The best reason to buy an Xbox is finally coming home to the PC via Microsoft Game Studio and developer Gearbox Software. Halo: Combat Evolved, the sci-fi first-person shooter that blew console gamers away two years ago, has been ported to the PC and improved for its eventual release with scaled up graphics that take advantage of high-end video cards, new vehicles and new weapons.
A four-level marketing beta recently landed on the Game Over assignment desk, and I took it for a spin. After playing through it, it's a pleasure to report that things are looking mighty good for this port. For those not familiar with the Xbox title, Halo takes place far into the future during a war between Earth and a fellowship of alien races called the Covenant. The Covenant is bent on Earth's destruction, and the story starts shortly after the aliens have wiped out a colony world. The survivors escape aboard a starship, but things look pretty grim when the Covenant tail them to a ringed world known as Halo.
Mysteries await the brave gamer who takes on the role of the heroic Master Chief. The first level takes place aboard the starship as Master Chief is woken from hypersleep to help defend the ship and its people. Things go bad, and the ship is going down with its captain. Master Chief and several soldiers aboard jump into escape pods and escape to Halo. The first level is all about learning the game controls and finding your way through the maze that is the starship. Master Chief gets his first weapon about one-third of the way through the level (a pistol), and the warrior takes on his first few dozen Covenant soldiers. Overall, it's exactly the same as the Xbox version. Playing through it was nostalgic.
The next levels take place on the surface of Halo. Master Chief must first avoid Covenant patrol ships, but action gamers don't have to fret. This isn't Splinter Cell. The gunplay comes back with a vengeance as Chief winds his way through a mountainous region to find missing soldiers, all the while systematically blowing away Covenant nogoodniks of all types.
It's during the search for survivors that players are introduced to the Warthog, the first of many vehicles that will make their appearance in the campaign. The Warthog is basically a military Jeep with a swiveling machinegun mounted on the back. Master Chief can drive while Earth soldiers take the passenger seat and the gunner mount, adding a nice touch of team-based play to the game. After the survivors are rescued, Master Chief and a squad of soldiers go in search of the starship and its captain, who seems to have been captured by the enemy. The demo levels end inside a Covenant spaceship with the heroes continuing on towards completing their goals.
Overall, Halo: Combat Evolved was an excellent title on the Xbox. On PC, it's looking a bit sharper, although many of the image renderings in the beta weren't quite complete. Still, aside from a few missing facial textures, little seemed to be amiss. Using a mouse and keyboard combination instead of a gamepad was nice, but for gamers who prefer the comfort of a gamepad over the precision of a mouse, that function is already built in and seems to be working fairly well.
While it's too early to make a final judgment on Halo: Combat Evolved for the PC, things are looking up at this point. Gearbox has ported the Xbox hit that should please fans and newcomers alike. The addition of 16-player LAN and Internet multiplay, as well as the new Warthog (with a rocket launcher instead of a machinegun) and the new weapons, should make the PC version of the game worth getting, even if you've already played through the game on Xbox. Check back soon for our complete review!
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