Halo Review

Can Microsoft's flagship FPS live up to the hype?

Version tested: Xbox

Breathless

Of all the games in the Xbox's European launch line-up, Halo is perhaps the nearest the console comes to having a killer app. It's the biggest selling Xbox title to date in America, and the press on the other side of the pond have been raving about it for months. Now that it's finally arrived here in Europe, the question is, can it live up to the hype? And the answer is yes .. and no.

Halo puts you in the boots of a futuristic cyborg soldier known only as the Master Chief, and as the game begins you are being defrosted from cryogenic storage aboard a warship pursued by an alliance of alien religious fanatics called the Covenant. Luckily there's time for the engineers to power up your mobile armour suit and run you through some diagnostic tests first though, which gives you a chance to get to grips with the game's controls. Although I normally have difficulties with console shooters, Halo proved to be surprisingly easy to control, and the cinematic introductory sequences mean that you have several minutes to just run around admiring the scenery before having to actually shoot anything.

Indeed, the opening sections of Halo come across as the bastard offspring of Unreal and Half-Life. Having completed your test run you must make your way to the bridge to talk to the captain, without the benefit of a weapon and getting only glimpses of the enemy as battles rage in side corridors and behind doors which are wedged half open. Even when you finally get hold of a weapon and join in the action for yourself, the atmosphere doesn't let up as you make a dash for the last remaining lifepod, fighting alongside scattered squads of human marines as Covenant boarders try to block your escape route.

Bright Light City

All of this pales into insignificance when you finally touch down on the mysterious ring which gives the game its title. With the surface of the vast orbiting Halo arcing into the sky above your head and grass-covered mountains towering all around you, the scenery is spectacular to say the least.

'Halo' Screenshot may02b

You want some?

Not that you'll have long to stand gawping at the view, as the Covenant are soon joining you on the surface to search for survivors. Guided by the soothing voice of the ship's female AI, entrusted to your protection by the captain, you soon find yourself roped into tracking down the other lifepods that escaped your ship and helping the marines to fight off Covenant forces long enough for a dropship to arrive and evacuate them. We won't spoil the rest of the game for you, but suffice to say that there are plenty of plot twists and dramatic in-game cutscenes to keep you amused over the course of Halo's ten missions.

The one downside to this heavily scripted story-led malarkey is that the game is depressingly linear at times, shuffling you from one encounter to the next and rarely giving you any real choice in where to go or what to do. While running around space ships and Halo's interior you will find an amazing wealth of locked doors which keep you from straying from the one true path, with occasional neon arrows conveniently painted on the floor to point you in the right direction in case there was any doubt. The outdoor settings look fairly open at first sight, but although there's more freedom of movement there are still only one or two paths open to you most of the time thanks to steep-sided canyons and the occasional rock fall.

Superstars In Their Own Private Movie

'Halo' Screenshot may05b

One of the surprisingly cute Covenant foot soldiers. If he'd survived this encounter, he'd probably be running away screaming two seconds after this picture was taken.

It's easy to forgive Halo these shortcomings for the first few hours though as it sucks you into a gorgeously rendered sci-fi world of bizarre aliens, curvaceous architecture and gaudy weapon effects. Halo is one of the most visually impressive games we've seen to date, and the only real problem on the eye candy front is an over-reliance on shiny metallic surfaces, giving it a slightly fake CG look in places.

The AI is equally strong, with the Covenant using cover and grenades to full effect, while groups of marines work together to cut them down, calling out directions as they track down stragglers. It's not perfect, and the enemy is a little passive at times, often allowing you to duck back behind cover and wait for your shields to recharge instead of pressing the attack. We were also a little alarmed at the frequency of friendly fire incidents in confined areas, although your men do at least apologise if they shoot one of their own. This constant chatter from both sides all adds to the atmosphere, and there's something undeniably satisfying about seeing a panicked Covenant grunt running away from you with his arms waving frantically in the air, shouting "he's unstoppable" and "they're everywhere".

