When Microsoft released its Xbox game console in late 2001, easily the best launch title for the system was Halo. Originally announced way back in 1999 and slated for release on the PC and Macintosh, this first-person shooter became an Xbox exclusive after Microsoft bought the developer, Bungie. Halo for the Xbox has gone on to sell more than 3 million copies worldwide--which isn't proof of the game's superior quality, but certainly is evidence of it. Yet, the game was never officially canceled for its originally intended platforms, and at long last, it's available for the PC. For the most part, this new version of Halo is a straight port of the 2-year-old Xbox game. You'd think a high-end PC could handle such a game easily, but this port, which was done by Gearbox Software, is surprisingly taxing even on very fast PCs with tons of RAM and the latest video cards. Halo for the PC also loses the original version's much-vaunted cooperative play mode. But in spite of all that, and in spite of the very high standards for first-person shooters on the PC, Halo is still an incredible action game. It's a true classic--a game that hasn't lost any of its impact and intensity over time.
The PC version of Halo is mostly identical to the original Xbox version, but it's still a truly impressive game.
Halo consists of an intense, story-driven single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode. The campaign is a good 12 hours long at the normal difficulty setting, and the dynamic nature of the battles, along with the multiple, well-balanced difficulty settings, gives it good replay value. The multiplayer component only supports up to 16 players and includes a bare-bones integrated server finder. The game tends to play smoothly online if you can find a server with a low enough ping, and it features an assortment of different modes, which are variations on the standard modes of play found in your typical multiplayer shooter: They include slayer (meaning, deathmatch), team slayer, capture the flag, king of the hill, and some others, though slayer and CTF are by far the most popular choices judging from the servers that are up and running.
Halo is famous for integrating powerful, fun-to-drive vehicles with the on-foot action, and this is what distinguishes its multiplayer component from that of other shooters, though some other PC shooters have also integrated vehicles more or less successfully since the original release of Halo. The PC version exclusively features a couple of multiplayer-only weapons not found in the Xbox version--the flamethrower and the fuel rod gun, sort of a plasma grenade launcher--though they're not as interesting as the game's core weapons. There are also six new multiplayer maps that were made for the PC version of the game. All in all, Halo's multiplayer component can make for some good, chaotic fun and seems to have a lot of potential for when the fan community gets hold of the editing tools that Gearbox has promised.
For the time being, it's Halo's single-player component that's the main attraction. If you've played it on the Xbox, then you already know why--and you may still wish to pick up the PC version of the game just to go through this outstanding campaign with higher-resolution graphics, virtually non-existent loading times, and more-responsive controls than what can be found on the Xbox. The standard first-person shooter controls work flawlessly with this game, so you'll be able to pick it up and start playing in no time if you've played any other shooter lately.
The Master Chief is very strong and can effectively take on groups of enemies alone, but he can't afford to be reckless.
Longtime fans of Bungie's games know that one of the company's greatest talents is to tell a great story in its games. Halo is no exception, and it easily features one of the best stories to date in a first-person shooter, though that's not necessarily saying much. In any case, this is some great science fiction. The game picks up as the Pillar of Autumn, a human warship, is under heavy attack by the alien race called the Covenant. As a last resort, the ship's captain issues the order to awaken an experimental soldier from his cryogenic sleep. Referred to only by rank, the Master Chief is a skilled solider equipped with a very durable environment suit. He's tasked with protecting the ship's AI, Cortana, and escapes with some human marines toward a mysterious ring-shaped planetoid called Halo. Halo has its own atmosphere and ecosystem, but clearly it's no natural construction. There, the Master Chief (along with the surviving human marines) will continue the brutal fight against the Covenant and, with Cortana's help, will uncover the secrets of Halo and hopefully find a means to escape.
As the Master Chief, you're highly skilled with all types of ranged weapons, which you can even use as deadly bludgeons when up close and personal with the enemy. You're also able to commandeer human and alien vehicles and hurl grenades accurately at a great distance. You have a motion tracker that detects any enemies in the vicinity, as well as recharging energy shields that allow you to survive against direct impact from energy or ballistic weapons. And your armor prevents you from being killed outright by such attacks should your shields be depleted.
The Master Chief is powerful, but he's far from invulnerable. He can only carry two weapons at once (plus a stash of human frag grenades and alien plasma grenades), and he's vulnerable to concentrated fire or heavy weapons. The way the Chief's energy shields work is one of the game's innovations. The shields will recharge in a few seconds when the Chief isn't taking any fire, a life-saving feature that forces you into strategic retreats and to fight from behind cover whenever possible during the course of Halo. Having those shields not only makes for some tense firefights, but also means you won't find yourself in situations where your health is too low for you to possibly survive the next fight. It's little wonder that other shooters have started copying this play mechanic, since it works very well.
You'll sometimes find yourself in the thick of pitched battles between the Covenant, friendly marines, and others, and these make for some incredible action sequences.
The most impressive aspects of Halo are its friendly and enemy artificial intelligence, its physics for vehicles and explosions, and its weapon design. These elements are what contribute to the outstanding quality of the action, and though they are technically the elements of a 2-year-old game, they remain unsurpassed by just about any other shooter. Halo isn't a squad-based shooter, but in those instances when you're fighting alongside fellow marines, these troopers will naturally look to you for guidance and provide you with covering fire.
Your enemies, meanwhile, offer a significant challenge. The Covenant's elites are imposing-looking, arrogant alien soldiers who have recharging energy shields of their own. They'll attempt to dodge your fire, use cover, and flush you out with explosives or flanking maneuvers if you try to stay hidden for too long. They're supported by grunts, which are weak little creatures that serve as Halo's comic relief. These cowardly foes will scatter, flailing their arms in terror, if an elite is killed in their vicinity. Yet grunts are not to be underestimated, for they can carry heavy weapons and grenades. They can also use stationary gun emplacements and will draw your fire away from their more-dangerous comrades. There are other Covenant foes, such as the jackals, which are skinny little creatures who defend themselves with energy shields, and the hunters, which are enormous and fearsome shock troopers. The Covenant aren't the only enemies you'll face in Halo, but they are the most prevalent and the most interesting to fight against. There aren't many varieties, but since they're armed with different types of weapons and are capable of effectively fighting both in close quarters and from long range, there's a great deal of variety to the types of battles in the game.