the game and you come across a certain vehicle that has flight, then the levels REALLY open up and you realize how totally expertly crafted these levels really are. They are flat out MASSIVE particularly when you consider that the air above some of them is also in-play.
M12 LRV (Warthog) – The M12 light reconnaissance vehicle, or Warthog, is the standard vehicle of the UEG armed forces. It is fast and maneuverable, but prone to rollovers during hard cornering. A three-barreled machine-gun is mounted in the rear of the vehicle. Armed passengers significantly increase the unit’s anti-infantry capacity. Using three people is most beneficial. One person can drive, another, from the passenger seat, can use any hand weapon to fend off foes, and a third can stand in the back and use the heavy M41 LAAG machine gun. Driving the Warthog is no cakewalk. Turning the Warthog is done by positioning the camera. Where the camera points, the vehicle will go. Try to be easy on the analog stick to ensure a smoother ride. The Warthog can be quite hard to control without practice. Take it slow to avoid overturning and crushing your companions.
The main vehicle you’ll come across are the Warthogs, and these are basically military jeeps, the rugged, all-terrain types. These take some experience before you’ll get the handling down, but they are great vehicles and very fun to drive. They have a mini-gun on the top, and two other soldiers can ride with you if they are around; they’ll climb atop the vehicles automatically, if you get in the driver seat, which is a very cool touch. It’s also cool that you can get in any of the other seats if you like. The Warthog seats one in the passenger seat and one on the top manning the gun (the passenger will also shoot out the side).
The main issue with the Warthog is the fact that it is prone to flipping over, especially if you get too wild. Pressing X allows you to enter the vehicle, and you control it like you control your character, with the vehicle driving the direction you point the camera, and the left stick controlling forward and backward steering by pressing up or down respectively. X allows you to hop out at anytime. Rollovers can kill your characters, so you gotta be somewhat careful during flips, but if it does rollover, simply going up to it and pressing X will allow you to flip it right side up (and this applies to any vehicle or stationary gun, which you’ll also come across).
The trick to driving the Warthog is to go at full speed and “swing” around corners. Once you get the hang of it the Warthog is a great way to get around. You also should be careful not to lose the Warthog by going around on foot, it makes it much easier (and faster on the huge field levels) to keep the Warthog nearby at all times.
M8O8B Scorpion MGT – The Scorpion Main Battle Tank is primarily an anti vehicle weapons platform, but it also has very high anti-infantry capabilities. Its ceramic-titanium armor makes it nearly invulnerable to small arms fire, but its deep dead-zone, or the area within which fire from the tank’s guns cannot hit targets, puts it at risk from enemy anti-tank infantry. Up to four soldiers may ride on (and fire from) the Scorpion’s track pods. Riding on a tank is always hazardous and should be done only when the advantages outweigh the risks.
This massive tank is sadly only found in one level, but oh what a fun level it is! This beast comes equipped with it’s main cannon (fire with R) and a machine gun (fire with L). The machine gun is useful for tearing up small enemies, while the cannon can take out anything in your path including entire groups of enemies. When other soldiers jump on with you get ready for some fun! They will hop on the sides and ride along, shooting enemies along with you. The main drawback with the Scorpion is that enemies are fully exposed, meaning they usually don’t last long, the tank is kinda slow, and if you miss with the cannon it takes a while to re-load, which means you are sitting dunk until then. All an enemy has to do is throw a grenade and you are toast. But other than that, the Scorpion is extremely fun to use and it definitely makes that stage one of the best levels in the game.
Ghost – The Ghost is the Covenant’s standard reconnaissance and rapid attack vehicle. It is equipped with two of what are now accepted as the standard light vehicles mounted weapons: a directed energy weapon capable of projecting a bolt of super-heated plasma in the 100-250kW range. While the vehicle is fast and maneuverable, the driver is virtually unprotected.
You can think of the ghost as a hovering motorcycle. It’s quick, easily slips into places other vehicles can’t fit (although it can flip over easily, especially when making jumps, which you will have to learn to land), and it’s also easily destroyed. The Ghost is one of the most useful vehicles cause it literally lets you zip around wide open expanses of field with ease, it’s small but fast. You can also move in any direction, even to the side (since it hovers), and this allows you to easily strife enemies and take them out with the gun’s plasma blasts (which leaves awesome glowing blue trails in the snow, I might add). One of the funnest vehicles in the game.
