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 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.