Although the game has only been officially released since November 15, HALO is
already the most talked about and highest rated Xbox title by over a dozen reviewers. Many
of those reviews gave HALO perfect or near-perfect scores, so Im betting that right
now you have some kind of knowledge that the thoroughly above-average score of four stars
Im giving HALO is actually one of the lowest ratings youll find. Before you
click that email link to shoot me off a mean little note, let me assure you that HALO is a
great game. It is a phenomenal technical achievement and incredibly fun to play. There is
a lot to love about HALO, and it will, no doubt, establish a successful Xbox exclusive
franchise, which Microsoft really wants and needs. However, there are some gratuitous
omissions which I find interfering with my complete enjoyment of HALO, and I mean that in
an orgasmic, tongue- lolling- out- of- the- mouth kind of way.
Lets start with the basics. You probably already know that HALO is a
first person shooter (FPS) with a robust story mode. The basic premise is this: You play
the Master Chief, a cyborg super soldier on board the Pillar of Autumn (which is a great
big spaceship). The ship is attacked by the Covenant, a civilization of hostile aliens who
speak English like champs, but apparently dont know about Earth. In order to keep
the dirty little secret about our homeworld safe, you must escape the ship with an AI
construct, Cortana. You do escape the ship, and find yourself on HALO, a ringworld which
you first suspect of being a Covenant superweapon. However, the secrets and mysteries of
HALO are much deeper than the planet itself, and youll find a few major twists and
turns in the plot.
The story itself deserves some attention. It succeeds quite well,
except that it is pretty short. The dialogue is well-written, and the voice acting is
great. One of the key points to the story is that although you play the Master Chief, you
are not alone. You are a part of a larger military force. This is beautifully conveyed
through the gameplay. Much of the time you fight within a group of marines, and each
soldier has his own AI. They each shout out different comments, criticism, or helpful
hints as they storm the enemy. Whats more, the Covenant isnt just another evil
alien threat. They have some personality, exhibited mainly through their own in-battle
comments and the different strategies they employ. Occasionally, youll catch witty
references to movies like Aliens when one of your fellow Marines screams, "Its
all over! Were all gonna die!" Another striking example of the quality of the
AI can be seen if you turn on your fellow soldiers. Sometimes, after running out of rounds
for your assault rifle, you may be tempted to shoot one of your buddies in order to take
his ammo. However, after doing so in a way that is obviously not an accident, the other
soldiers will turn on you, hunting you down.
The action starts from the very beginning and continues
throughout. You pick up most ammo and weapons from vanquished foes, although you
occasionally come across stashes of useful supplies. In the first level you move from the
Pillar of Autumn to HALO. Youll experience scenes inside the ship, outdoors in
mountains and streams, and venture inside Covenant installations. Also on this first level
you get to drive one of four vehicles, the Wart Hog.
The Wart Hog carries three passengers driver, side seat,
and gunner. It is outfitted with a rapid-fire cannon that is very useful in taking out
aliens. In addition to this vehicle, youll drive another Marine transport, the
Scorpion tank. The Scorpion carries a driver plus four marines and is outfitted with
another cannon, making it a powerhouse of destructive fury. With these vehicles,
non-player characters (NPCs) jump on to assist you, and they do a good job. Again, the AI
in HALO is uniformly excellent.
If you can shoot them down or steal them, you can commandeer two
Covenant vehicles. The Ghost is a hover-bike with a nice pulse cannon that maneuvers
extremely well. The Banshee is like an ultra-light jet with a cannon and bombs. You can
soar all over the skies in the Banshee and the gun is much more powerful. These vehicles
carry only a single person, but add a lot of variety to the gameplay.
The weapons in HALO are pretty cool, but there arent a whole lot of them.
Mostly youll be shooting your assault rifle, sniper rifle, plasma rifle or needler.
Occasionally youll get knocked down to a pistol or the Covenant equivalent, a plasma
pistol. And sometimes you get to carry around a big old rocket launcher, which is great
fun, but not very practical. The lack of variety in weapons is sad, but theres still
plenty of fun to be had with these.
HALO is an FPS, so the camera movement isnt a big issue. Controls are
standard for FPS games one joystick moves your head, the other your legs, and the
buttons are assigned various tasks. These controls are very customizable, so anyone
already familiar with FPS gameplay on a console controller should be able to find the
perfect setup. The Xbox controller is actually a dream for this kind of movement and
gameplay, and works beautifully. The only awkward control moments happen when youre
driving a vehicle. The Ghost is the only vehicle that really moves like your character.
