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Halo: Combat Evolved Review
developer: Gearbox Software
PIII 733, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.3GB HD
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Sep 30, 03 (released)
|» All About Halo: Combat Evolved on ActionTrip|
Good day, children. Those of you who haven't heard about HALO raise your hands please. Timmy?! What do you mean you haven't heard about it?! Oh you're still gaming on a Dreamcast; daddy is a game reviewer, you say, and can't afford to buy you anything? Oh well, I guess we can let this one slide. God knows those "game reviewers" would be better off tying themselves up to a tree to preserve the rain forests. The rest of you kids; those of you whose moms and dads have budgets substantially larger than ZOO animals; certainly know that HALO was probably the biggest and certainly the most prominent launch title for Microsoft's Xbox console. You also probably know that Bungie actually originally intended to publish the game on the PC, but were kindly asked to change their mind (read: bought by MS) and help the birth of the Xbox. After two long years of waiting, PC gamers can finally sink their teeth into the PC version of the game, courtesy of the boys at Gearbox Software (Half-Life: Blue Shift expansion, Return to Castle Wolfenstein single-player, and most recently, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4).
Two AI opponents getting it on! Yeah!
I'm starting to see things...
For Timmy and other kids of "professional game reviewers," the basic story of the game revolves around one badass "Mark 5" dude known as Master Chief. Not chef, chief. Although I'm pretty sure that, seeing how Master Chief is so good at whipping out the alien scum, he's probably a great chef, too, but I digress... The story begins with you (Master Chief) being stranded on the ancient ring-world HALO, and fighting a guerilla-war against a powerful fellowship of alien races known as the Covenant. The humans and Covenant have been fighting for quite some time over the Earth's fledgling interstellar empire with no side gaining a clear advantage. That is until the discovery of the HALO. The evil lord Sauron forged this ring-world deep in the caverns of Mount Doom... oh no, wait, that's a different story. HALO is in fact a giant weapon and the Covenant is trying their best to learn its secrets and ways to control it, which naturally means that it will be your job to thwart their plans and discover the truth about it ... and save mankind in the process naturally. In your quest you'll be joined by the Ranger Aragorn, Legolas... (Oh you think you're so funny - Ed.)
Since this is a console port the most common question is if Gearbox had managed to adapt it to the PC properly. Some would probably say that, since this was a PC game from the get go, the job wasn't as demanding, but I think you probably should contact Gearbox Software and tell 'em that. I'm sure they'll be delighted to hear you say it. Luckily for all of us out there with powerful PCs the conversion has been done rather splendidly with only a few negatives to offset the overall experience. It is true that you can get a console for just $200 bucks, whereas you need to shell out something like $2K to be able to play all the latest PC games "the way they're meant to be played" (Oh God, shut the hell up, please! What's the matter with you!? - Ed), but HALO is one of those ports that will remind you exactly why we keep doing this - spending all this cash. Aside from Splinter Cell; which is another game that should've ended up on the PC first; HALO is probably the best console port I have ever played. Gearbox not only managed to capture the awesome atmosphere from the Xbox game, but their excellent porting job yielded an even more spectacular experience, with higher resolution graphics and a rich 3D sound. Missions like "The Silent Cartographer" are a joy to behold on the PC. To me the PC was always more capable of providing a more personal and intense gaming experience than the console and the evidence of this is clearly shown in HALO (PC). The team and enemy AI are just as good as in the console version, which means that it won't take you terribly long to immerse yourself in the gripping action. In other words, you'll have a really hard time prying your fingers away from the scorched mouse once the action commences. Naturally, the mouse and keyboard combo is a lot more intuitive solution for a FPS than the gamepad. No matter what hard-core console gamers might say about it, it is clear that HALO was meant to be played on the mouse/keyboard. Driving the vehicles is a lot more effective now that you have the luxury of the mouse look (this especially goes for Warthogs, which are now deadlier than ever), and I won't even go into sniping.
One of the most brilliant aspects of the PC version is the excellent positional audio. With a proper sound system PC gamers will be treated to an experience that is simply unattainable for a casual console gamer. I've finished HALO on the Xbox twice, sitting in front of my TV and playing my ass off, but the feeling is just not the same when compared to the raw power of my 7.1 surround sound system on the PC. In many ways, Gearbox has managed to make a carbon copy of the Xbox game but with all the right additions predominantly available to the PC gamers.
We're flyin' high!
Welcome to the Halo bowling alley.