If you want to do some screaming of your own, Halo features a full co-operative mode, allowing you and a friend to fight your way through the campaign side by side. It's a rare luxury these days, but one which adds a lot to the game's replay value. Naturally the game also includes the usual deathmatch and capture the flag modes, as well as king of the hill, checkpoint races and "oddball", where you get points for holding on to a ball for as long as possible. Apart from co-op (which only works with two players) all of these modes support up to four players, either on one Xbox with a splitscreen view or with multiple Xboxes networked together using the built-in ethernet adapter. Things can get a little choppy at times with more than one player sharing the same screen, but overall it works well. If you're feeling really adventurous, it's even possible to play over the internet by hooking your Xbox up to a PC running some (very unofficial) third party software.

Say What You Want

'Halo' Screenshot may12b

The hog might look cool, but it's a real pig to drive

Halo isn't without its faults though. For starters, those of us weened on PC shooters may find it a little frustrating that you can only carry two guns at a time. As the game uses a checkpoint-based autosave system, if you find you have the wrong weapon for the job your only choices are either to run back to wherever you dropped the gun you really need now, or to muddle through as best you can.

And while most of the game is spent fighting on foot, often alone behind enemy lines, the small selection of vehicles which you get to drive from time to time aren't quite as satisfying. A combination of slightly awkward controls, low gravity and incredibly soft suspension makes the buggy in particular a real pig to drive on uneven surfaces. Maybe I just need more practice, but the single player game doesn't really offer much opportunity to get the hang of driving and flying the various vehicles, except when you're in a hurry to get somewhere and getting shot from all directions.

Where Halo really falls down though is the pacing. The first few hours of the game is a work of unadulterated genius, constantly throwing new sights, enemies and weapons at you. But things go rapidly downhill from there on in. Suddenly you find yourself spending more time beneath the surface of Halo than above it, and most of these underground facilities are made up of a handful of drab prefab rooms repeated over and over again, with different combinations of monsters thrown in to block your way, and big glowing plot arrows in every room to point you through the one and only exit. Needless to say, clearing level after utterly linear level of near identical rooms soon gets tedious in some of these missions, especially when you find yourself forced to backtrack across a couple of miles of terrain that you've already explored at one point, with only a change of inhabitants to keep you interested. The game does at least pick up again at the end for an exciting finale, but by this point finishing the game may have become more of a chore than a delight for you.

Conclusions

Halo is very much a game of two halves. The first half is fast, exciting, beautifully designed and constantly full of surprises. The second half is festooned with gobsmacking plot twists and great cinematics but let down by repetitive paint by numbers level design. Bungie could quite comfortably have cut several overly lengthy sections from this second half and still ended up with a respectably time consuming game while maintaining the adrenaline-pumping pace of the first few hours. As it is Halo is a flawed masterpiece, one which is well worth owning but which may start to grate after a while.

8 / 10

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Comments (113) Latest comment 2 years ago

Comments threads automatically close after 30 days, but please feel free to continue chatting on the forum!

  • LaundroMat #1 10 years ago

    What the hell is wrong with you european people?
    That, my friend, is something we luckily will never be able to explain.

  • skalmanxl #2 10 years ago

    Luckily I didn't have to review Halo, since I probably wouldn't survive the following beating. It isn't worth more then 6/10.

  • pjmaybe #3 10 years ago

    I'll tell you something else - the stuff that appeared at that first breathtaking Macworld demo isn't the same stuff grubby little X-Boxers are playing now.

    Peej

  • skalmanxl #4 10 years ago

    I took a look at the E3 video from 2000, and it looked a hell lot more fun back then, then it is on the Xbox right now.

  • Divebomb #5 10 years ago

    I agree with most of Gestalt's points on Halo.

    It was being hyped as 'the best thing ever ever ever!!!11' but... it's not. It's a console FPS that does some things (graphics, storyline, co-op mode) very well, and other things (basically the entire second part of the game) badly.

    7/10

  • #6 10 years ago

    wow.. must be one excellent novel. i mean, it even points out that the game is great!

