TNL 3.0 - Site SelectVideogamesMax AnimeForums

The Next Level - Reviews

MainNewsReviewsPreviewsFeaturesContactsLink to UsStaff

Xbox Halo Developer: Bungie | Publisher: Microsoft
Rating: A+TeenSoakrates
Type: Action Players: 1-16
Difficulty: Variable Released: 11-15-01

"Game of the Year" accolades have already been hurled at Halo like hand grenades into an Al Qaeda bunker. Thanks in large part to Microsoft’s Herculean marketing campaign and excellent recognition from the press, the XBox is more or less depending on Bungie’s flagship first person shooter to give it a smooth, bump- free ride into 2002. So after sifting through all the hype and speculation, can Halo accept its responsibility and bear the XBox’s weight on its shoulders?

In a word, yes. Yes it can. Halo is all that it’s been cracked up to be, and if you’ll stick with me for a few paragraphs, I’d be more than happy to show you why.

Halo puts you in the cybernetic boots of the Master Chief, one of the last SPARTAN-II units engineered specifically to do battle with the Covenant, an alien species whose religion commands them to eradicate the human race. In a last ditch effort to lead the Covenant away from Earth, the good ship Pillar of Autumn folds to some random corner of space with the enemy in hot pursuit. It is at this point that Master Chief is awakened from cryogenic storage. In other words, here’s where you come in.

Your first priority is to escape from the Pillar of Autumn intact. After fighting your way to the last remaining lifepod, you and a small band of marines are rocketed to the nearby ring-world of Halo. Here, your adventure begins in earnest.

From the moment you step off of the lifepod, the mysterious, unsullied beauty of Halo is almost overwhelming. Bungie have filled this game with some of the most impressive texture work ever seen. The grass and sand beneath Master Chief’s feet look incredibly lifelike, and other geographical features such as rocks are as rigid and stony as they should be.

Halo also features second-to-none draw distances that make the game feel absolutely monstrous. As good as these surroundings look from up close, there’s nothing that can quite duplicate the feel of standing atop some high point, looking out for what seems like miles and still being able to discern enemies and structures with the utmost clarity.

It gets better. The character models in Halo are very well-done, with a surprising amount of detail, especially when you consider the sheer number of marines, Covenant baddies, and assorted vehicles that appear onscreen at once without so much as a hiccup in the framerate. Add to this a huge collection of dazzling effects, and what we have here is an eye candy lover’s wet dream.

It’s almost shame that Halo is so pretty, because it leaves you little to no room to appreciate the visuals. True to its titular promise of being "Combat Evolved," Halo is one of the most viscerally and cerebrally enthralling FPSes to come down the pike in a long time. Best described as a marriage between the twitchiness of Quake and the team-based strategy of Rainbow Six, Halo is a big-brained blastfest, a sci-fi epic that takes the old concept of the ultimate soldier and makes it new all over again.

The strategic qualities of Halo are apparent from the outset. You quickly learn that you can only carry two weapons at once, forcing you to make fast yet logical decisions as to the kinds of firepower to carry. Does that plasma pistol have enough rounds left to sustain you until the next checkpoint? Is that assault rifle powerful enough to fend off the flock of Covenant fighters waiting for you to round the next corner? Questions like these are among the most common that pop up throughout the duration of the game.

Raising the bar even higher still, Halo pits you against hordes of some of the most vicious AI ever conceived. The Covenant are more than just a species of ant-like soldiers. They’re a collective of battle-minded warriors who know how to adapt to different situations. Sit inside of a stationary turret, for instance, and Covenant Grunts will often toss grenades under it with astonishing accuracy. Elites are quite fond of taking cover in shootouts, and Jackals almost never pop out from behind their pesky energy shields. Covenant have teamwork on the mind, as well. A lone grunt patrolling the premises without any backup is something you might want to take a picture of, because you won’t see it very often.

