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HALO    ( XBOX )
Title Fight 2001 for the PC
Stunning Graphics
Immersive Atmosphere
Cool Storyline

In the months leading up to the Xbox launch, it's been hard to have a conversation about Microsoft's new system without a mention of "Halo," Bungie's intense first-person shooter. Originally conceived as a PC title, "Halo" has made up a large portion of the anticipation surrounding the Xbox since Microsoft acquired Bungie and announced that the title would be an Xbox exclusive. 

The question, of course, is whether or not "Halo" will live up to everyone's expectations. Surprisingly, the finished game is a first-person shooter with many twists, turns, and improvements that makes for an excellent and incredibly enthralling game. Even though it falls a few steps short of what the hype has built it to be, "Halo" is one of the major selling points for Xbox, especially for fans of action and adventure games. 

"Halo" mixes the storyline and feel of a science fiction movie with the action-packed aggression of "Quake," as well as some of the team and strategy dynamic found in "Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear." The game puts you in the role of a space marine and unfolds on an uncharted alien planet. Fire-fights take place on foot and in vehicles, combating a variety of creatures indoors and outside, requiring you to work cooperatively with a friend or AI-assisted, non-playable characters (NPCs) to complete your goals. The gameplay works on many levels, and the game familiarizes you with its various components while drawing you into the plot.

The first thing you will notice when playing the game is that it takes a while to adjust to the controls, which make use of every button on the Xbox controller. Moving is controlled via the left analog stick, and your camera (i.e. your character's head) is controlled with the right. Getting the hang of moving around like this can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, and it only becomes more complex when faced with an enemy, trying to fire with the controller's right trigger, and reload with the x-button. Thankfully, most levels offer plenty of stuff to hide behind while you get your bearings. One major gripe some players may have is that you cannot run, which at times gives the game a lethargic feel.

Progressing through the game is challenging, though not impossible. There are four difficulty settings, which can be adjusted when you reload a saved game. Regardless of which setting you pick, expect to put a healthy time investment into finishing the game. "Halo" offers plenty of variety in its mission, from raids to rescues, and there is a thrill in each new weapon or vehicle you encounter (the plasma rifle and hovercraft are both very cool). At times, the game is overly realistic, only allowing you to carry two weapons at once -- don't worry, you can pick up new ones off any corpse you encounter -- or having to cumbersomely maneuver a jeep through a tight environment with gunfire exploding around you and aliens overwhelming you.

Thankfully, you are very rarely alone in your quests. One really cool aspect of "Halo" is that the multiplayer element allows cooperative play. When playing with a friend, not only can both of you shoot along each other side-by-side, but when you encounter a vehicle, one can use the gun turret while the other drives the vehicle (in single player mode, AI handles the task). This definitely enhances the gameplay and adds a new level of multiplayer appeal to the somewhat standard deathmatch mode. A deathmatch mode is included, though the split-screen approach is one of the few areas where the game missteps graphically. 

That aside, the game really shines, showing off much of what the Xbox can do. Each environment is detailed and crisp, pulling off high resolution, PC-style graphics very well on a regular television, and everything moves at a rather consistent framerate. While the first level is somewhat subdued, by the time you get into the game, there is a massive amount of eye candy (the waterfalls and weather effects in some of the outdoor levels are amazing), and an amazing level of detail (the particle effects are great, from dirt being kicked up to shots being fired). The game features remarkable lighting in most environments, and the ability to look around on the fly is very convenient and helps for you to get a feel of each area before you overwhelmed by a fire-fight. "Halo" offers a virtual world to explore, and it is very well designed.

Even though it's rather long, "Halo" is one of those games that gets better as you play it. The storyline starts off slow and intensifies as the game progresses, revealing more information about your mysterious enemies and how you can defeat them. There are many twists and turns within the game, and there is a lot of dialogue to add weight and emotion to your actions. 3D-rendered cut-scenes move the story along in between missions, but surprisingly, they never feel out of place or something you'd want to skip past. The overall art direction is great as well, and sets the game's intense tone perfectly. The same goes for the game's gothic soundtrack, which is mixed in Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound (adding even more punch to the game's explosive sound effects).

"Halo" is an excellent action-adventure title that, while not all things to all people, is an amazing accomplishment for the Xbox. With rare exception, most PC-style games have translated poorly to consoles, and this is one of the best FPS games to hit a home system since "GoldenEye" or "Turok" on the Nintendo 64. While it is clearly not for all gamers, or that universal killer application that every Xbox enthusiast must own, it remains an excellent, sophisticated, and mature game that will appeal to sci-fi and action fans, and currently represents the best of what Xbox has to offer.


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