Review by grasu
"Halo: Hardly Acceptable, but Lauded and Overrated"
When Halo exploded on the Xbox, more than just the console was propelled through the roof and to long-lasting fame, but so was the idea that consoles could actually reproduce PC quality FPSes. Halo, a game that was first intended for the PC was dumbed down for the mighty Xbox, and then released some 2 years later for the PC where Bungie expected the same type of success.
Bungie, a well known PC developer, should've been more careful with their planning: While Halo might've sold 4 million copies on the Xbox and saved Microsoft's revolutionary console it fell flat on its face on the PC.
As a PC game, Halo isn't very impressive from many points of view. The graphics are good, but not impressive. Even so, the game shipped with game stopping bugs, and a huge amount of graphical slowdown, which came as a total surprise to PC gamers with monster rigs because even at the enormous 1280x1024 resolution the game has many jagged edges. The walls and soldiers stand out as the worst examples of this, as even the most inexperienced player can witness the zigzag of the colorful edges of most elements in the game.
The explosions and draw distances are flat and unimpressive giving off a barely-satisfying vibe of light and warmth. Draw distances are poor and animation leaves much to be desired, especially during death sequences which seem very chopped up and slapped together much like an early silent-comedy.
On the plus side, the game has a lot of nice and shiny surfaces... even more so than in the Xbox version due to the DX9.0 effects. The character models are suitably well detailed, as are the enemy and vehicle models, with each door or window of the Warthog clearly visible and perfectly waxed to shine like the windows on the Sears Tower. Master Chief and his weapons are all well detailed, albeit lacking in the animation department, with a minimalist lighting effects and decent modeling and design.
Overall, the graphics in Halo get the job done well enough to not make the eyes of PC gamers bleed, but while that's always a plus when analyzing console ports Bungie could have done much more when staging the game's transfer to the PC.
Halo has a great sound track that is both inspiring and well made. Different orchestral and vocal scores accompany you in your missions, changing tempos as is necessary and using the Half-Life-effect, where the music doesn't run through the whole game only at crucial moments, adds to the scores' already numerous high points. The choice of music is also impeccable with a good representation of genres, fast paced orchestral scores and uplifting vocal assistance.
The voice actors do a good job of presenting Halo's situations to you; however, the scripts do not. Sometimes these scripts are laughable and can take away from the feel of the game. At other times, they're so predictable that you can already tell on whose side some of your partners/enemies are. On the other hand, the sound effects are well made and offer real depth and place in the game world. Explosions give off a powerful boom and the Covenants scream, laugh and grunt with malefic proficiency.
Before I began playing Halo I knew not to expect much as far as the gameplay was concerned, generally reviewers absurdly overrate console games... that's not to say Halo didn't get a fair chance. After 2 playthroughs on the PC, and one horrendous one on the Xbox, I came to a short and disappointing conclusion: Halo's gameplay blows major chunks.
Halo begins on a ship under attack by the Covenant, the game's nemesis race of
aliens. You play as Master Chief, a half-cyborg half-human killing machine which is the only thing between the Covenant, the ship's impending destruction, and human kind's survival. In a Half-Life-type weaponless sequence you travel through the ship's corridors up until you find a weapon and start blasting; from that moment on the blasting doesn't stop. Soon after the less-than-impressive intro you get a lowdown on what's going on. You were attacked by a race of aliens and are now forced to make an emergency landing. Damaged as the ship is it's able to land on a halo shaped planet and continue its fight against the evil Covenant.
The story in Halo is more over rated than the impact the game itself had on console FPSes. One could really care less for either the story, or Master Chief, or humanity. Part of the problem is that the story very cliched and extremely predictable (sometimes due to the acting), not to mention you're never told why the hell your fighting in this game. The Earth is a few million miles away, no one knows if the humans are trying to conquer the Covenant or if it's the other way around, no one knows who Master Chief is and why he exists, other than the obvious cause he's the best soldier we got and more. Misinformed and accompanied by a crew of sci-fi cliches (hot holo-chick, idiot soldiers, evil aliens, bad robot) the story quickly becomes a snooze fest.
Where the story fails however, the weapons in Halo are a complete disaster. Not only are they the pinnacle of FPS cliches (assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, need I go on?), but they range from useless to unbalanced and everything in between. It appears that in Halo, unless you go up to your enemies and shoot them in the face at point blank you won't have much of a chance at success. It also appears that in Halo your pistol is stronger than your rifle, since the latter requires a clip to kill some of the game's stronger enemies while the first requires a few bullets. As if all of those problems wouldn't be enough the weapons have no secondary fire mode. Why? Have we gone back to the days of Doom? The two new weapons in the PC version don't add much to the killing power of Master Chief and, other than the flamethrower, they fall in the same category as the rest: standard.
