If you haven't heard of Halo, all I can say is where have you been? The game has been hyped up beyond belief on the PC over a year ago. Then the Xbox was announced, then finally Microsoft bought up Bungie and Halo was made console exclusive on for the Xbox. This means there won't be a PC version for at least 6-9 months. So will Halo manage to live up to the hype and will it also help to sell the Xbox for Microsoft? Read on.
Installation and Settings
Despite what everyone had been saying, Halo takes about 10-15 seconds to load, the only information it puts onto the hard drive is a cache to help levels and areas load quicker and of course to save games. There had been talk that the game may take a little longer to load
up as rumors were floating around that it would run a kind of installation onto the Xbox hard drive. Once the game has loaded you are greeted with the main menu which comprises of:
The only things you can obviously tweak in the game are the controller settings/player colors and what difficulty you want to play on. I'd recommend that you start on one of the higher difficultly levels to get the most play out the game possible, oh and there are different endings on EVERY one of the various difficulty levels.
Gameplay & Controls
I must admit that I had been skeptical about how Halo would play. Why? Well I'm a very big 1st Person Shooter fan yet I have to say that I have gotten very bored of the same old gameplay coming out time after time. (With the exception of Return To Castle Wolfenstein). Then there is the Xbox controller to consider, consoles don't tend to be the easiest way to play 1st person shooters which most of us gaming fans play via the mouse on a PC.
So how did I feel the gameplay went? Well it has to be said that Halo has one of the best "introduction to controls" sequences I have played on most console games (or PC games for that matter), once you begin the campaign the game begins with a great intro sequence which is all done via the in-game engine. Once the intro has finished and your character is released from his cryo tube to help the fight against the alien menace one of the other friendly characters from the game begins to lead you through the controls. These range from using the top left directional pad to move around to using the bottom right directional pad to look around, there are a load of other controls such as duck, reload etc. It only took a short amount of time to learn how to use the controller at its best, and I can say right now that the controls are excellent and easy to use.
You play most of Halo in first person mode similar to Quake on the PC or Red Faction on the Playstation 2. With Halo this means lots and lots of enemies coming at you at one time, which reminded me of the good old days of Doom on the PC. During the game you can pick up all kinds of weapons ranging from plain old pistols to alien weapons that can fire shards of glass at your enemies. The weapon firing is controller with the top right index finger button on the controller, the left one fires grenades, and it really is great fun throwing them about I can tell you.
In Halo you can only carry two weapons at a time, during the game you tend to make up your own mind about which weapons you like to carry around with you at all times. Picking up a new weapon is easy, all you have to do is walk over it and then hold down the X button on the controller and it then replaces the weapon you were holding in your hand at the time, it is a very simple system that works really well.
During the game you get to ride different vehicles from the fab warthog jeep to flying ships. This is where Halo distinguishes itself from other first person shooters, the way you switch to driving vehicles is done so well it is easy to drive them. They are basically controlled in the same way that you control your character in the first person part of halo, one stick for acceleration/reverse the other for the direction.
So are there downsides to the all great all action gameplay? Yeah sure there are, the fighting can get a little repetitive and there is not enough variety in the alien menace. But none of these detract from the fact that Halo is some of the best fun I have had in a first person shooter since Half Life.
There are a couple of different types of multiplayer games in Halo. They are cooperative and split screen games. I've been playing split screen two player games since the console arrived and they are really good fun, the level designs are well done and the frame rate is always high with little or no slow down during play. There are powerups in the split screen deathmatch games such as camouflage and better shields to keep yourself protected from the enemies.
The multiplayer side of the game is superb, the only thing it lacks in the chance to compete against bots, as there is no option to include any computer controlled bots in the multiplayer games at all.
Graphics & Sound
One word can describe Halo's graphics and sound - Amazing. There is a never ending amount of detail in the game in terms of graphics and scale. From the moment the game first loads and you see the planet ring spinning you know something special is on the way. I have to say I was gob smacked when I first started to play Halo, not just because everything was smooth running, but simply because it was so far ahead 'graphically' of anything I have seen on both console and on pc...just about every surface is bump mapped, colors are vibrant, particle effects are all over the place, surfaces shine and glow I could go on and on about Halo's graphics because they really are first class.
One point that seems to have gone missing from a lot of previews/reviews of the game is the animation, it's wonderful, I really have been impressed by the way aliens move, defend, run away with their arms in the air screaming and fly through the air when I throw a grenade their way.
So what bad points are there graphic wise? Well sometimes there is slow down, the game is locked in at 30 frames per second, but that doesn't mean it stays like that all the way through the game, in some of the earlier missions I noticed a drop down to to what I would probably say was around 20 frames per second and thus the action started to feel a little disjointed, but this only lasted for a few seconds. This slow down tends to happen when there are a large number of vehicles on the screen, it doesn't however, happen when there are a whole load of aliens fighting you in first person mode, which is the way 95% of the game is played.
The sound can't be faulted one bit, playing the game is a joy to the ears with there being great speech, music and sounds. There are so many different things that the marines say, and they all speak in various languages such as American, Spanish etc which really adds to the atmosphere. The music starts off the game superbly right from the intro with a Gregorian Chant. If you have a Dolby 5.1 setup you are going to be in for a treat.
Those wondering how the game fares on those European PAL systems will be pleased to hear that the game includes an excellent conversion with no noticeable slowdown compared to the NTSC version and the game also has support for PAL 60 assuming you have selected this option in your Xbox's dashboard.
What can I say? Graphically Halo is miles ahead of any other console game released today. Sound wise again I have to say, I haven't really heard such a great range of voices, sound effects or Dolby 5.1 in any other game ever. Gameplay can become a little repetitive but in saying that, I enjoyed every moment playing Halo and if you play all of the different difficulty levels then you are going to be treated to different endings. There are some minus points such as the frame rate dropping low, but this is a rare occurrence, and when you have such amazing graphics and massive fights going on against loads of aliens you can sometimes understand why there might be a strain even on such a powerful console. All I can say is if you have an Xbox? Get Halo...Now. If you don't have an Xbox - buy one along with Halo now.