|Halo set a new standard for first person shooters across all consoles|
I mentioned at launch that the site would also be serving as a retrospective, not just covering all the recent releases, and with Halo 2 finally approaching its release in November it seems appropriate to do just that. So please, allow me to take you back in time and recount the tale of how Bungie created one of gaming's most beloved franchises.
Mind you, even though this article aims to cover a game of yesteryear, Halo is actually a reasonably new experience to me. One that I only recently stumbled upon towards the end of 2003 when buying my Xbox.
Halo's story of supreme bad arse Master Chief battling the evil Covenant army is a long, complex, interesting one. Originally conceived by Bungie as a real-time strategy title for the PC, it progressed through numerous different redesigns and reincarnations over the years, slowly evolving into the third-person, and ultimately first person, futuristic blaster we now know and love. The journey ended with Microsoft eventually stepping in and forcing Bungie to release it as an Xbox exclusive on a ludicrously close deadline.
Sadly this resulted in some major corner cutting with tons of marvellous weapons getting axed from the features list, as well as many rehashed and repeated levels in the game's latter half. For those interested, this long-winded history is commentaried beautifully by Bungie themselves in a hilarious audio commentary which you can download here...
As for me, I originally jumped on the Halo bandwagon myself about halfway through that journey, back when I detested consoles and was purely a PC fanboy. When PC Halo was delayed in order to hype up the Xbox version, I was bitterly disappointed as you can imagine, but refused to cave into Microsoft's console domination plans by splashing out on an Xbox just for this one game.
I mean PCs are built
for first person shooters I said to myself, I'd be just fine with the thousands of others in all their high resolution, mouse 'n' keyboard glory, right? And happy enough I was, for a while…
Back to the Future
|Master Chief strikes a pose in one of the game's standout moments|
Flash forward a fair bit, and PC Halo finally remerged. The down side was that it was now two years out of date, destined to face off against the current kings of the crop such as Battlefield 1942, Call of Duty, and even the leaked copy of Half-Life 2 found in the internet's seedier corners.
Thus I think many passed off PC Halo as a by-gone relic that had missed its chance. Hefty system requirements and low frame rates didn't help…I mean here’s an aging Xbox game that my top of the range Athlon was having a bloody hard time keeping above 20 frames per second.
Never the less, there was still something special about getting hold of Halo at last. Slinking around those ominous spaceship corridors, blasting psychotic Covenant soldiers with my assault rifle while bashing their smaller cute cuddly sidekicks in the face with its butt was just downright fun
. Something that in all the progressions, advancements, volumetric this and bumpmapped that of recent PC games, I just hadn't experienced on this level.
I'm a Stut Man
But as much fun as I had with PC Halo, I had a hard time finishing the sucker due to the sloppy port that stuttered all over the place.
At this point, I was faced with a serious question, one that I ask all PC gamers to ponder for a moment themselves; do I buy a new £300 graphics card in order to beef up my system and handle the likes of Halo and other modern games, or do I pay half that much and just buy a damn Xbox instead?
Needless to say, Halo is what made me choose the latter, and even putting Halo aside, I’ve been nothing but pleasantly surprised by my big black sex box ever since.
In its Element
|The Warthog allows up to three characters on board at once|
Playing Halo on an Xbox is how it was meant to be played. Unlike pretty much any
first person shooter ever made, Halo genuinely works with a gamepad – arguably more so than with a keyboard and mouse.
The enemies are big, chunky and easy to hit, while the weapons and crosshairs are large and forgiving. At the same time the game doesn't necessitate auto-aiming or too severe a lock-on feature, hence it remains challenging and fully interactive at all times. A rather large feat for a console shooter.
I find it somewhat fascinating and aggravating that no other console game has managed to emulate this amazing feel in a similar way ever since. Regardless, if ever there was proof that consoles can
indeed do first person shooters, Halo is it.
The single player campaign is an enchanting experience. Whether it be the first time you engage in a colossal fire fight alongside your AI team mates, or the first time you jump into a Warthog jeep and propel it over a hill, it's just full of memorable moments. The kind that live with you well on after you hit that off switch and head to bed at 4 'o' clock in the morning.
Impeccable graphics, sound, presentation, professional cut scenes, and a genuinely enticing storyline easily make up for any lack of varied terrain, and the whole thing keeps you glued right up until its heart pounding finale.
Fun For All the Family
|Halo's snow covered valleys were another high point from the single player game|
As fun as all that is though, Halo doesn't truly expose itself as the almighty classic it is until you plug that second joypad in and go through the whole thing again in co-op mode with a mate. Believe me, it's this pivotal feature that makes PC Halo a near redundant shadow of its true self.
In fact, in all the games I've played, all the machines I've owned, all the first person shooters I've completed and all the arse-sweatingly tense clan matches I've been involved in over my 23 years, traversing the co-op game in Halo is right up there at the number one spot. Sorry Medal of Honor, apologies Gorgon Freeman, but the Master Chief, in all his shiny green glory, pipped you to the post.
That Still Only Counts As One!
As a fan of Aliens, two player Halo felt like that movie come to life...in a somewhat bizarre, surreal, magic mushroom clouded luminance. The game can be enjoyed as a comical blast 'em up with the two of you mowing 'em down and keeping count like a demonic Legolas and Gimli, but it also has a more sinister and brutal side to it too, one that can only be appreciated on the unrelenting Legendary difficulty setting.
Here you can play the game on a much more visceral level, covering each other, taking it in turns to reload, planning high speed charges, and setting up precision ambushes on unsuspecting Covenant troops. In fact, if you don't work as closely together as you possibly can, you just flat out won't survive. That, my friend, is the hallmark of a fantastic two player game.
Let Me Give You An Example
After many an hour of late night Halo co-opping, me and my good friend Tom finally arrived at the final stage of the game. With the whole place about to explode and time ticking away, we jump aboard the only working Warthog we can find, ready to burn rubber towards the escape ship on the other side of the level.
The frighteningly bulbous Flood species attack from all sides, plasma shells ricochet all over the ground around us, and explosions cover us with debris. Every second counts at this point, if we're to make it out of here before the big boom
...but here we are arguing over who gets to drive.
We eventually agree to take it in turns, seeing as we are destined to tip this baby over on its arse at least a dozen times between here and the exit, while the other guy mans the top mounted machine gun. And sure enough we do just that, each time we crash, swapping seats and giving it our own best shot at navigating the various ramps, archways and pillars in our way. Sadly Tom drives like a girl, and yet he's the better of the two of us...
|How come we can't fly these too then?|
After what felt like the battle of a lifetime we suddenly caught site of the escape ship in the distance - we're here! But oh no, a quick glance at the clock reveals that we only have 30 seconds left. What's worse though, is barrels block the final stretch of road to the ship.
My ever eager partner wants to stay on board the Warthog and plow on through 'em, but my instincts tell me they won't budge, only wasting us precious seconds, so just like that, I'm out on foot yelling, "Run you cock!".
More baddies spring up all around us but we have no time for 'em, dodging their incoming shells with all the skill of a (pre-Reloaded) Neo, eventually diving onto the escape ship with…wait for it…one second left.
It actually took us a few moments to take in what had happened and figure out whether we'd made it or not. I mean here's an enormous
level with a count down timer of 6 minutes - how could a game be developed with such pin sharp beautiful precision as to cut it so close to the bone?
But that's Halo in a nutshell my friends, and as the explosion ringed out in glorious 5.1 surround sound while we zoomed off in our escape shuttle, I thought to myself…wow…never again will I ever feel this good playing a video game.