Review: Hit it marines! GO! GO! GO!
You are the elite, the best of the best. No, I'm not talking about Top Gun either. I am talking about the Marines. Still confused? I am referring to the new Xbox game ?Halo: Combat Evolved?. You are a military machine -- enhanced, and retrofitted with the latest biomechanical technology, you are the go-to guy in sticky situations. Well, my friend, you're in one now. Nothing too drastic, just this little band of religious zealots calling themselves ?The Covenant?, who are hell bent on eliminating the entire human race. To survive, you have to lead your men through assaults, rescue attempts, and intense firefights. Sounds like the script for the next Schwarzenegger flick, doesn't it?
Well, its not. Halo is a First Person Shooter for the Xbox that puts you, the Master Chief, in cahoots with your men in an all out war. As I mentioned earlier, you are in a war with the Covenant, when in an attempt to lead them away from Earth, you make a blind jump with your ship into an uncharted area of space. Unfortunately, it works a little too well, as shortly after the jump, your ship is attacked and boarded by the goons. What's worse is that you start out unarmed. Inevitably, you end up crash landing on ?Halo?, a huge artificial alien ring world of sorts, suspended in between a planet and its moon. It is here that the game really begins, as you, along with survivors from the crash, begin to wage a war against the Covenant. Sound like fun? Well it is. Let's break it down.
Traditionally, First Person Shooters on consoles never really translated well, due to controller issues. But what we fail to realize is that in all these instances the games have been ports of PC games using a default keyboard and mouse setup, and then translated into a controller as an after thought. However, games like Golden Eye and Perfect Dark played well because they were designed with the controller in mind, from the ground up if you will. This is the story with Halo. Well, sort of. Those of you reading that know what I mean, Halo originally was in development for the PC, until Microsoft approached Bungie and made Halo an Xbox Exclusive game. So, they had to really work at making the controller work for them, and work it did. This game plays fantastic. Even in the heat of battle, switching weapons, aiming, and reloading all occur as if second nature.
The transition from gameplay to cut scene and vice-versa are seamless and very well done. As for the firefights, ?intense? is a good way to put it. You haven't lived until you've survived 6 on 20 battles against the Covenant. This isn't like your average FPS either, where you are all alone. Your Marines are there with you, giving you cover, flanking the enemy with you, and in some cases, saving your ass. Speaking of your men, now would be a good time to mention the AI, which is, in a word, intelligent. They act like real Marines would -- they flank, dodge, and take cover. The AI is just simply well done, better than any other game I have seen. All in all, your team actually helps you out here. Which is sort of a rarity in this day and age.
One more thing here while I am on gameplay, the physics. These are the best I have seen in a FPS, or any game for that matter. The most noticeable physics come from the grenades. When you blow up a few aliens with a grenade they go flying, screeching and all, with arms flapping. Basically, it looks just as it should. When the enemy hits the ground, they don't just land and that's it. Based on the momentum of the impact, they roll, bounce, and act realistically. Also, the vehicles you use throughout the game react to real life physics as well, adding to the games already amazing realism. The folks at Bungie really did their homework here.
One of the fears that many have had concerning the Xbox and Halo was that it was made for HDTV, and that it would look like crap on a normal TV. Let me end that debate outright. The visuals in Halo are nothing less of absolutely phenomenal. It's not just due to the anti-aliasing or the poly processing power either. I suppose the word here is ?detail?. Not just textures or lighting, but the entire visual package. For example, when you shoot the dirt, you don't just see a bullet hole, but sand and dust fly up just as if you really shot the dirt. A grenade blast results in a wall of dust spewing upwards to the sky. Speaking of bullet holes, I sat there looking at my shots for a good 5 minutes, and not once did the bullet holes disappear, neither did the enemies (ala Goldeneye on the N64). Lighting, lens-flare, and just the overall look of the game is stunning. Admittedly, I was expecting a lot here anyway, but when I powered up and started playing, even I was blown away by the visuals. And yes, I have a standard 27? Sony Trinitron TV. Nothing fancy. Granted, Halo, as well as any Xbox game will look a lot better on an HDTV, that much is given. But the rumor that the game looks terrible on a normal TV is not true. The bottom line -- easily some of the, if not THE, best graphics ever seen on a console.
The audio can actually be subdivided into 2 categories, sound effects and music. Each amazing in their own right. There's the sounds of bullets whizzing by, grenades blasting, radio chatter, as well as the voices of your comrades in arms as you fight your way through the game. The detail of the sound is crisp, and the voice acting is extremely well done. As for the musical score, all I have to say is, John Williams would be proud. The music is brilliant, and epic. This is the stuff action movies are made with people. And to top that off, the music appears to be dynamic, meaning that the tone and speed changes during different situations. For example, if you are sneaking, the music is quiet and suspenseful, to where if you are in full on assault mode, the music is fast and furious. All of this changes seamlessly in gameplay about as perfectly as can be. Of course, if you have the system to back it up, Halo supports full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound too. This isn't just cut scenes mind you, but rather, thanks to the powerhouse of an audio processor, the 5.1 is done during gameplay. This is a humungous feat, as this is the first time ever on a console, or anywhere for that matter, that 5.1 is possible during actual gameplay. All I have to say here is, hearing is believing.
You want Features? Halo's got features. Aside from the HDTV support and 5.1 3-D audio, the gameplay modes are aplenty. You have your single player campaign mode in which you play through the story, complete with four levels of difficulty. You can also return back and play through any previously completed mission on a different difficulty at any time. The game progress is saved to the Xbox hard drive and is automatically loaded upon startup, so no worries about memory cards here. However, there is more than just deathmatch to suit the multiplayer aspect of this title. You have your standard Deathmatch, but also, there are a variety of multiplayer games, such as Capture the Flag, and as well, the ability for you and a friend to cooperatively fight your way through the actual game missions. This is exceptionally fun for you and a buddy as you kick some alien butt in the armed jeep known as the Warthog.
One thing that Halo does, that is a first, is the ability for up to 16 people across 4 Xboxes to go at it over a LAN. The option is there. On the other hand, getting 3 other Xboxes, 3 additional TVs, and enough people in one room, is your problem. All these features mean literally weeks of gameplay here people. I find myself replaying certain missions simply because they are so damn cool. That doesn't even include the multiplayer replay ability. This title is going to be played for a long, long time.