    ..and nobel's literature price goes to "the guy behind the halo novel", good work there fella!

  • otto #7 10 years ago

    Well it *is* a work of fiction... ;)

  • BartonFink #8 10 years ago

    Halo there,
    Hmm wonder have any of these guys actually played the bleedin game.
    Yes the second part of the game is un-imaginative regarding levels just the same ones in reverse. However, you are so busy trying not to get killed by the Flood (absence of health powerups doesn't help either) that you forget that you are just going back through the same levels. Play the game before making judgements. Don't forget there are loads of multiplayer options too. And yes some of Gestalts views on the game are quite valid.
    Just like to point out that according to Bungie this game actually started life as a RTS. Bit of a change eh.
    Most excellent game 9/10

    Edited by 1 at 25/04/02 @ 10:01
  • skalmanxl #9 10 years ago

    you are so busy trying not to get killed by the Flood (absence of health powerups doesn't help either) that you forget that you are just going back through the same levels

    It made me wonder why I even bothered to play the bleedin game. Not only did I have to backtrack through awful interior design, I also had to fence off a enemy to which there was no end. Whoever designed the structure from mission 6-10 should be shot dead.

  • Blerk #10 10 years ago

    Blimey, are you lot still bitching about Halo? ;-)

  • BartonFink #11 10 years ago

    Oh yea still at it... :)
    Something to do first thing in the morning

    Guess some people just have different points of view on the game (i.e. those who have actually played the game)
    Go figure...

    Edited by 2 at 25/04/02 @ 10:12
  • skalmanxl #12 10 years ago

    Oh well, back to waiting for Unreal 2.

  • BartonFink #13 10 years ago

    Hmm can't wait, any idea what the release date is yet?
    Unreal Championship is supposed to be out in July on the Xbox. Haven't heard a release date for Unreal 2 though for PC.

  • skalmanxl #14 10 years ago

    Haven't heard a release date for Unreal 2 though for PC.

    They pushed it back to the end of the year, around the holiday. They even removed the multiplayer in order to focus on the singleplayer. UC looks ace aswell, let's see how MS work out their online thing. Of course, there is UT2003, funny that we didn't see a single Unreal-game in three years and then we get three in one year.

  • BartonFink #15 10 years ago

    Yea it's great isn't it...

    Are they going to release Unreal 2 and UT3 around the same time I wonder?

  • Gestalt #16 10 years ago

    "Not only did I have to backtrack through awful interior design"

    Time to call in the guys from Changing Rooms?

  • otto #17 10 years ago

    heh - LevelLordLlewellyn Bowen

  • skalmanxl #18 10 years ago

    Time to call in the guys from Changing Rooms?

    I have no idea what that is, but by the sound of it, it's two carpenter wannabees who get to redecorate people's homes and such. Right or wrong?

  • Gestalt #19 10 years ago

    Close.

  • otto #20 10 years ago

    Changing Rooms - the full horror

  • skalmanxl #21 10 years ago

    We got a couple of these shows here too. One which really fits my description and one that's a little more "comfy", which teaches you to make cute pillows out of tablecloths and other horrible things.

  • Whizzo #22 10 years ago

    I'd rather like seeing Laurence take on the Covenant though, perhaps something that could be modded when the PC version finally turns up.

  • ssuellid #23 10 years ago

    "We got a couple of these shows here too." - Your lucky we have digital channels which show these sort of programs all day everyday. There seems to be one on at least everyday on terrestrial tele as well. We have Changing Rooms from the UK, US, Aus, NZ and Big Strong Girls, Big Strong Boys, House Invaders, Change This etc etc etc.

  • BartonFink #24 10 years ago

    Now that took an unexpected twist.
    From Halo to a frilly shirt wearing English ponce.
    Hmm a nice shade of mauve on the interior of Halo...

  • otto #25 10 years ago

    ssuellid - you forgot the Canadian one

  • Kylun #26 10 years ago

    Hmm a nice shade of mauve

    Only cos they got a job lot!

