Halo: Combat Evolved Review - Dima110 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Halo: Combat Evolved Review

Introduction

Hello, GIO, thanks for clicking. This is the first of six reviews I will be doing on the "Halo" series, covering the original Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, and then finally Halo 4. I will be excluding Halo Wars and the Anniversary Edition of Combat Evolved from this series for various reasons, but if these are met with decent reception I will surely add them in.

Please note that since most of these games are years old, these reviews may have spoilers so keep that in mind. If you haven't played the Halo games before, I strongly recommend you play them before reading these reviews. I will be writing these reviews under the assumption that the readers have played the games.

Review

History

Released on November 15th, 2001 on the original Xbox, this game quickly took the world by storm. By showcasing the razor-sharp controls and gorgeous 3D environments, it perpetuated the Xbox's identity as a major console. Dubbed the "killer-app" for the system, it managed to show that the first person shooter genre could be successful outside of the PC realm.

Halo was developed by Bungie, a talented group of writers and developers who had already made their names through their Marathon and Myth series of games. It was originally set to release on Mac OS and Windows but ultimately launched as an Xbox exclusive with re-releases to follow in the years to come. Met with critical acclaim and breaking numerous sales records, Halo had set the bar high early on in the Xbox's lifetime. 

Characters

You control the Master Chief, a space marine trained from childhood to be the strongest and most efficient soldier possible. He is seemingly the last of his kind, however, as the other Spartan supersoldiers had all died off in previous engagements. The nature of his training, akin to the Spartan soldiers of ancient Greece, has unfortunately left him with almost no personality in this installment. While some might argue that this lack of personality allows the players to get more enthralled into his character, the impact isn't nearly as large as with the likes of Gordon Freeman in Half-Life or Jack in BioShock. This leaves the player feeling as though they're essentially just playing a gun, moving from one sequence to the next as the story unfolds around it. Regardless, the game doesn't fail to make you feel like you are a supersoldier, resulting in Master Chief always being fun to play as.

His dialogue sequences are extremely short as well. Before replaying the game, I had actually forgotten entirely that Master Chief even spoke at all in this game. Apart from killing thousands of Covenant soldiers, Master Chief's directive consists almost exclusively of asking questions to key characters, getting his mission information from Cortana or otherwise, and then completing the mission without question. Given his background of intense military training, it makes sense for him to be more or less a block of wood following orders, but it is hard to sympathize with the character.

The supporting cast of characters are an interesting group and are one of the best components of the story. Cortana provides a voice and an emotional component to Master Chief while characters like Captain Keyes, Sargent Johnson, and the excellent 343 Guilty Spark provide mission structure and, occasionally, comic relief. The banter between basic marines feels natural and are dynamic with changes in the environment. All of the characters are written very well and feel more and more fleshed out as the game goes on.

Story

Master Chief's mission ranges throughout the story, never fully deciding on what the player needs to be doing. After crashing down on the mysterious ringworld of "Halo", your mission is to gather up as many survivors as you can and then find Captain Keyes who had been captured by the covenant. Later, you find that the Covenant have released the Flood, a race of parasites that are capable of destroying all life in the galaxy. Chief's mission then moves from escaping Halo to activating the Halo ring's weapon which will supposedly kill all the Flood. Soon after, you find out that the Halo ring kills all sentient life, not just the Flood, and now must stop it from activating. Not bad in concept by any means, but the way it is told results in the story never really finding a focus.

The story, while muddled, is presented in a way that still manages to hold up well today. Halo was released during a time when cinematic experiences were in their infancy. Combat Evolved features many cutscenes, decently-written dialogue, and interesting story set-pieces. It was far from the first game to have those components, but they were done very well and it is worth admiration.

Apart from some loose comments scattered throughout the campaign, it isn't exactly clear who the Covenant are and why the humans are at war with them resulting in their being a bit dull in this release. This ambiguity results in the player feeling like they are killing mindless sheep instead of truly sentient creatures. But when you attribute Master Chief's stoic personality, it makes up for this, if slightly. Regardless, gunning down an Elite with your pistol or running over a squad of grunts with a Warthog is always satisfying to say the least.

Gameplay

The gameplay consists of both on foot and vehicle based combat. The vehicle combat is split between land and aerial. Before this game's release, decent vehicle mechanics on console were unheard of. The interesting way Bungie managed to implement the vehicles was both revolutionary and immensely fun at the time. The tight gunplay coupled with the entertaining vehicle sequences leave the player with a consistently fun gameplay experience. Rarely does the gameplay slow down or get frustrating.

The level design is a decent experience from start to finish, never feeling repetitive. It is only occasionally marred by poor design, but is well-intentioned for the most part. The game shines through its use of set-piece moments and experiences, however. The first time Master Chief meets the Flood is a terrifying moment that still resonates today. Preceded by an ominous video recording that shows how a squad of marines gets ripped apart by the Flood, the entire experience is very well put together. The events leading up to the reveal of the Flood are equally horrifying. Up until that point, the only source capable of damaging the Covenant troops has been Master Chief, the marines not being able to leave so much as a dent. As you walk through a containment facility, you find that the Flood match your Covenant killing prowess. And that's terrifying.

This level is succeeded by one of the most frustrating levels in the entire series. An unlimited onslaught of Flood in cramped environments makes this sequence tough to manage in harder difficulties, based not on player skill but on the poor design of the environment, how strong the Flood attacks are, and the sheer magnitude of Flood troops. I can understand that they wanted this sequence to prove just how daunting the Flood menace is, but this was already showcased in the previous level and didn't need to be exemplified in such a manner. 

Running and gunning wasn't uncommon before Halo, but the variety of missions that are given to the player throughout the relatively lengthy campaign is admirable. Covert sniper missions, aerial dogfights, search and rescue missions and more supplement the run and gun formula. The gameplay in Halo always manages to stay fresh and rarely feels repetitive. 

The AI is also worth commendation. I had entirely forgot just how mature the AI was, especially at the time. Enemies will react accordingly when they see you, they will duck away from any grenades, and hide when damaged. Marine allies will typically do the same thing when fighting the covenent. If a marine kills a grunt, he will often throw up some form of banter ("Get up so I can kill you again!") while shooting a few rounds into the corpse. If Master Chief dies, the killing Elite will laugh and fire a few rounds into your corpse. If you come off a jump in a Warthog, the marines in your car will yet out a "Woohoo!". This attention to detail in the AI is astounding and is, unfortunately, rarely seen even today.

Conclusion

Halo: Combat Evolved manages to show how a game can stand the test of time. The gameplay manages to remain immensely fun and the while the story is entirely linear, the game itself doesn't suffer for it. There aren't very many secrets to uncover either, apart from the occasional Easter Egg. The varied locations, mission designs, and intense gameplay experiences make Halo: Combat Evolved an excellent game to play, even today. If you haven't checked out the series yet, this game is the best place to start.

 

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

 

Thank you for reading my review of Halo: Combat Evolved. Expect to see my review of Halo 2 up in a few days. If you would like to read more of my work, click here to see my blog posts. 

 

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