I’m Not Gonna Lie…I *Was* Blinded By Its Majesty
I’ll be honest with you; when Microsoft decided to enter the video game wars, I didn’t think they had a chance in hell of surviving, much less leading the way for the gaming revolution. Why? Because they didn’t know dick about video games. Microsoft’s specialty was in computers, computer programs, and monopolizing the American computer market. A venture into the foreign land of console video gaming seemed to be a product of their bloated and overzealous egos.
Thankfully, I was wrong, and the product of this venture was one of the greatest video games ever made: “Halo: Combat Evolved.” This game is revolutionary on so many levels and breaks many previously-held beliefs as to the boundaries of first person shooters. Though the game is not perfect, it is as close as they come to perfection.
The story of Halo is set in a post-apocalyptic future in the midst of humanity’s long-standing war with an amalgamation of alien races known collectively as the “Covenant.” You assume the role of the Master Chief, a genetically and cybernetically enhanced supersoldier of the galactic United Naval Space Command (UNSC). As your ship is fleeing a pursuing Covenant patrol, you and your crew discover a mysterious giant floating ring located deep in space. Eventually, your crew lands on the object and you spend the entire game battling the Covenant over control of the ring. But of course, like any other mysterious floating object, the ring itself is the subject of some very magnificent and very dark secrets.
But who cares about the plot, right? The core of any action game is (what else) the action. Fortunately, it is in this respect that Halo flies rings around the competition. The weaponry is an absolute blast as you have your choice of both human bullet-based and Covenant plasma-based weapons. The human side consists of your standard issue pistol, full automatic assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher (oh yeah!) and fragmentation grenades. Your Covenant counterparts consist of plasma pistols, plasma rifles, needlers (by far the most unique weapon in the game), and plasma grenades. While the human weapons are good for the actual kill, plasma weapons are better than bullet weapons in draining an enemy’s shield. You will have to alternate between human and Covenant weapons to defeat your enemies and complete the game.
Speaking of enemies, they have one thing that many other first person shooter game enemies do not have: cunning. Your enemies are master strategists and will attack swiftly and mercilessly in their ultimate quest to see your pulse strike zero. In addition to a surrounding energy shield, they are often equipped with plasma weaponry, grenades, stealth camouflage, swords, or a combination thereof. They are a tough bunch to say the least and defeating them will require a bit of creativity on your part.
Halo itself is massive and there’s no way you can transverse all of it on foot. Therefore, you need vehicles. Fortunately, Halo delivers the goods with some awesome vehicles, both human and Covenant alike. The jeep-like Warthog and Scorpion battle tank round out the human side while the hovercraft Ghosts and jet-like Banshees represent the Covenant side. Though some of them are bit difficult to control (i.e. The Warthog and the Banshee), they are all nevertheless an absolute blast to ride and to battle with. It is also while riding the vehicles that the graphics of Halo are at their best.
The graphics are just absolutely breathtaking and showcase the Xbox’s power as the premier 128-bit gaming system. The ring itself is a technological marvel, a living breathing ecosystem brimming with all forms of flora, fauna, terrain, and local wildlife. The settings are large and wide, giving you the open-ended feeling a war game should have. Though the graphics do suffer from occasional resolution problems, they are nonetheless awe-inspiring and add greatly to the gaming experience.
Before Halo, many gamers and gaming experts alike believed that multiplayer FPS games were best done on the PC and that conversion to the consoles would only result in disaster. Alas, I cannot help but smile as I play Halo and know that the critics were 100% wrong in their prediction. Halo’s multiplayer experience is an absolute blast and still stands today as the reason why the Xbox became so popular. The multiplayer arenas themselves range from good to outstanding as they encompass a wide variety of environments and settings. There’s a giant graveyard, a snow valley, a mountainous valley, the innards of a Covenant space cruiser, and even an arena set in outer space! Deathmatches can be played in either a team or a free-for-all (by far the best variant) format. Other games, such as capture the flag, king of the hill, and oddball (a mutant form of “Smear The Queer”) are also present. The multiplayer has certainly been the beacon of many a college student’s existence and remains a classic gameplay element long after Halo’s debut.
So right now you might be asking “So what’s preventing you from giving this game an A+?” Well, believe it or not, as good as Halo is, it is not without some considerable flaws. The first gripe I have with the game is with the story’s overall character development and plot progression in the single player mode. Though the dialogue is very well written and funny, none of the characters are particularly interesting and are strongly borrowed from war movie clichés. The game itself seems to halt progression halfway through the campaign mode and you spend the last half of the game revisiting levels you have already completed. Normally, I wouldn’t knock on a game for something like this, but when a game incorporates as much of a Hollywood movie into itself as “Halo” does, you can’t help but notice its overall lack of originality and character development.
The multiplayer, while fun, is also not without its problems. Though the Microsoft prides itself in blessing the Xbox with online capabilities, that feature is nowhere to be found in Halo. The result of this is frustration in knowing the untapped potential Halo possess, yet not being able to do anything about it. While the multiplayer is still a blast overall the decision not to online was a painful one for many a gamer.
Halo also lacks bot support in its multiplayer arenas. Since multiplayer success depends heavily on map memorization, you’re gonna get worked pretty badly until you know where everything is in the level. Games with other consoles can still be connected through LAN systems and played with other gamers within the vicinity. Of course, this may also mean the burdening (and dangerous) task of hauling your TV and your Xbox up three flights of stairs to play with your buddies.
Though Halo and its sequel ultimately became the only good games ever released for the Xbox, Halo was nonetheless a great game and paved the way for the next generation of gaming and provided proof that consoles could do first-person-shooter games just as well as their PC counterparts could. I will be you, dime-to-the-dollar, that I can pick this game up ten years from now and still have as much fun when I first played it my freshman year of college. This, of course, is the sign of a true classic.
+ Beautiful graphics
+ Awesome weaponry
+ Awesome vehicles
+ Intelligent, formidable enemies
+ Breakthrough multiplayer mode
- Stunted character development and plot progression
- No online capability?!
- Lack of bot support