Luckily, there’s an equally good AI on your side. Sure, they can be a little too gung-ho from time to time, but the marines are remarkably accurate with their weapons, and can hold their own impressively for a very long time. This is definitely a nod in your favor, because even with four or five marines watching your back, the action gets almost unbearably intense. In between shooting at Covenant soldiers, watching your ammo, keeping an eye on your health displays, maintaining the well-being of your teammates, and taking out that Covenant- manned turret firing at you from half a kilometer away, there’s no such thing as a dull moment in Halo. If all of this sounds a little heady, you’ve no need to worry. An intuitive interface and the best control scheme ever seen in a console FPS make all of the aforementioned gameplay staples completely manageable. The XBox controller is probably the most lambasted input device since the Power Glove, but Bungie’s designers took that bulky eyesore and gave it as much of the functionality of a keyboard and mouse as was humanly possible. Halo on the XBox is the closest you’ll get to replicating the PC gaming experience without the luxury of a traditional keyboard and mouse setup.

Halo also puts a great spin on what was previously one of the most ignored aspects of FPSes, the melee attack. Whereas melee attacks in other games are usually reserved for when all your ammo reserves are depleted, here they are given more than their fair share of usefulness and charm. Giving your adversaries a rude awakening with the butt of a shotgun has never been so satisfying as it is in Halo.

Among Halo’s most touted attributes are its vehicles, which comprise a very large portion of the game. Bungie obviously took great pains to ensure that these features are far more than mini-games that the player is treated to every so often. Wherever there’s an empty Warthog jeep, Ghost hovercraft, or any one of the game’s four vehicles, you’re free to commandeer it at your own leisure, switching back and forth between several different play modes in real time. Sparing no expense to offer the best experience possible, Bungie so superbly pronounced the mechanics of each vehicle that at times Halo could almost be considered five different games strung seamlessly together, and with some scant exceptions where the control is admittedly a little awkward, every vehicle is a pure joy to drive.

But you can’t call it a killer app without the presentation to match, and Halo features the kind of presentation that screams, "Play me!" with a fittingly ominous soundtrack and a well- written storyline that unfurls rather deftly through cutscenes and dialogue spoken during missions. A big kudos should go to Bungie for keeping the game free of overlong cinemas and mind-numbing chatter, unlike a certain other long-awaited stealth-based game for a certain other 128-bit system. There’s also something to be said for the way the story is told through the game’s environments, which by their superiority of design evoke both awe and wonder. Taking pause to look up at the immense ring that emerges from the horizon never fails to make one curious about what could be happening on the other side.

Such an impressive package belies the notion that it should be stuffed with secrets and unlockable extras, right? Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where Halo falls short. That isn’t to say that you won’t find incentive to play the game again. Halo is packed to the gills with multiplayer options. With thirteen maps and twenty-six different deathmatch modes that can be altered in any number of ways, XBox LAN parties could become a respected institution at offices and college dorms very quickly. Not to be overlooked is the deliriously fun cooperative mode, wherein two players fight side by side through the game’s 10-level campaign. If you’re feeling lonely, Halo’s four difficulty settings offer more than just an increased number of things to shoot at. Chances are you’ll be pleasantly (or perhaps unpleasantly) surprised at the difference between the "Easy" setting’s pushover enemies and the unrelenting ferocity of the Covenant armada that awaits you in "Legendary."

It’s hard to find a blemish on Halo’s rosy complexion, but those willing to look for them won’t necessarily come up empty-handed. Although it may sound like asking too much, there’s a somewhat disappointing lack of AI- controlled bots for the multiplayer modes, which would have added months of replay value to Halo’s already stellar single player features. Additionally, some of Halo’s levels turn into the same ol’ same ol’ after a while, leading you through areas that you’d swear you’ve beaten already.

Oh, and it only runs at thirty frames per second. Deal.

But Halo just happens to be so good that it simply steamrolls over quibbles like these without any trouble whatsoever. It’s the kind of game that you’ll remember playing when your nieces and nephews are busy toying with Kraft Foods’ 1024-bit DVD-changing solar-powered virtual reality system suitable for up to 16 players. It’s just that memorable.

Since the days leading up to the XBox’s launch, it’s become quite stylish to heckle the big black behemoth of a console for what is perceived to be a void of support from Japanese third parties. If it can manage to crank out enough titles with the polish and overall quality of Halo, however, acquiring more help from the Far East will be the least of Microsoft’s worries.

· · · Soakrates












Rating: ASoakrates
Graphics: 9 Sound: 10
Gameplay: 10 Replay: 9
  © 2002 The Next Level