Halo

Review by Dan Benge
February 2002

Halo, I must be going.

Last year's Xbox came out with a lot of hype but very few games that really made you stand up and take notice. When it was announced that Halo was going to be an Xbox-only game, a lot of people whined and complained. However, I can see why Microsoft wanted this to be its flagship game. The hype that Halo has been getting is deserved. But despite this, it's not perfect.

When you begin, your garden-variety "destroy a planet and its inhabitants within a week" extraterrestrials are heading toward Earth. Knowing what we know, we silly Earthlings decide to launch a mother ship out into space in order to lure them away from Earth. We end up near a weird ring-shaped planet known as Halo, which is very coincidental since it happens to be the name of the game.

Your role in this scenario is of the Master Chief, a very expensive cyborg with shield-regenerating technology. If you've been shot, just find a place to hide and your shield automatically refills itself. You also seem to raise oohs and ahs and "Wow! I didn't think it was going to be so big!" (guess size does count) from everyone you meet along the way.

When you begin the game, you are being taken out of cryogenic suspension. Then you are put through some tests that conveniently show you how to use your controls. From here on in, your ship is invaded and you are thrown in one of the best worlds and best stories ever created in a video game.

To go into any more of the plot is to give the surprises away. But the meat of the story gets started when in a fit of C3PO/R2-D2 madness, you end up in an escape pod and jettisoning to the ring's surface with the aliens in hot pursuit.

The thing that sets Halo apart from the rest is its superb artificial intelligence. Usually, "smart AI" is always about the enemy. In Halo, it also applies to your fellow marines, who fight alongside you. Their human-like behavior and realistic speech make for a very immersive experience. I often found myself covering A.I. characters as they rushed the enemy. One time I accidentally got in the way of friendly fire and heard, "Sorry about that, chief!" yelled from the rear channel of my surround sound system. It almost feels as if these characters are being controlled by human players. It's that good.

Of course the enemies are smart too. They will hide behind walls and run away when outnumbered. But best of all, it's almost completely unpredictable. Several times I had to reload after dying, and I found the aliens taking different tactics the second and even third time around. They would fire at me from behind a wall when previously they had charged at me in numbers.

Speaking of the aliens, some of them are a real hoot as they yell things like "retreat!" and giggle like kids on helium. However, some of them tower over you and often make you think twice about rushing an unsuspecting foe who hasn't figured out you are peering at him through the bushes. Not to mention how they sometimes sneak up behind you silently and scare the living piss out of you (my cat ran for cover many times as my vocabulary got very creative).

There are many chances to be tactical in the way you handle situations. There are also many chances to just let go of your civility and yell "Kamikaze!" as you rush a group of aliens, firing at them in a frenzy (this is generally when you've had to reload 15 times because taking the careful route just wasn't working). The force-feedback from the controller heightens all these experiences. I would often get into fits of wonderful alien-booty-kicking rage as I felt the kickback of the virtual weapon in my hands.

There are also several vehicles for you to pilot. The most notable is the jeep that can seat three people (the nonplayer characters will climb aboard and ride with you) with a gunner in the back. Doing cookies as your gunner raises hell is a lot of fun. You also get to pilot various flying and hovering craft.

Halo is one of the best-looking console games ever made. The first time I was hiding underneath a tree, I noticed how detailed the bark was from close up. Hardly any pixelation at all. But the best sight of all is when you look up into the atmosphere and see the stars and the ships and the horizon and the water and the ... well, I think you get the point. The world lives, it breathes, and you are there.

Another definite plus is the fact that you can play through the main game cooperatively with a friend. This means when you are in the jeep, your friend can be tailgunning with you. It is much more fun when you have someone to "go around that way while I cover you" as you play.

There is also a multiplayer deathmatch mode, which I didn't get to play very much. But I did notice that the arenas were huge and that two players just do not fill the space very well.

I did mention that Halo wasn't perfect. The biggest drawback is that you usually have to come out of an area the same way you came in. So this means a lot of repetition as you fight back through part of the world you just came from. I found this to be a cheap way to lengthen the game without the developers having to create more levels.

I also found one of the areas tiresome and repetitive. It has to do with following someone, and every time he tells you, "Wait, I have to go do something, I'll be right back," you get attacked by a swarm of monsters. You must do this about twelve times, and of course if you get killed, then you have to start that section over again. It is tedious and should have been shortened a little bit.

Fortunately, the story keeps things interesting, especially when you figure out what Halo is and you start fighting something totally unexpected (and even creepier!). The end sequence was a little bit of a letdown (sequel time). But I have to admit that the last playable part of the game leading up to the end was extremely exciting.

Halo is a classic. It's one of the best games of 2001 and a good shot in the arm for 3D shooters and the Xbox. It's another addition to the latest trend of computer games that let you use your own style. It's replayable, as the AI makes everything almost completely unpredictable each time you play it. To top it all off, the graphics are excellent. These elements all combine to produce an extremely wonderful and exciting game. You want to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger? Get Halo. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: 2001

Available for: Xbox

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