Banshee – The Banshee is the Covenant’s standard ground assault aircraft. It is very fast, extremely maneuverable and capable of hovering. It has two weapon pods mounted to either side of the fuselage. Both of these pods contain a light plasma cannon and a fuel rod cannon. Though small arms fire may not disrupt or disable the pilot, only heavy weapons are capable of inflicting damage or destroying the vehicle.
You will not have seen all of Halo until you get inside a Banshee . . . . then you will see the world open up. Banshees are awesome because they can fly, although you can be shot down relatively easily, but it’s equipped with both a Plasma Shot (R) and a Bomb attack (L) that make it extremely deadly. A very fun vehicle to use, the Banshee was also an innovator as it really opened the levels up vertically, something that no console FPS had really done before-hand. I do have a gripe with the Banshee though . . . when getting out of it you pop backwards, which means you can run over yourself if you aren’t careful . . . it also makes it hard to land, cause you gotta consider the fact that you’ll be exiting from behind . . . just seems like a weird design choice. They can also be hard to land and hard to control, it definitely takes some getting used to before you’ll become an expert at the Banshee. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily.
Suffice it to say though that the first time you fly way in the sky and look at all the massive action taking place below, you WILL be impressed.
And I literally mean massive action. At many points in the game you will literally be dropping into what will feel like a warzone, as dozens of enemies, both friend and foe, and sometimes foe vs foe, will all be killing each other. The AI will literally fight other AI, and it is a sight to behold as massive groups war on as you enter the fray. Some will turn their attention to you, while others will keep fighting until their target is dispatched before coming to you.
This really goes far in giving Halo it’s “epic” feeling, the intro to the second level in particular is awesome as you literally drop directly into an all-out battle of human forces vs covenant, on a beautiful beach environment. The way it’s presented is the real kicker though, as the graphics are all in-game, and thus you’ll literally go from flying over a beautiful ocean to landing on the beach and moving your character out from the back of the ship and onto the sand below, watching as your soldiers from the other vehicles land with you and proceed to charge the Covenant forces, just as the black bars from the cinematic widen to a full-screen. It’s a truly awesome feeling.
Halo features a vast single-player mode, but it also features a lot of multi-player and a very cool co-op mode.
In Co-Op (Cooperative) Mode, you and a buddy both go through the single-player adventure together, as a team. The screen is split and the game immediately becomes more tactical, as you are now able to coordinate attacks, something you can’t do in single-player (since you have no control over your fellow Marines). Co-op is very fun and for many people will be the preferred way to play Halo.
Then there is the 1-4 player split-screen deathmatch modes. Like all games of this ilk, you select an arena, and fight the other players. There are a ton of different modes and options though.
Capture the Flag (CTF) – In CTF the object of the game is to capture the enemy flag and return it to your own base, but there are a number of options that change the rules of the game in all sorts of unpredictable ways.
King of the Hill – In King of the Hill, the object of the game is to capture and hold key locations on the map. The first player to occupy the target zone for a preset amount of time wins the game.
Slayer – Slayer games feature head-to-head battles against the other players. The first player or team to eliminate a certain number of enemies wins the game.
Oddball – In oddball the object of the game is to find and hold the ball for as long as you can. The Oddball basic rules can also be changed so that you can play lots of other game types as well.
Race – Be the first player or team to “tag” all the objective points that appear during the game to win the race.
Halo offers a ton of options for those that want to customize their multiplayer game. Although it doesn’t offer nearly as many options as say, Perfect Dark (an N64 shooter that was extremely popular before Halo), which was a disappointment for me personally. But if you have the people to play locally, or the systems, controllers, copies of the game and TV’s to play over a LAN (Local Area Network), then you can easily have a blast. And since Halo is such a tactical game, there is a lot of strategizing that can go on, particularly in team games. If you get people to play with that are in to it, then it’s a great multiplayer game, even if it is only offline.
Sadly though, while you can create a player profile and customize your name, color and other such stuff, there is no stat tracking in Halo. This is a big disappointment for those weaned on Perfect Dark multiplayer, which literally tracked every kind of stat you could think of, and there’s no excuse to not include it here. Stat tracking only makes things more fun, and you have the ability to create profiles, so it’s incredible that they didn’t think to include it.
Graphically Halo holds up rather well, especially on some of the more prettier environments, where you see the sky and the Halo ring in the background, or a gigantic moon or other such pretty backgrounds. Unfortunately, character graphics aren’t so great, especially for the marines, and the opening moments of the game aboard the Pillar of Autumn cease to impress, especially as you notice the jagged edges and the unrealistic, stilted movement of some of the human characters. It really isn’t a very good starting environment.
