Monday, August 17

Halo Combat Evolved Review

I played on: Xbox
I paid: £0.50
Available on: Xbox, PC
Notes: This review will only cover the single-player campaign and not the online multiplayer included in the Master Chief Collection as that was never part of the original game.

Before Halo, the First-Person-Shooter genre was a very different place than it is now. During the late ’90s console, gamers were dealing with Doom clones and the odd inferior port of PC gems such as Half-Life, Quake 2, Unreal Tournament, Aliens vs Predator and so many more. Halo leveled the playing field by giving Xbox owners a game on par if not better than some of these greats.

So, what makes Combat Evolved such a great console shooter? Well, there is no one easy thing to point at because the entire gameplay was built from the ground up to fit on the Xbox and work with a controller. To start with there are big features such as the regenerating shields that downplayed the importance of health packs. While you did have your health to worry about before any foe could chip away at it, they had to wear down your energy shields. This gives you a chance to find cover and allow them to come back up. The less precise movement given from the controller was no longer an issue. Next up was the 2-weapon limit. Despite playing as an armored super-soldier you were still human and could only hold two weapons at a time. This meant that you could easily switch between them with the press of a single button which made up for the controller’s lack of buttons and avoided players switching between loads of different weapons. It also added a layer of tactical option, when your gun runs low on ammo do you save the precious rounds, or ditch it for the next gun you find?

Now we get to the more subtle touches to Halo. You controlled your movement with the left analog stick and your crosshairs with the right one. When your crosshair moved over an enemy it slowed down allowing you to more easily stop and take aim at them. While aiming at an enemy your crosshair will slightly follow them making it easier to fire at moving targets. As well as this, as long as your crosshair is lit up red your bullets will slightly bend to make sure they hit your target. All of these very subtle touches to combat that most players won’t even notice made shooting with a controller feel as smooth as shooting with a mouse.

On top of this, the power of the Xbox allowed Halo to look simply amazing for the time. Large scale conflicts are able to take place across big areas with lots of combatants all fighting at once. Explosions screams and vehicles all create an atmosphere that feels brilliant even to this day. Then you have the slower moments when the game dips its toes into the horror pool. While certainly not a full-blown horror game like F.E.A.R these moments are effective and creepy. Halo has grown old over the years and the graphics do admittedly feel dated now, especially when put next to its 2011 remake. That being said the atmosphere and world here still feels great. So many little moments of environmental storytelling take this game from good to great!

This brings me to the story of Halo. Humanity is in the middle of an interstellar war with the ultra-religious collection of alien races known as the Covenant. The game starts with your ship escaping the destruction of a human planet called Reach. You make a blind hyperspace jump and end up next to this strange alien ringworld called Halo. The Covenant believe this to be a religious structure left behind by the long-lost race known as the Forerunners. You will learn what it really is and what dark secrets it holds during the campaign, so I won’t spoil too much. All I will say is the blend of sci-fi action and horror creates a story and universe that’s still going strong over 19 years later!

Given everything I’ve said you may think Halo is damn near perfect and it is, but it does have flaws. The level design ranges from outstanding to awful. It’s not uncommon in the second half of the game for areas to be repeated over and over just to pad out the level. If this was just a single section, then it would be a bad moment in a great game but it’s not. This happens numerous times. In my opinion, this is what harms Combat Evolved more than anything else. I love this game, but I just dread certain missions when replaying it.

Ultimately Halo is a fantastic game that changed the way FPS games were built on both the console and PC forever. The combat, story, and world-building are still fantastic and very worth playing. But it’s held back by the odd bit of repetitive level design, backtracking, and dated graphics. The existence of the Anniversary remake on both Xbox 360 and XBone makes it harder to recommend this original version for most players. That being said if you own an original Xbox, I’d say it’s well worth picking up and playing through at least once. Despite its age and flaws, Halo Combat Evolved is still an outstanding classic!

Recommendation Rating: 7 out of 10

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