Review by Stejpan

"Bungie's epic finally returns to PC, but was it worth the wait?"

While most gamers would know Halo to be the blockbuster Xbox shooter, there is more detail behind the game's development.

Originally, Halo was slated as a PC and Mac title back at the MacWorld '99 Expo, which came as a surprise to many fans of Bungie's earlier Sci-fi shooter - Marathon. Boasting a fresh sci-fi story set on an alien ring world, it was to be an expansive first person shooter featuring huge environments to explore, native wildlife, and hand gestures for combat communication. Then came along Microsoft, who bought out Bungie and steered the games development towards their Xbox games console, and the rest is history, bringing us the game we know today.

After launching with the Xbox in 2001 as it's "killer app", Halo has finally returned to the PC courtesy of Gearbox, but not everything is what is seems in this Xbox conversion.....

Story - 8/10
Halo's story is a sci-fi plot that is very reminiscent of the movie Aliens, with some adjustments to make it seems original. Some time in the distant future where mankind has established colonies on planets in far reached corners of the universe, contact has been made with a collective of alien races known as the Covenant, who see the human race as something defiled by their religion.

The Covenant declare war on the human race, and due to their superior energy based technology, the human colonies are falling one by one. But there is hope yet for mankind in the form of highly trained military warriors known as the Spartans - genetically enhanced soldiers built for combat who wear special armour with a protective shield derived from Covenant technology.

The game begins in deep space where the last survivors of a fallen space colony have escaped in a space cruiser, and are being pursued by a fleet of Covenant masses. The Covenant board the ship and our Spartan hero Master Chief is brought back from cryogenic sleep to ward off the aliens while the Captain decided to land the ship on a mysterious ring planet. From there you must wage war against the aliens while trying to discover the significance of Halo, and it's purpose along side your AI friend Cortana.

Along the way you will meet allies and mysterious beings to help you along the way. The game is filled with cut scenes explaining the story, but the main character says very little compared to everyone else, giving him little personality.

Graphics/Presentation 7/10
Given that the game has somewhat aged since it's release back in 2001, nothing was really added to make the game look better than the Xbox version. The PC port retains most of the high quality effects from the Xbox version, and then some have been added in to take advantage of DirectX9 functionality. Even with all effects turned to the highest settings, there are a few things missing, notably the variation in color of the Jackal's shields, and the metal shine of the assault rifle.

Despite this, the environments do a good job of reflecting the mood intended for the scene - alien corridors of dark purple and blue, misty jungle forests, and dark, foreboding ancient ruins. The characters themselves still look great compared to most PC titles of today, there aren't many aliens as memorable as the cute little Grunts.

The game is full of nice shiny reflections and detailed bump-mapped pathways, but not everything is perfect. For starters, the game requires a MONSTER PC setup to run, given that Gearbox appear to have done a very unoptimised port full of slow rendering shaders (Some improvements were done to a Multiplayer expanded edition that improved speed), so you'll need at least a high end 256Mb card if you want the game to run at a smooth frame-rate with all details as the game was intended. Secondly, the game could have been reprogrammed to take advantage of the smoothness possible on high end video cards.

The Xbox game had a frame-rate cap of 30 frames-per-second, and this seems to have translated over to the PC port. You can make the game run at 60 frames instead on a good PC, but despite the game running smoother, the animation rate is STILL locked at 30 frames - the characters look ok in this, but when you hop into a vehicle the game appears to be moving less smooth than the frame count because the vehicles are still animated at 30fps, disappointing to say the least.

Gameplay - 8/10
Halo is primarily a First Person Shooter - you see the game through Chief's eyes, while blasting away at Aliens and trying to accomplish mission objectives. The game's main story mode sees you advancing through a number of scenarios while fighting alongside the human Marine forces and trying to unlock the secrets of Halo. Take your pick of weapons - you can use the artillery based weapons of the Marine forces or steal the bizarre alien weapons instead. You'll find that the Covenant weapons are more common to come by, but it's often worth saving weapons like the pistol which is regarded as the most effective weapon of the game.

Also added are vehicles which you can drive that are usually needed to cross terrain or destroy tough enemies. The most common is the warthog, an indestructible car for 3 that can cross most types of terrain without trouble. There's also a powerful tank, stationary gun turrets, an alien hovercraft, and scout ship. Each vehicle handles differently and the variety is good.

Halfway through the game the action can become somewhat tedious and seems to draw from mindless shooters such as Serious Sam, where barrages of enemies crowd you and pop out of nowhere - it can often lead to cheap deaths where enemies spawn right behind you and deal out great damage.

Bungie have somewhat evolved the simple shooting action of Marathon, and added an alien world full of variety. While it's fun to roam across the planet killing aliens there are often times when you feel that things are repetitive. Some missions feature identical areas and tunnel structures that are recycled, but you can often ignore it when you're fighting off 25-30 aliens circling around you.

Multiplayer - 9/10
While the Xbox game featured a nice selection of Multiplayer action, it's somewhat been enhanced for the PC. Sadly, co-operative mutiplayer play has been removed, but everything else has been enhanced thanks toi the addition of online play. Popular game modes such as Capture the flag and deathmatch are a favourite, but there are some nice original modes such as vehicle race, and oddball.

Several new maps have been added to the PC version including the beautiful Timberland and Death Island. To make things even better a flamethrower has been thrown in for fun and the Fuel rod gun is now usable (arguably the cheapest weapon, used by Grunts in Campaign mode), and the covenant flying craft are now usable in multiplayer.

Up to 16 players at once can enjoy multiplayer action, and it's often more fun than the single player mode. Like any game, there are always some glitches that allow players to exploit, and Halo has numerous exploits that allow players to sit outside the playfield on several maps. While these glitches were never resolved with update patches, it wasn't very common to see players doing it, although I did often enjoy sitting at the top of Timberland with a fully loaded sniper rifle and pistol ;)

Control - 10/10
Gearbox have faithfully adapted the game to the tried and trusted keyboard and mouse combination which is admittedly much easier and accurate for aiming than any analog controller. However you can always use a controller if your heart desires.

Soundtrack/Audio - 10/10
Halo features a dynamic soundtrack with music that quickly changes to suit the mood of the game. Many great compositions by resident Bungie composer Marty O'Donnell that are atmospheric tunes that convey emotions of fear, wonder and alien mystery. My pick of the bunch would have to be 'A walk in the woods' and 'Perchance to Dream'.

The sound effects are great, a nice job was done thinking up the sounds for the alien weapons. Voice acting is good, and shows that you don't need famous Hollywood actors to have a great audio experience. The alien voices are just as good as the human ones, with the hissy voices of the Jackals, the reverse deep tones of the Elites, and the cute chipmunk dialogue of the Grunts.

Replayability - 9/10
The single player experience is fun, and you'll be wanting to challenge the higher difficult levels after finish the first time. Multiplayer is fun and addictive, but the number of players has sadly died off with the wake of Halo 2 (very few these days). I was at one point immersed into the game to a point where it would soak up my weekends.

Overall - 8/10
Despite the less than perfect transition back to PC, Halo is a great game achievement and should be played at least once, and I would recommend buying it despite the low number of players online. I really do wish that it was released on PC back in 2000 as intended, as it was a far more extensive game than it is today, but this version is good enough to compensate for the loss.


Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/19/05

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