Otherwise, the right stick moves the camera, which switches to a third person viewpoint,
and the left stick takes care of accelerate and reverse. The driving is strange at first,
but after awhile becomes pretty easy. Its never quite as good as standard driving
controls for other games, but isnt terrible.
The graphics in HALO are phenomenal. Everything is just beautiful. You can see
for miles when youre outdoors. The textures are amazing. Metal looks scuffed and
paint looks chipped; rocks and other natural surfaces are detailed. Lighting is another
area where the game shines. Some levels have dark areas, but you are equipped with a
flashlight that you can use. The flashlight is extremely helpful, but also looks like a
real flashlight. The spot of light is textured itself, and the reflections are just
perfect. In addition, all characters are fully animated, all the time, so youll see
Marines moving their mouths as they talk to you. All the movement in the game is
incredible. When a character is blown up with a rocket launcher or grenade, he soars
across the battlefield, arms and legs akimbo, and lands in a limp pile.
While the graphics remain at an amazing framerate and clarity, the Xbox still
has the muscle to push more data. Occasionally youll see a little icon that says
"loading" appear in the corner of the screen, right as youre fighting off
a hoarde of aliens with a platoon of Marines at your back. The only noticeable loading
happens between story chapters, and doesnt take too much time. Overall, the game
runs at a perfect speed, even when the screen is flooded with baddies.
HALO offers a single player campaign mode as well as two types of Multiplayer.
You can play the story mode cooperatively, which is amazing. It is much more fun to play
with a friend than alone, and offers a wider variety of planning and strategy. Cooperative
mode is, without a doubt, my favorite. The Splitscreen mode allows you to play a variety
of multiplayer games, including death match, capture the flag, and king of the hill. All
of these can be played as free-for-alls or team efforts. You can hook up to four Xboxes
together and play with fifteen friends on four televisions. These huge battles will be
amazing if Xbox LANbashes become popular.
However, the multiplayer modes bring me to my first major criticism you
cannot add bots to your multiplayer games. This is a big problem. Most of the time, gamers
are not going to have fifteen buddies around, along with four Xboxes, four copies of HALO,
and four televisions. Most of my multiplayer gaming is done with one or two friends, and
we want play against a slew of CPU-controlled bots as a team. Anyone who has played any of
the recent FPS games on a console has learned to love bots. The multiplayer would be fine
if you could at least connect to a game via the Internet, but that is not possible. Still,
the lack of bots in HALO is a crippling blow to the multiplayer mode, which is, in turn, a
major blow to the longevity of the game as a whole. While the story mode, especially
playing cooperatively, is amazing, it can only be run through so many times.
Its unimaginable to me that Bungie didnt include the ability to put
bots into your multiplayer game, but thats indicative of a few of the weird
inadequecies of HALO. This is why I cant give the game a perfect rating. There is no
Options screen to center the video on your television or adjust the volume of background
music, sound effects, and dialogue. I havent seen a game in ages that didnt
include these options, and sometimes it becomes quite difficult to hear the dialogue in
the midst of battle and background music. The music is used very effectively in HALO, but
sometimes drowns out instructions and pieces of the story.
HALO is also not terribly innovative as far as gameplay is concerned. It
basically does what has already been done in typical story-based FPS games very, very
well. It brings a much higher level of quality to the story and presentation of the game,
but beyond that isnt innovative in the way that a game like Perfect Dark or Deus Ex
is. Many levels inside installations actually have you following markers on the floor to
make your way through the maze of hallways. The only doors that are unlocked are doors you
need to go through. You are given navigation points to find different locations you need
to reach. This makes the game very smooth to play and prevents a lot of frustration, but
also limits how much of your own style you can put into your play. There is only one way
to solve a problem, and the largest amount of strategy or critical thinking comes into
play when you are engaging in full-on battle. And even then, your strategy is limited to
questions like, "How do I want to take this shot?" and, "Should I switch
for that kind of gun?"
HALO is an excellent benchmark for future Xbox FPS titles, but it is not
unbeatable. I can foresee some company taking the lessons learned from not only HALO but
Deus Ex and Perfect Dark and combining them into a truly amazing game. Perhaps Bungie will
do so in a HALO sequel, which is bound to come along. If you own an Xbox and have the
slightest interest in FPS titles, get HALO now. If you dont, go see it at a
friends house. Either way, you need to check this one out.