Halo: Combat Evolved
The original Halo was a dream come true for Microsoft. Like Goldeneye on the N64, it sold consoles like hot cakes. People would play it or hear about it and then go out to buy a console the next day. Do you know an Xbox owner who doesn’t have Halo? Exactly. It impressed the public and media alike, and proved that Microsoft was serious about gaming. Its arrival on PC is no surprise and just how well it will fair in a market full of other FPSs will be interesting. PC gamers have been waiting for two years to play Halo and now it’s finally here. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely.
Halo‘s storyline is exactly the same as the Xbox version; a gripping sci-fi romp starring a soldier named Master Chief. The plot sees a fellowship of alien races known as the Covenant wiping out Earth’s interstellar empire. You – Master Chief – and your fellow survivors of a distant colony attempt to distract the enemy fleet away from Earth. Shot down and marooned on the ancient ring-world Halo, you begin a guerilla war against the Covenant. Fighting through 10 levels, you must save the universe (probably) and unlock the mysteries of Halo itself.
You start the game aboard the doomed spaceship in a cryo-cell. Awakened, you are led around a room in which the basic elements of the game are introduced. Battle stations sound as the Covenant board the ship. Dodging explosions, slamming doors and debris, you make your way to the bridge where you are given a weapon by the captain. The remainder of the level sees you fighting off intruders with fellow shipmates and escaping via a pod. It’s a gripping opening to the game and sucks you into the world of Halo. Subsequent levels introduce vehicular combat and the epic ring-world itself. It was stunning the first time round on Xbox and the impact hasn’t been lost over the years.
The game mechanics are simple; proceed through levels exterminating the Covenant, occasionally locating switches, doors and groups of stranded friendly forces. Weapons are few in number, but are varied and each have their own character. Only two weapons can be carried at the same time; a feature that so many other games have ‘borrowed’ since the original appeared on the market. Grenades and a flashlight are also utilised well, with separate buttons for each item. However, it’s the AI is what makes it so compelling to play it. They always act differently; the first time the enemy may seek cover, the next they could run for backup. Each time you play it’s a different experience and that’s what makes people come back again and again.
Optimizing the game for Windows has meant ditching the excellent control setup that the Xbox has. Instead, the Windows version uses keyboard and mouse or a gamepad. Using a mouse it’s more precise than a console pad, but notably not by much. The remainder of the functions are distributed around the keyboard which isn’t ideal, but it gets the job done. When I opened the game’s case, I was alarmed by the fact that there was only a single CD supplied. A large proportion of action games come on two or three CDs these days, but not Halo. Hardware specifications are also an issue now like any other PC game. Apparently some users have had trouble with the amount of RAM the game needs, but we experienced no problems since our test machine has more than enough. It’s a shame that many users may have to upgrade to play Halo, but this is PC gaming and here it’s a way of life.
Let’s be honest. The only reason most people are going to be buying Halo on PC is for the multiplayer. The single player is an exact port from the Xbox version, minus the instinctive controls and the co-operative mode. To compensate for this, Microsoft have included online and offline multiplayer which includes new maps and weapons. Added to the arsenal is a flamethrower and Covenant fuel rod gun, with a modified Warthog thrown in for good measure. The Banshee and Stationary gun have also been added to multiplayer maps. Talking of maps, there are 6 new ones, making the total a healthy 19.
The online play is just as outstanding as we thought it would be. Almost every server out there can handle the maximum of 16 players, and ping seems less of an issue than in other titles. Fighting alongside and against real people can be an exhilarating experience. Jumping in a Warthog with a couple of others and storming the opposition base to steal their flag is great fun to say the least. Sure, there’s going to be the odd jerk who’s out to spoil the game, but administrators can easily kick and/or ban whoever they choose. Most of the time though, Halo‘s multiplayer proves to be one of the best online experiences out there, second only to the likes of Battlefield 1942. If this is a prototype for Halo 2‘s multiplayer, then roll on 2004.
Graphically, Halo hasn’t changed much. On a 128MB graphics card, the game runs with no noticeable slowdown, with general visual detail comparable to the Xbox version. The atmosphere created still has the same impact and convincing tone, noticeable even if you’re a veteran of the console original. The textures are credible, the scenery is breathtaking and lighting is excellent. It seems that PC gamers are a lot harder to please in the visuals department due to the outstanding quality of some games, but Halo manages to hold its own against the likes of Unreal II.
The audio is just as superbly done as the visuals. The musical score is an outstanding, epic orchestral tour-de-force which complements the plot perfectly. Sound effects are also accomplished, with notable directional audio even on a normal pair of stereo speakers. For those who have splashed out on surround sound speakers and a full audio card, the resulting sound quality is second to none. Even the voice acting is also exceptionally well done, interestingly with Australian voices instead of the usual North American accents. The audio is pleasing and intense, a fitting combination for a game such as Halo.
The original game’s lifespan was immense, yet the Windows version takes it even further. Once you’ve hacked your way through the ten single player missions on the various difficulty levels, there’s still more to do. Multiplayer online and offline is superb, with replay value added by the customisable game types and user friendly interface. Look into the future – one year from now – and you’ll see enough mods to keep you occupied until Halo 2 arrives. Some people are still playing the Xbox original after two years so who knows how long the PC version will last.
At the end of the day, Halo is still the Halo will loved two years ago. It’s not as fresh as it once was, but it hasn’t lost any of its brilliance. The multiplayer is the main draw for PC gamers and that’s where the developers have put the effort in and it shows. Many long nights are going to be lost, mark my words. The game’s magic is still there and multiplayer has given it a revitalising boost which will keep it from aging for a few more years. Xbox gamers wishing to sample the wonders of Halo‘s online play should purchase it without question and PC gamers simply have no excuse not to.