Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Halo: Combat Evolved

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Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)

masterc.GIF (2454 bytes)For those of you who don’t know (of which I’m sure there are very little), Halo: Combat Evolved pretty much made the Xbox single-handedly. With the figures showing that more than three-quarters of Xbox owners also own a copy of Halo, and launch day sales for the title alongside the system were practically identical, you may wonder how one title managed to persuade the mass gaming public to part with hundreds of their hard-earned pounds in order to play one game, and just a promise of more. You may wonder that is, until you remember Super Mario64, or Super Mario World, or Tetris.

            The title is a First-Person-Shooter in a similar vein to Half-Life, and as many FPS’s before it, has the hallmarks of Half-Life appreciation running throughout. This is not a particularly bad thing, as Half-Life is getting on a bit now, so pursuing the best elements of the formula with updated gameplay may not be revolutionary, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a comfortable FPS experience.

            The single-player and co-operative elements of the game are organised into several expansive levels, it seems as though the only reason for adding these divides is to allow a cut-scene and the story to progress. The levels are each beautifully delivered, with the right amount of gameplay in each and the cut-scenes never feel intrusive. Inside each of the rather expansive levels are checkpoints, which you will respawn at when you either die or start the game from your last save. The save function can be performed throughout the game at any point by pausing the game, unusual for an FPS to say the least, as save points are a more common feature in expansive titles such as this.

            The game isn’t confined to corridor-blasting. Many outdoor locations are featured and, surprisingly, are often far more engaging. To that extent, the earlier levels will probably contain the most replay value.

            Playing as Master Chief, some sort-of artificially engineered super-human-military-weapon-thing, you have a pretty wide-ranging arsenal. The basic bullet-based weaponry is included; pistol, sniper rifle, automatic rifle etc. but the title also features alien technology, which is often far more fun… The basic firing functions of your weapons are placed on the R-trigger, whilst grenade chucking has been assigned to the L-trigger. Other than ammo count, there is another limitation placed upon your weaponry: you may only ever carry two weapons at any one time. I’m sure you’re all thinking “What the f**k?” but trust me, the limitation is in place because it was deemed necessary, and adds a whole new tactical element to the gameplay.

            Master Chief also has the ability to pilot vehicles. There is a selection available throughout the levels including the Banshee – a rather awkward single-pilot attack-plane, the Ghost – a hovercraft and the infamous Warthog – an all-terrain vehicle. The camera switches to a third-person perspective upon mounting a vehicle and the controls for piloting, although seemingly rather stupid at first, are actually very intuitive. The speed of your vehicle is controlled by the left analogue stick, and the camera angle by the right. You have no direct control over the direction your vehicle travels in, however accelerating will cause your vehicle to automatically turn and drive in the direction the camera is facing, and so you have to guide your vehicle around by altering the camera angle. As I said above, this may seem rather stupid – until you actually get to grips with it.

            One of the most intriguing features of the main game is the enemies you encounter, and the personnel you fight alongside. The AI has been tweaked to perfection and often your allies will communicate and attack with you in such a way that it actually makes you feel like you are part of a futuristic military campaign. The enemies in the game actually come in two broods. The first is The Covenant – a coalition for some seemingly unimportant reason bent on destroying the Earth. The Covenant come in a variety of shapes and sizes, representing the alien races allying to wipe out the “human-scum”. As you come across the more distinct variety of enemy it becomes apparent that some have a weakness to certain types of weapon, influencing you to keep one bullet-based and one plasma-based weapon in your inventory at all times.

            Later in the game, you will encounter the secret of Halo, and the alien hive alongside it. Enter the Flood – a race of host-assimilating parasites, and their big-brothers. At first the Flood are unarmed, rushing towards you down dark corridors, making up for what they lack in weaponry with vigorous slashing, hordes of the rather weird-looking heads-on-spider-legs parasites come gushing from ventilation shafts. Then they get nasty.

Not only does the game feature incredibly complex AI, but also “friendly fire”, meaning you can shot your own guys, and they can shot you. But that’s not all. Also, both the Flood and Covenant are capable of killing members of their own force by accident, and are actually enemies themselves. Walking into the middle of a Covenant/Flood warzone becomes a fairly regular occurrence, and can offer some amusing new tactical play.

           The multiplayer element of the game has been hailed as “supreme” since release. Offering up to 4-player deathmatching, system-link and a huge wealth of options, the frantic battling is said to parallel that of the mighty GoldenEye 007 (you knew it was coming…). However, with Halo being an early Xbox release, XboxLIVE! is not supported, so you’ll have to wait for Halo 2 I’m afraid.

The title’s graphics, at release at least, were stunning. Back in 2002, there was very, very little else on the market the game could be compared to. Today, the visuals are little more than average and, while they are by no-means bad, some of the internal corridors do look rather unsightly in torch light. The sound pretty much follows the same pattern. The control mechanics in the game are, as mentioned throughout the review, often slightly confusing, but once you’ve put a few hours in become natural.

            So then, is Halo still cream-of-the-crop with this generations FPS’s? Well, considering its age there has been very little since that has offered the same evidence of the developer’s system mastering and capability. The GameCube’s Metroid Prime is the only other first-person title currently available I’d even dare to offer a comparison with, but even in this instance Metroid Prime would better fit into the First-Person-Adventure genre, and so is not a direct comparison. After all this, those few Xbox owners who have not yet taken it upon themselves to purchase a copy of the title must surely recognise the opportunity they’ve missed, and rectify their mistake.

 

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