Halo: Combat Evolved
Developed By: Bungie Studios
Published By: Microsoft Gameworks
Reviewed by Firedancer34
Facts and Stats:
Halo: Combat Evolved, or just simply Halo as it is most commonly known, is a first person shooter that was released November 15, 2001 exclusively for the Xbox gaming console. It was rated Mature for violence and some gore. In 2005 the PC version of the game was then released. The game allows for one or two players to play through the campaign mode, but also came with several maps and allows for up to 16 players to play in multi-player matches against each other through system linking several XBoxes together. The game was developed before Xbox Live was launched though, and had no online capabilities.
Halo is one of the most successful franchises in gaming history. It spawned multiple sequels that have either already been released or are to be released soon, a series of books, a movie script which is currently being talked over, very successful soundtracks, a popular online video series called Red vs. Blue which lead to the success of a new genre of film-making known as machinima, and numerous other marketing ideas from coffee mugs to costumes.
Halo broke numerous records with its sales and boosted XBox console sales considerably during the first two months of it’s release. Within 5 months, it broke the million copies sold mark, setting a sales record. The game also received numerous awards for both its gaming quality and the development that went into the game. “Game of the Year”, “Best Console Game” and “Best Soundtrack” are just a few of the awards it received.
To date, Halo is a story told in series of four (soon to be five) games, and Halo: Combat Evolved starts you off at the beginning of that series. I found that it was helpful to read the booklet that came with the game, because the game seems to start you off a little in the middle of things. The instruction manual helps give you a little more detailed backstory of events leading up to where you start in the game. If you want a really detailed explanation, a prologue of sorts, I highly recommend reading the first book in the Halo novels: The Fall of Reach. It was an amazing story and really gives you a better understanding of all the characters. In September of 2010 the Halo: Reach game will be released and I look forward to seeing if it ties in with the novels or creates a whole new back-story unique to the game universe.
With that said, the game starts you off just after the Fall of Reach. Reach is an important planet for humanity, in that it is the hub of both the military and scientific community. Reach housed the main ship building yards, Military Command, and was the location for the government’s secret military project: the SPARTAN program. The SPARTAN program was dedicated to the training of genetically enhanced super soldiers. In the Halo: Combat Evolved it is alluded to - but never confirmed - that all of the Spartan soldiers are lost except for you- SPARTAN 117 aka the Master Chief.
You start out aboard a ship called The Pillar of Autumn commanded by Captain Jacob Keyes. Reach has just fallen to the religiously fanatical alien enemy known as the Covenant. The Covenant is made up of a number of alien species all bent on one thing: to destroy humanity in the name of their gods. With Reach gone and the Covenant forces overwhelming what ships are left, Keyes orders his ship’s AI, Cortana, to blind jump them away from the massacre in hopes of keeping the Covenant from discovering Earth’s location. Cortana makes the jump and they wind up stumbling across a massive ring like object in space that is the game’s namesake: Halo. Unfortunately you aren’t the only ones to find Halo, the Covenant are there too.
This review could go on at length about the detailed story that begins to unfold during game play. The plot grows more intricate, a number of characters are introduced and are crucial to not just this particular game, but several go on to have further roles in the sequels. The basics of the story that unfold during this first game is you, as the Master Chief must find out what exactly Halo is, and do so in the midst of battling first the Covenant every step of the way, and then later, a threat that is far worse than the Covenant: The Flood.
The Flood is a horde of parasitic creatures that, much like a horrifically bad virus, could wipe out all life in the galaxy if not completely destroyed. Master Chief and Cortana discover that Halo is actually a weapon of mass destruction that if fired, could destroy all sentient life in a large region of space surrounding it. You also learn that the Halo ring you are on, is just one of a network of rings built by an ancient race called the Forerunners, and that if the entire network was fired, all life in the galaxy would be wiped out. Apparently, the Flood was taking over the galaxy a hundred thousand years ago, and the Forerunners built the Halo weapon system out of desperation and sacrificed themselves to destroy the Flood threat at that time, by firing the entire system.
Unfortunately, the Covenant think Halo has religious significance and will fulfill prophesy and are bent on firing Halo, not fully realizing it will kill them as well. So it’s your job as the Master Chief, to work with Cortana in trying to contain the Flood threat, while you keep the Covenant from firing Halo as you look for a way to destroy Halo.
The game ends with the player realizing that while you may have walked away victorious from this battle, the real war was just beginning.
Halo is much like any standard FPS game in the design of controller functions and typical gameplay. There are various weapons that one can choose from throughout the game, with subtle differences between Human weapons and their Covenant counterparts. There are also the vehicles that one can drive and operate in different levels, and of course the different types of enemies that you face off against.