Thankfully there are some cool moments initially, especially when you are unfrozen from your cryogenic sleep and you get out for the first time. Halo definitely has it’s impressive moments graphically, and even when you aren’t so much as impressed, it still features some cool touches. Which make all the difference, really. But all in all the graphics, while outdated to a degree, still impress. And the good thing is that, throughout the course of the game, you will see many jaw-dropping backgrounds, although most of the ship and corridor style environments aren’t too exciting, and I would’ve liked to see more outdoor environments. But what’s here is good.
The music in Halo is awesome. The main theme, which is used in various forms throughout, is incredibly well designed and put to use excellently, kicking in at just the right moments to get your blood pumping and to break the silence. Generally the levels do not have music, just ambient effects, but it doesn’t take away from the experience a whole lot since there is music, just only at certain moments, and it’s all done in a good way. Although I would’ve been happier if there was more music played overall.
I however, can not say the same for multiplayer. This is totally just a matter of taste, but in my opinion music adds a lot to the multiplayer experience by getting your blood pumping in the midst of battle and giving you the cool feeling as the music blasts. Unlike in Perfect Dark, Halo does not feature any music in multiplayer, none whatsoever, and this is a grave mistake in my opinion as it dulls the experience. But to each there own, if you are used to not having music then obviously it will not bother you.
Halo has a lot of voice, and all of it is generally done well enough. None of the voice acting will impress you in any sense of the word (the Master Chief’s voice could’ve been a lot cooler for example), but none of it really feels out of place either and it fits the characters well enough. Especially in regards to some of the human and alien characters that will shout hilarious lines in the midst of battle as previously mentioned. Thankfully none of the battle lines will get old, even though you’ll hear them quite a bit. But there’s enough diversity in the lines to make it feel like they aren’t repeating.
My biggest beef in the voice acting department comes from something very simple . . . there is no subtitles whatsoever in the game. This is a GRAVE mistake, as Cortana, who is your guide throughout the game, telling you your objectives and where you are supposed to go, is often times really hard to hear and/or to make-out what she is saying, especially if it’s at a point where the background music is still going and sound effects are going off for the various gunshots and firefights, etc.
As a result, I, as someone who doesn’t like to miss out on details, had to constantly turn the TV volume up and down just to hear what Cortana, or other characters, were saying. Many times they even whisper, making it more difficult to decipher. As a result, a lot of details will be missed and for me, this only made it frustrating, especially since I have other people in the house and wasn’t always able to turn the TV really loud to hear what was being said. The dumbest part about this is that subtitles, at least the option for them, would’ve completely solved the problem and made sure people didn’t miss out on any story details. But there is no option, and as a result the game isn’t as good as it could be. A huge mistake.
I also have two other problems with Halo. First off, the levels are simply TOO big. This would be fine if you had a map . . . but there is no map. Whatsoever. All you get is a radar that shows enemies in red. This helps . . . you find enemies, but that’s it. Since there is no map, you will often find yourself either lost, or kind of aimlessly walking around trying to find where you are supposed to go. The result is that the levels are artificially longer than they should be, since a good chunk of that time will be you wandering around.
Couple no map with very vague “mission objectives” and you have problems. The game tries to compensate by using environmental arrows, or sometimes a HUD arrow, which will point you in the general direction you should be heading, and sometimes even a marker that will show, in kilometers, how close you are to reaching your destination. This helps, but not enough, and those helping marks won’t always show up.
The sad part is that, once again, this complaint could’ve been easily remedied if they would’ve included a map feature. Bad design in my opinion.
It also is true what other people (and reviews) have said, Halo does implement a lot of level recycling near the end, and this gets old really fast. Although in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t hurt TOO bad, it just feels artificially extended, because it is.
My last complaint isn’t really a complaint so much as a suggestion or “wish”, I guess you could say. Halo really features no secrets whatsoever. You can sometimes come across shortcuts in the environments, or maybe an overshield here or there, but there is nothing to “collect” in the game, and nothing hidden that you can discover. The end-result is that you have these massive, pretty environments. And while they can be pretty to explore, the desire to explore is lost when you realize that there is nothing to find.