  • binky #27 10 years ago

    blank o' blank - Just a perk mate :) couple of quid towards a console of my choice.
    Also my mate works in dixons so got another 60 quid off that way :)

    and I still like HALO :) although tried playing on legendary the other day and got completely shat on by the covenant. bah humbug, gonna try Hero instead :) one step at a time an all that...

    Played 3 player multiplayer as well the other weekend. some top fun 2 of u in a jeep each, and the other one trying to snipe them off :) paH!!

  • Super Stu #28 10 years ago

    Jason:

    Bit late to the party, aren't you?

    dont put down the best console game ever created

    Sales would suggest otherwise.

  • otto #29 10 years ago

    EG fanb0yzz0r, how can you give this the same score as Halo?? Oh, it is Halo...

  • Whizzo #30 10 years ago

    I see from various news sites (i.e. Blue's News) that Microsoft have now officially announced that the PC and Mac versions are to be released.... next year! Summer 2003 for PC and a bit later for Mac, wow they're certainly taking their time porting this one.....

  • hulahoops #31 10 years ago

    Sales would suggest otherwise

    Come on Stu, you know better than that, when have sales ever been a reflection of worth?

  • Dorag_kid #32 10 years ago

    COol game 8 an 8 id say a 9 i never played it so it must be cool id say WoWwe what a great game.but who could beat a gmae where you have to compromise with your computer teammates great plot id say. way to go non the less.It didnt come close to Grandtheftauto3 though.but my rating would be a 9 for HALO. Way ta go

  • st3ph3n #33 9 years ago

    Someone actually took the time to reply to every post 14 months after they were originally posted. Now that's dedication.

  • JohnBye #34 9 years ago

    Well that's one way of putting it. ;)

  • Maxwell-Horse #35 9 years ago

    or he started writing it last march

  • lost_soul #36 9 years ago

    Binky-I was not aware you had a torch in Halo. Might you be referring to the flashlight?

    Nope, there's definitely a torch in there.
    You've gotta love the septics :-)

  • Maxwell-Horse #37 9 years ago

    So Tanis, You're still playing it?

  • Nemesis #38 9 years ago

    I can't believe the EG Staff/Ex-Staff maniacs are still writing in the comments. Now THAT is dedication!

  • Tiitiz #39 8 years ago

    how does THIS deserve an 8?!?!?!? I woudl give it 4/10 max

    ;)

  • daveo #40 8 years ago

    Surely posting things to an 18 month old thread becomes something more akin to performance art than actual commentary? I mean noone is actually going to read something this old are they?

  • ThwartedEfforts #41 8 years ago

    Well I am. As were you, apparently.

  • tannerd #42 8 years ago

    Well I'd agree with this review (over a year late...) - I've never been able to get into Halo for the year I've owned it. Whilst it can be impressive in places in can be really bland in others. Nice to see that not everyone is going to give it a 10 (*cough*edge*cough*).

    And the PC version desveres an extra point for the pretty graphics and looses 2 for lack of co-op and absurd system specs.

  • tannerd #43 8 years ago

    Well I'd agree with this review (over a year late...) - I've never been able to get into Halo for the year I've owned it. Whilst it can be impressive in places in can be really bland in others. Nice to see that not everyone is going to give it a 10 (*cough*edge*cough*).

    And the PC version desveres an extra point for the pretty graphics and looses 2 for lack of co-op and absurd system specs.

  • WoodenSpoon #44 8 years ago

    You realise that Halo came out with the XBox.
    A long time ago.

    Edited by 1 at 11/02/04 @ 21:11
  • Lutz #45 8 years ago

    Don't feed them Woodenspoon...

  • binky #46 8 years ago

    Tanis Half-Halo said:Binky-I was not aware you had a torch in Halo. Might you be referring to the flashlight?


    I've only just noticed this.

    HA.

    No I was refering to the TORCH. flashlight ppfftt, twat.
    :)

  • Lutz #47 8 years ago

    LOL! :D

    Anyway... only 8/10?

