Every now and then, a game comes along that redefines its genre and sets a new standard in gaming. Halo is one such game. Even better for Microsoft, it’s one of the Xbox launch titles, which makes the Xbox that much more attractive to potential buyers. Over the past few weeks, many critics have concluded that Halo is a must-have for owners of the Xbox. I whole-heartedly agree with that and I’ll even take it one step further; experiencing Halo is reason enough to purchase an Xbox, the game is simply that damn good.
Halo’s gripping tale begins in the year 2552. Players assume the role of a soldier known only by his rank of Master Chief, defrosted from cryogenic sleep just as the Covenant, a collection of alien races waging a holy war upon humanity, boards the Pillar of Autumn, a human warship that has stumbled across Halo, a mysterious ring-shaped world. It’s up to you to fend off the Covenant and explore Halo, uncovering its vast secrets.
Developed by Bungie, Halo is a first-person shooter that covers ten monstrous levels of action-packed gameplay. At first glance, Halo might seem like your typical first-person shooter, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While many of its features currently exist within the genre, Halo polishes them off and takes them to the next level. One such example is vehicular combat. There are a wide array of vehicles in Halo, both alien and human, ground and air, and the transition from foot to machine is seamless. Never has it been this exciting to pilot a spacecraft and engage in dogfights, or jump into the driver’s seat of a tank to destroy a stationary gun, all within the confines of a first-person shooter.
Another area that Halo excels in is artificial intelligence, both enemy and friendly. When you’re accompanied on a mission by a team of marines, you’ll never have to issue orders or worry whether or not they’re taking cover in heavy fire. They react accordingly to the situation and, at times, issue you orders to advance or provide cover fire for them. If you hop into a Warthog, don’t be surprised if a couple of soldiers jump in with you, one in the passenger’s seat, the other manning the three-barelled machine-gun mounted on the rear. Considering in most first-person shooters, it’s often the player that comes to the rescue of the NPCs, it’s a welcome sight to see the favour gets returned in Halo.
On the flipside, Covenant troops are just as savvy as your fellow marines. Enemies fight intelligently, circling around to flank you while lobbing grenades towards large groups of soldiers. Conversely, Grunts will warn fellow comrades of incoming grenades, affording them time to dive out of the way. Enemies take cover to recharge their shields, fall back when they’re overpowered and climb into Stationary Guns, Ghosts or Banshees if one is around. The artificial intelligence adapts to the ever-changing environment, making Halo both challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Halo takes full advantage of the prowess of the Xbox. The level of detail in the game is absolutely tremendous, particularly in the outdoor environments. Walls show every mark of misfire and the snow stains red with blood. Lighting effects are stunning, especially in the Covenant spaceship, weapon effects are both awesome and realistic, and the weather effects are extremely effective. Despite Halo’s superb visual flair, the framerate remains surprisingly smooth and hiccups are few and far between. Not only does Halo look great, it sounds great too. The soundtrack is epic, kicking up just at the right times to help create a sense of tension. The voiceovers, both in the cutscenes and the actual game, are very well acted and the sound effects are explosive. Suffice to say, Halo is one of the best looking and sounding games of the year.
Halo supports several multiplayer options. The co-op mode is strictly for two players, but the result is easily one of the best features in the game. With a system link cable, up to 16 players can compete in various multiplayer matches, including Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill. There’s been a lot of talk lately surrounding the software that’s now available that allows gamers to play Halo over the Internet. Unfortunately, I have yet to test this software, but as long as the lag is minimal, I can only imagine how awesome it must be.
There’s not a lot to gripe about in Halo, but I suppose I should mention a couple of things, if only to justify not giving Halo a perfect score. The controls are very tight, but not so much when flying a Banshee or driving a Warthog for the first time. Controls in these vehicles are a little touchy. I also found it a little odd that one man could literally flip over a tank, or any of the other vehicles for that matter. I understand our protagonist has super-human strength, but if he’s that strong, his melee attack should crush an alien’s skull instantly, whether they’re asleep or not.
I started playing Halo early one afternoon. Several hours in, I figured I should probably take a break to get a bite to eat, so I said to myself, “I’ll just finish this one level first”. Suffice to say, I never did get around to eating much that day. It’s been a long time since a game has had that kind of affect on me. Simply put, Halo is one of the best games of the year. Not only is it a must-have for Xbox owners, it’s a good enough reason to purchase an Xbox.