Review: Halo Combat Evolved (PC)

Posted in Action,PC,Reviews by Shawn Wallace on 3 2003f April 2003

Considering Halo for Windows is one of the most anticipated titles for the PC, possibly ever, I’ve taken great care in considering how I choose to present my review to you. One of the major factors is that the single player campaign for Halo on the PC is identical to the Xbox campaign, therefore a complete review of the single player would simply be a rehashing of old information, at least on the story and gameplay side of things.

However, one of the large differences is the fact that Halo is now being played on an infinitely different amount of hardware configurations instead of on a single configuration, also known as an XBox. These different configurations are going to cause the gameplay experience to differ slightly from the XBox but I doubt so much that it’ll be significant enough to discuss. Therefore I am taking the stance that this review will cover single player only briefly and will then focus mainly on what’s new to the game, namely the multiplayer component.

Here’s a brief rundown on the story behind Halo; in the far future, man has ventured out into deep space. In their ventures they have encountered a race of aliens known at the Covenant, hellbent on owning the universe. After a massive battle at a space-based Human station, the last remaining human forces attempt to lure the Covenant away from Earth by hyperjumping to a mysterious ring floating in space. Much to the surprise of the fleeing human forces, the entire Covenant fleet follows them.

Upon arrival on this ring and after some investigation it is discovered that this ringworld is referred to as Halo. Although, initially, this seems to be the last bastion of hope for Earths’ defense, it becomes clearer and clearer that Halo isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s far more.

You play the part of Master Chief, a bred-from-birth SPARTAN class warrior (and Earth’s last hope… sorry if that’s too much pressure). When things start getting rough the humans call in the big guns or in this case, big gun. That’s you.

Overall the feel of the game isn’t quite like any other shooter. One of the main reasons for this is that player movement speed is far slower than any other games out there. Even though you’re running all the time your movement speed feels more like walking. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though, and prejudge. If you were wearing battle armor and carrying two heavy weapons you wouldn’t move all that fast, either.

Yes, I did mention two weapons. That’s all you get. This may be surprising to you but trust me, this is a very pleasant surprise considering that most shooters on the market today allow you to carry about 15 weapons (where do they put them all?… don’t answer that) and several items in an inventory system. Not Halo. More often than not you’ve got your trusty pistol (complete with zoom feature) and the autorifle which WILL become your best friend in this game. Aside from the two weapons you’re also allowed a few grenades as well, both human and Covenant style. The Covenenat grenades are of the Plasma variety and, upon coming into contact with an enemy (or friends) will stick. It’s great fun sticking a plasma grenade to a foe and watching them run around yelling ‘Get it off me!’ It’s even more fun when they run right into the midst of severals foes, creating a virtual geyser of enemies hurtling through the air.

You’ll also have access to other human weapons and Covenant weapons as well. During the course of the single player game you’ll find yourself using shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, covenant plamsa rifles and other alien gadgets.

There is also vehicular combat in the single player campaign. You’ll find yourself in charge of the Warthog (a 4×4 style truck that gets mad air), the Ghost which is a covenant single-person hovercraft, the Scorpion tank (some of the most fun had in the SP campaign occurs while you’re in the driver’s seat of this beast) and the Banshee, a Covenant flyer. Vehicles aren’t key to Halo but they make for a nice variety when it comes to gameplay and completing mission goals.

The feel of the weapons, their sounds, everything is top notch. A rocket’s impact and explosion are as satisfying as I’ve ever seen in a game. One item you’ll notice during play is the enemy’s reactions to your fire. They recoil as each round hits them and convincingly, too. Your rocket’s shockwave upon impact slings enemies through the air (sometimes alive, sometimes dead) and they land with a hearty thud. Yet the game doesn’t focus heavily on these moments. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes Halo so great. The game never rests on its laurels. Yes, many things are done right but the game never sits back, forces you to focus and says ‘see how well this is done?’. If you do so on your own, do it swiftly, else you’ll be dead.

Speaking of being dead, let’s talk about the enemy AI. It can easily be heralded as second to none in single player games that are out now. Remember, the name of the game is Halo: Combat Evolved, and they aren’t kidding. Enemies dodge, duck, retreat, regroup, surround and sneak up on you. It’s a welcome change from the two most popular forms of enemy AI; impossible dodging or impossible aim. As an example, while fighting a covenant on a bridge, I began to corner him with fire from my autorifle and well placed grenades. At one point I threw two grenades very quickly, one where he was and one where I thought he would dodge to. After the first grenade headed his way, he began to make a move toward my second grenade, thought better of it and promptly dove off the bridge to his doom. You may say ‘well, what kind of enemy AI is that?’. That’s enemy AI that makes mistakes. Ever heard of immersiveness? There you go.

The above goodness I write about above doesn’t come without a price. One of the major points of Halo that bothers me is the fact that this game is a port from a two year old XBox title. However, it feels as if there have been no performance improvements made during that two year span. Textures have been improved since Halo was released on the XBox and players can now run Halo up to a resolution of 1600×1200 but I don’t feel these changes should cause the performance hit that’s felt.

I’m running Halo on an Athlon XP 1700+ with a gig of PC2100 RAM and a GeForce4 Ti 4200 (no overclocking on anything, btw) and there are more than a few moments where the game just chugs. It’s not so bad as a slide show but as most gamers know, framerate is life. You’d think two years would be enough time to get any performance issues ironed out but it just doesn’t feel like it. To counterbalance this setback visual settings can be reduced and to Halo’s credit, the game still looks marvelous even at medium detail. It’s no Unreal Tournament 2003 or Unreal 2 but it’s definitely no Daikatana either.

The single player campaign can take anywhere from 8 or 9 hours on Easy mode all the way up to 20 hours or more on Legendary. Let me just say if you want a true Combat Evolved experience, you need to play Halo on Legendary. It will redefine the term ‘difficult’ in FPS gaming, that’s fa sho.

Also of note, the single player campaign was unchanged from the XBox version as the developers feel (and I agree) that you shouldn’t mess with greatness. If you haven’t ever experienced Halo on the XBox you truly owe it to yourself to play the single player campaign all the way through. The later maps do get a bit repetitive but all in all this is a great single player FPS that deserves attention.

Now, the moment most of you have been waiting for… the multiplayer component.

Let’s just get this out in the open right now; the multiplayer feel between the XBox and the PC versions of Halo does differ. Not much, but they don’t feel identical. Currently the epitomy of online team gaming is Battlefield 1942. I feel that Halo, with time, could rival this title. One of the main reasons for this is the plodding pace of the player. Even at a run it’s still slow which means you just can’t outrun bullets or rockets (not that you can in other games but it’s sure easier to dive for cover) so you’re forced to strategize. Running blindly into an encounter will most often get you killed. It’s best to gather up two or three teammates, grab a Warthog and then do your duty.

By the way, let’s take a moment and focus on the vehicles during multiplayer. They are, in my opinion, essential to the gameplay of multiplayer Halo. Many maps included in the multiplayer component are rather large and attempting to traverse them on foot is simply too daunting a task. Yes, it can be done but you’re taking yourself out of the action if you do so. Of course, some strategems might require a foot assault but more often than not you’ll be required to use vehicular transport to do your thing.

All in all Halo easily meets the expectations of the Xbox version of the same game. Even with the hardware issues you’ll find yourslef in love with this game. Now, all we need is Halo 2.

Final Score: 87/100

» Official Product Page
» Publisher // Microsoft Game Studios
» Developer // Gearbox Software and Bungie Studios
» Reviewer // Shawn Wallace


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