Halo: Combat Evolved

A great console port to an already classic shooter.


Hunters are one of the more fierce enemies.

Intergalactic space-marine sagas are nothing new in gaming, but Halo’s story about a strange ringworld and the aggressive alien Covenant is extremely well constructed and paced. As the Doom Guy doppelganger Master Chief, you’re thawed out of cryogenic sleep to help avert a potential disaster for humanity as the Covenant seek to uncover the mystery of the halo — and you’ve got to beat them to it. You’re not given a weapon for the first few minutes, which is quite unnerving when you have to dodge the Covenant’s attack as they board ship. Gunplay comes in due time, however. And how!

Halo’s namesake combat truly is evolved. In the indoor environments, bland and detail-lite corridors can still be smeared with hundreds of bullet holes, grenade scorch marks, and buckets of alien juices. You’ll craft vistas of utter destruction as you shoot, blast and drive your way through legions of Covenant forces. But it’s the outdoor areas that holds a sort of magic that wasn’t seen since Epic’s magnificent Unreal. Through forests, canyons, swamps, and colorful (even beautiful) fields more suited to vacationing than alien onslaught, you’ll grab any weapon you can find and lay the smack down.

Better yet, to cover the large expanses of ground in these areas, you get to commandeer some very cool vehicles. The ATV Warthog has space for one AI marine to ride shotgun while you drive and another to man the mounted gun on the back. The mouse-only control of the Warthog isn’t quite optimal (you can only drive where you look), but soon enough you’ll be leaving a trail of roadkill in your wake, and if you’ve kept your pals alive, they’ll handle themselves effectively in the other seats.


Joyridding through Halo with a land vehicle.

For one fleeting level, you’ll also drive a Scorpion tank that gives you control of the powerful main gun plus an erratic machine gun (the main gun fired with the left mouse button, the machine gun with the right — it’s easy to pick up). Again, squadmates can join in, jumping onto the sides of the tank and picking off targets at will. You’ll also take to the skies in the zippy Ghost and powerful Banshee — aerial vehicles that are not only plain cool to futz around with, but which also open up some entertaining level design, with you even flying hundreds of feet in the air to reach new objectives.

Cortana, your in-helmet holographic helper, provides directions and makes it almost impossible to get lost. Inside the various structures, accessible doors are always conveniently bordered in white or green, funneling your forward progress.

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My major criticism of Halo is in the interior areas. Those bland wall details become so much more apparent when the layouts of the buildings are repeated several times. Door, corridor, go left, go right. Repeat. Repeat again…and again…and again. This repetition is in stark contrast to the varied, stylish outdoor segments; it’s a true relief when an in-engine cut-scene tells you that you’ll be fighting outside. And Halo is never short on surprises. A key turning point in the middle of the game (the arrival of The Flood) has sufficient impact to change your whole tactical approach to mass combat situations — suddenly enemies are appearing out of holes in the walls, floors, anywhere.

snap291The style of battle changes throughout. Sometimes ammo conservation is a serious consideration, given that you can carry only two weapons at a time, though you can pick up the dropped arsenal of any creature. Other times you’ll be packing the biggest weapons you can find, slinging every grenade you pick up and barely releasing your trigger finger. The game catches you and makes you stick with it to the end. The conclusion — a timed countdown level that’s perfectly executed — is one of the most entertaining thrill rides you’ll experience in a computer game.

System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, Win98

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