    ;)

  • binky #48 8 years ago

    being that im still playing this game i reckon more 9/10

    :)

  • Lutz #49 8 years ago

    9.5/10 here.

    Would rate full marks if they hadn't have put in The Library.

  • yegon #50 8 years ago

    Ditto.

    I recently finished Far Cry and I immediately had a hankering for Halo - still got the magic after all this time. Played it from start to finish (skipping the Library of course) and I swear I enjoyed it as much as the other 6 times I've played it in both single and co-op. Wouldn't surprise me if I got the urge to do it all again in a couple of months - magnificent game.

  • MikeD #51 8 years ago

    Heh, I'd give it a 7/10. Good game, but didn't grip me at all. And the levels bored me much earlier than it did you guys, obviously.

    (witht eh added info that I did play it on pc, in case the experience was incredibly different. Had a few games of it on xbox, but nothing long enough to judge it properly. Would have, but my mate destroyed his Halo disc).

  • tyTY #52 7 years ago

    Only an 8, your going to regret it.

  • Lutz #53 7 years ago

    Oi... this is Halo 1... dumbass, not Halo 2.

  • Cloudane #54 6 years ago

    I do not believe it!

    10/10 - Full stop.

  • tengu #55 6 years ago

    Er... no, it says 8/10, can't you read?

  • Blerk #56 6 years ago

    Has it really been so long? :-)

  • morriss #57 6 years ago

    10/10 :)

  • rhinoxious #58 5 years ago

    Had to come and post here, we're almost at 300!

    I give this thread a 10/10

  • BravoGolf #59 5 years ago

    lol! Some of the negatives are its strengths! Review hasn't really stood the test of time, imo. But such is the nature of an opinion.

  • souljah #60 5 years ago

    First!

  • OllyJ #61 5 years ago

    As good as Gears of war then?

  • Pacman8MyGhostkart #62 5 years ago

    Exactly what I thought tbh.....snark snark.

  • Dirtbox #63 5 years ago

    halo sucks

  • Razz #64 5 years ago

    LOL! Where are the old comments? :D

  • mrpsb #65 5 years ago

    meghg

  • Razz #66 4 years ago

    Halol

  • bdc #67 4 years ago

    first!

  • bdc #68 4 years ago

    meh

  • Lutz #69 4 years ago

    Why was this at the top of the comments section?

  • NoQuarter #70 4 years ago

    Only as good as Gears of War???

  • Mr Diskos #71 4 years ago

    hello?

  • wowami #72 4 years ago

    immortalised as FIRST!

  • mull #73 4 years ago

    Halol!

  • Biggles #74 4 years ago

    first!

  • bdc #75 4 years ago

    adsdafsd

  • morriss #76 3 years ago

    Still 10/10. Easily.

  • Lutz #77 3 years ago

    Fanboilol

  • Aretak #78 3 years ago

    It's a shame most of the original comments are gone.

  • sirtacos #79 3 years ago

    I just played this on co-op with a couple of friends and it was the most fun I've had with a videogame in a long while.
    We had to replay the last level at least 7 times - the driving is a bitch - but once we got the hang of it it was immensely satisfying. The finale alone is worth the price (now dirt-cheap, probably).
    Everyone loves ripping on Halo, but even now, in 2008, I give it a 9.

  • cyber_nicco #80 3 years ago

    "It's a shame most of the original comments are gone. "

    Agreed. I cut my Eurogamer teeth arguing the merits of Halo, and I wanted to look back at how rabid I might have been.

    Still play this co-op with my wife sometimes. It was one of the greatest gaming experiences I had had when it came out. I don't even think the review mentions the music...

    Well, I'm rambling now...

  • cyber_nicco #81 3 years ago

    Oh, and who was "Gestalt", and what happened to him or her?

  • Ryze #82 3 years ago

    As good as Halo, then?

  • Razz #83 2 years ago

    I have huge balls coz I played HALO