To be fair, not everything about Halo's weapon system is bad. Grenades are very useful, something no FPS has managed to enact quite well enough yet. And the fact that your limited to only 2 weapons at any time is a big plus since it helps with the "realism". The melee combat in Halo does its job: It's stronger than ANY weapon but it's more dangerous since you have to get up close to smack aliens around. The design of the weapons is also fairly original. The assault rifle is especially revolutionary, through the inclusion of an on-the-weapon compass and ammo check.
On the other hand, the vehicles in Halo are utter crap. Not one positive thing can honestly be said about this sorry excuse for driving sequences. From to horrible control (you rotate the camera where you want to go while you use WASD to get there), to the fact that this game wants you to perform some stupid stunts with these vehicles, to the fact that they're absolutely useless since you only get them in certain events where you really have no choice if either you should use them or not (unless you like to walk 4 miles in-game), the vehicles become nothing more than a chore. In multiplayer, things change a bit, but as the only vehicles that can be used in multiplayer don't really emphasize cooperation the changes are hardly noticeable.
Combat in Halo relies on Master Chief's armor While this might be original, it's
the one thing that ruins to whole game. The armor is the sole reason why you can survive against the Covenant. This rechargeable shield defends your HP from enemy attacks and is pretty durable, but it also bogs the game down like hell. You see, without this shield you're a sitting duck, so when it runs out you should start running up until it recharges, using cover as necessary and waiting until the shield recharges. However, herein lies the problem: While this technique has become more and more popular recharging your shields in Halo takes forever! Spending 2 minutes fighting and 5 recharging shields takes you out of the action and makes the game boring to tears.
Furthermore, combat in Halo is almost ALWAYS the same, you run up to your enemies you blast them in the face from 2 feet away and then you run away and hide so you can recharge your shields. Every now and then you throw in grenade or pilot a vehicle but for the most part this game has more in common with Doom than Half-Life: You enter in rooms and enemies start pouring in from all directions, over running you. And since this game follows the Few, Powerful, Smart routine, you'll be fighting these enemies for a long while. Rise, rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
This wouldn't be as painful to endure if it wouldn't be for the lack of diversity in levels and monsters. Apparently Bungie ran out of monster designs after they got done with the 3rd model because all enemies in Halo look just about the same... they do have varying colors though, much like in Diablo. As for the levels, saying they're horrible is a major understatement. Corridor after corridor after corridor, with sparsely any diversity in a single level: All of Halo's levels rely on one template, which they use to death until the end of the level. Not to mention that the same tileset is repeated some 15 times in the course of the game, along with the same general design.
The comparisons between Halo and Doom or Half-Life are bound to be many, however where Halo fails is that it has neither the atmosphere of those games nor is it as fast paced or as interesting. Everything in Halo has been done before: You want story? Unreal and Half-Life have a story at least as good, if not better than Halo's. You want pure shooting? Look no further than Doom, where the weapons kill and the levels are not horrendous in design. Halo is missing even the basic "search for key to unlock door routine" and it suffers from "I don't give a damn about the main character"-syndrome.
Halo is not all bad however. The AI in this game is stupendous, easily deserving the award for Best AI in an FPS game this side of Far Cry. And to be completely honest, some levels do make you feel good, even if it's just for a short while, like the end level which has you running through an exploding Covenant base as the clock ticks away. In the end however, that's just not enough to retain much interest for this game. Perhaps if Halo came out in 2001, for the PC, things would have been different but right now, the competition on the PC is fierce, and FPSes are way too many to take Halo's sub par gameplay into account.
Microsoft does try to save some face with the multiplayer component of Halo, but it does nothing than to add insult to injury: The multiplayer is a bad joke: Playing CTF Halo with 16 players when there is a Halo mod for Battlefield 1942 with up to 32 players and without the vanilla CTF is an insult to any gamer with 3 or more brain cells. Halo's online CTF and deathmatch modes feature, at most 16 players along with sub par maps, bad weapons and useless vehicles. When faced with other PC games, one can just imagine how Halo's multiplayer turns out to be as disastrous as the rest of the game.
Therefore we come to the conclusion that Halo fills neither a gaming niche nor is it a genre defining piece of software: Halo turns out to be a decent shooter for those who want a quick fix of action against a big scary alien, but its got no place by such greats as Doom, Half-Life, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Battlefield 1942 or Unreal.
If you want game that doesn't have an absent storyline and that's really just chocolate glazed Doom in space, Halo's for you. Otherwise, steer clear.
P.S. And if you really must play this game, heed my warning: DO NOT get the Xbox version. The framerate during some of the more intense firefights makes playing Quake 2 on a 486 seem like a blessing.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/15/04, Updated 11/25/05
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