Nothing is perfect, however, and the same applies for the PC iteration of HALO. Aside from some mildly annoying sound bugs; where speech would be simply muted after a sentence or two spoken by the main characters during cut-scenes (this will especially annoy people unfamiliar with the plot); the biggest technical downside to this game are the occasional hits to the frame rate. I run an AMD 3000+ a Gig of 400MHz RAM and a Radeon 9700PRO, and still had to set "sound variety" to medium and the resolution to 1024x768, as the frame rate would drop to something like 10-15 on certain levels (Truth and Reconciliation for one) when the screen was loaded with enemy and marine models. Surprisingly enough most other levels, and especially the outdoor levels (like the Silent Cartographer, and later on The Library), worked just fine, without any apparent slowdowns even when the screen was loaded with enemies. I'm not a hardware expert, but it might be that one of the reasons behind these drops in the frame rate are the dynamic reflections that are quite abundant on levels that take place inside spaceships, which is where these slowdowns occurred. Other disappointing aspects of this port include some TV resolution textures on the background objects and blocky, low poly appearance of the in-game models. These are clear indicators that this is indeed a port and not a bona fide PC title. Team and enemy AI, as well as the physics model work splendidly on the PC, and they might be one of the factors why you'll need a powerful CPU to run HALO without many hitches. This comes as quite a shock considering what's inside the Xbox. On second thought, it might be the high-resolution graphics and 3D positional audio that are the main culprits. Either way, anyone interested in playing HALO should note that mid-range rigs might not be able to cut it. And if you do get decent frame rates it'll probably be at the expense of some of the fancy features available in the PC version.
(Note by Vince "Moesha" Massa: I did not experience the frame rate drops Uros described. I run an AMD 2500+ (Windows sees this as a 2.08 GHz CPU) a Gig of DDR RAM and a Geforce4Ti 4600. The only difference we were able to find between our settings was I had VSYNC turned off. PLEASE Bungie, release a dedicated server!)
As far as the gameplay-related weaknesses are concerned, HALO PC suffers from the same illnesses as its Xbox counterpart. Probably the biggest objection to the single-player game has to be the extremely repetitive design of some of the large levels - like The Library. I just got the feeling that Bungie desperately wanted to lengthen the single-player experience, and they've done it in such a way that it can get highly monotonous and repetitive to play some of the levels. The other objection is the strictly linear nature of the game, which is not exactly a genuine downside as the story, the direction of the cut-scenes and certain action sequences are gripping enough to mask the game's apparent linearity. Overall, however, I just felt that Bungie sort of ran out of steam after The Library level. Even before that some of the wandering inside Covenant structures can get a bit annoying. Still, what I found amazing about the single-player is that the brilliant parts provide sufficient motivation for the player to trudge through the duller parts of the SP campaign. A gripping storyline also helps a lot in those regards...
Last, but certainly not the least, two years of waiting means that we can finally hop inside one of the vehicles and join in a multiplayer match. Of course, this assumes that the game doesn't lag so bad that you can't get into a vehicle. The game is addictively fun online, and after playing all weekend, the game really takes deathmatch and capture the flag (I found it more fun to be playing as a team) to a whole new level. Loading up a Scorpion and blasting your way to the other base is a lot of fun, hell, rushing in blindly with a shotgun is a lot of fun. The only grievances I have with it, is the lack of dedicated servers seems to cause an awful lot of lag, and this game is one of the worst I've played when it lags. Unfortunately, it lagged more often than not, but when it wasn't, it was great. My other complaint is that the new vehicles are somewhat unbalanced. There's no damage taken by the Banshee so it simply rams people on the ground instead of actually shooting them (Banshee and the rocket Warthog are the two new vehicles added to the PC multiplayer), and it becomes bloody hard to shoot them out of the air without a Scorpion at close range. While the Banshee is too strong, the Rocket Warthog is the opposite. The rockets don't pack a big of an explosion and it's unbelievably hard to hit anything while moving. The old version (with the mounted chaingun) is decidedly more effective. Of course, if you keep the Rocket Warthog stationary you can smite the enemy back to hell and be a real pain in the ass, but all that goes away once you start moving.
Multiplayer is good fun though, issues aside, I'm hooked (And I get to use the classy name "Master Chef")! In time, and with proper servers support, HALO multiplayer will surely live up to the reputation that preceded it.
Even with all its minor and more significant shortcoming HALO is still one of the most enjoyable FPS games I've ever played. The single-player is immersive, well-told and at times simply brilliant. With a powerful enough rig, all PC shooter fans will definitely want to own this game. It may've come a bit later than we had hoped it would, but let's just be grateful that it's finally here
8.7 Very Good
Gearbox has done a very good job on porting an excellent and highly addictive console shooter, 3D sound, multiplayer (when it doesn't lag);
All of the drawbacks of the Xbox iteration, frame rate drops on certain levels, weird sound bugs, lag in the multiplayer mode.
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