The only things you will ever find is ammo, another gun (you quickly come across every gun in the game) or health. And many times these are not off the beaten path, but on the path you are supposed to go. The result is that the environments in many ways feel big . . . for big’s sake. Why have a massive environment when there is nothing to find? There are no hidden weapons (something that is always cool to find), and you have nothing to collect, so there is no point in exploring. It just feels like an opportunity lost to me, but maybe I’m too spoiled by the likes of Perfect Dark or especially the Turok series. I’m not exactly a shooter fan, but I can and do enjoy them.
With those complaints out of the way, I do stress that Halo is an impressive, and above all, a fun game. I was one of those people who completely missed out on all the Halo-fever. My buddies and my siblings were all very much caught-up in the action, but I remained un-impressed and had no desire to get in on the action. I played Halo a few times, a few multiplayer here and there, and was turned-off by various elements and never again gave it a fair shot. Which is unlike me, but I had other games to play.
So naturally, here I am “catching up” on what everyone else has known for so long . . . Halo . . . is awesome! To all you Nintendo fanboys like me who disregarded the franchise, I urge you to play through the game at least once. Halo is massive, pretty and FUN.
And there is a whole lot of meat to the game since there are multiple difficulty settings and both co-operative and multiplayer modes. And believe me, Halo offers quite the challenge on normal difficulty. An even more extreme challenge on Heroic (this includes having to replay sections dozens of times . . . which can lead to frustration I might add), and much more slaughter on the extremely punishing Legendary difficulty. So there is a lot of game here if you choose to delve into it. And even more game if there is more than two people to play it with. Even if you are a loner though, I still recommend picking up Halo and playing through the single player. It’ll offer a lot of enjoyment while it lasts. And it’ll last for a while. Watch how the fun starts…
So whether you’ve missed the Halo bandwagon or not, there really is no excuse to not jump in and experience it now, especially since you can find the game so cheap. It really is a great experience and it has enough features to differentiate it from other FPS to make it worth playing. Halo 3 isn’t out yet, so what are you waiting for?!
FUN FACTOR – 8.5
Halo is FUN. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. And there’s lot of fun to be had here, whether you play single-player, co-op with a friend, or multiplayer split-screen 4-player or 16-player LAN (for all those Halo partiers). There’s lots of meat to keep you coming back. But it’s not as great as it could be, and little things add up. There also can be frustration on the higher difficulty levels
Graphics – 8.0
Has it’s ups and it’s downs, but there ARE moments that will utterly impress, if not make your jaw drop. Halo definitely has pretty environments, that’s for sure. Holds up well.
Music and Sound – 8.0
Halo has a rockin’ theme, excellent music all around, very good ambient effects, and lots of very funny and clever spoken-lines during battle. The voice acting isn’t great but it’s not bad. And the sounds of battle and weapons sound-effects are all very good. Weapons pack a nice little punch and explosions are nicely done. However, there are no subtitles and this is a big enough deal to lower the score. Which is sad.
Ingenuity – 9.5
Play modern first-person shooters released after Halo, and you’ll notice how much they draw from the game. From your energy shield that recharges, to the massive and expansive (both horizontally and vertically) levels and vehicles that regularly come into play in both single-player and multiplayer, to the single-player co-op to Master Chief himself, there was a lot of ingenuity packed into Halo. However, even so, it isn’t entirely original, some games like Perfect Dark or the Turok series do much more in regards to the players mobility (climbing, swimming, jumping) and especially where weapons and secrets are concerned. But Halo has enough to set-it apart and to influence other games, which is why it scores so high.
Presentation – 9.0
The between level loads are very pretty and cool, Halo has some absolutely hilarious names for various level sections, like “Shut Up and Get Behind Me . . . Sir”, “Breaking Stuff to Look Tough”, “Fourth Floor: Tools, Guns, Keys to Super Weapon” and “But . . . I Don’t Want to Ride the Elevator!” and the transitions from cut-scenes to in-game gameplay is often done seamlessly. All adds up to equal a great presentation, not to mention the fantastic opening them . . .
Replay Value – 9.0
I don’t think I even need to say much more here. 10 MASSIVE levels, extremely smart AI that really makes the game different every time you play, co-op, 4-player split-screen to 16-player multiplayer . . . the game has a lot of replay value, even if there is nothing hidden to discover and no unlockables. It takes quite a lot to score this high with no unlockables, so Halo will not disappoint in the replay department. Especially since only true ninja masters will be able to beat the game on Legendary, especially in single-player.