In Halo, the diversity of weapons and vehicles is extensive because you are dealing with different species. An example of the differences a player might see in the weapons is that the Human pistol is a standard pistol with a scope that allows for some amplification. The Covenant pistol has no such scope and can not be reloaded simply by picking up extra ammo along the way. Once it is out of charge it must be discarded in favor of a new pistol with charge in it. However, if you press and hold the firing trigger, the pistol will build up charge, making it’s round much more powerful once you release it at the enemy.
Another challenge in the Halo universe is figuring out what weapons work best with the different opponents and in the locale you are currently fighting. Using your pistol to line up a head-shot on a Grunt for instance, will work great in most circumstances. Trying to use the pistol in close quarters with a shielded Brute might not work so well for you. It’s trial and error for first timers in figuring out what works best and I found that it added a layer of challenge and strategy that many FPS games don’t possess. The fact that there is such a variety of enemy types and your battlefield is constantly changing just adds to the level of challenge.
Vehicle control is a bit rough in the first game. The main vehicle you utilize is a military styled ATV with a chain gun mounted on the back called a Warthog. Now the Warthog was designed to be a looser driving vehicle, with the ability to power-slide around corners and such, but in Combat Evolved, Bungie was still obviously working out the bugs in the mechanics of driving the Warthog as it is a bit cumbersome and inaccurate to drive compared to how it handles in the succeeding games. The worst thing about it, is that the entire last sequence relies solely upon your driving skills. The tank is another vehicle you get to drive and it drives…well like a tank I suppose. It is slow, cumbersome, and difficult to maneuver, but then that is to be expected. It is of note though that as the games progressed, vehicle handling was improved, but for it’s time, Halo’s vehicle performance was fairly decent based upon their design requirements.
It is safe to say that I absolutely loved Halo: Combat Evolved, because I became addicted to the whole series. I played Halo: CE for the first time a good seven years after its original release and although gaming had come quite a ways since then, I was still enthralled with everything about the game. There are so many elements to Halo: CE that make up the entirety of it, and it was that complexity that really made me fall in love with it.
First there was the story. There were plenty of cut scenes throughout the game to make a mini-movie alone, but the actual playtime was a crucial part of the story as well. Then there were the characters. There are plenty of Non Player Characters throughout the game for you to interact with, and many have a very unique personality to them. Some you love, some make you laugh, some make you shudder, and some bug the hell out of you, but together they create a world of beings you start to become emotionally invested in… either to help and protect or to destroy.
The gameplay was outstanding. In campaign mode, there were plenty of challenges to keep even experienced gamers on their toes throughout the game. I found the control scheme intuitive and though I never utilized it, they allowed for a player to tailor the controls to their own liking if they wanted. The only real complaint I had with any of the game-play was the vehicle handling. I admit to being a novice back then when I spent HOURS trying to survive that last section. But even after a few years of Warthog handling under my belt now, I went back to that last section and cringed as I muddled my way through it with a very loose version of what has become a much sharper handling ‘Hog.
The multi-player option is, simply put, a blast. The maps are pretty simplistic in design, but the variety of games you could play and the fact that you are playing against other people, not just a computer, is what makes the multi-player option so successful even down to this day. The multi-player option finally combined two of my favorite things, playing games with my friends, and playing video games. Before, you could play with one or two friends while the rest would have to watch if someone wanted to play a game. With the multi-player matches, you could have a living room full of friends, TVs, and XBoxes, and everyone can be playing at the same time. It made for a lot of fun and laughing with my friends.
The graphics are, for it’s time, pretty decent too. They were still a bit rough in the design of people, but overall, the landscaping and architectural designs were well done, and the alien designs were outstanding. One of my favorite elements of Halo: CE however was the music. Composed by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, it was a unique blend of mystical and military. The music follows you throughout the game, supplying a great background soundtrack to some of your fighting scenes and amplifying epic moments in the story with sweeping and powerful movements. The music tells a story all in itself, and is unique to each element in the game, whether it is a place, a person, or a particular fight.
The voice work was great, with each actor nailing what you would expect from each of the characters. And the background voice-work was definitely entertaining. Halo:CE is rated M mainly for the violence factor, but the higher difficulty you select, the more crass some of the background commentary becomes. Hilarious at times to be sure, but definitely not something your kids should overhear and possibly repeat later on. As to the subject of rating…yes I agree with the game’s rating. There is plenty of violence and the language can get strong enough at times that it is inappropriate for young ones. Compared to some of the games out today, it is rather tame, but I would still advise parental caution. Especially since the Halo games do progressively become more graphic and it’s hard to say no once you’ve allowed them to play the first game in the series.
Overall, I loved the game and couldn’t wait to chew into the second one, which I will review in the future. It was a great start to what is one of my favorite game series of all time, and I have recommended it to many a friend and family member.
Rating on a scale of 1-10
Overall Gameplay: 9