Halo was the game that made Microsoft’s dedicated gaming console, the Xbox. It was one of the games that people could buy as part of a standard bundle, and was enormously successful. I played it on the PC, in the version of the game that was ported to that platform quite a bit later. The ported version featured exactly the same content, but used the usual PC-shooter interface of keyboard and mouse, rather than the Xbox’s controller. The PC version did lose the ability to play the game co-operatively, but picked up Internet competitive multiplayer in its place.
Halo definitely has an appealing “feel” to it. The story immediately drops the lone player into a dramatic situation that is very immersive. This is partly because of good graphics, but also because of the way in which allies talk to you during battle scenes. The basic premise is that the player is a specially engineered soldier called “Master Chief”. Many of this soldier’s battles take place in the company of various “normal” human marines. These soldiers are quite chatty, and seem to make appropriate comments without unduly repeating themselves. In addition, there’s a computer in Master Chief’s head that pipes up every so often.
After the first scene, the action shifts to an artificial ring-world of mysterious origin and nature. This is the Halo of the title (clever name, huh?). When outdoors, this strange world looks pretty stunning. The scale of the game forces the use of vehicles, which are brilliantly implemented. Some can be driven by one player with the driver also able to control the vehicle’s weapons. Another, the Warthog (a form of jeep), forces the driver to just drive (fun in itself), but with two other positions that can be filled by other soldiers, who can use weapons. (This would clearly play brilliantly in the co-operative mode.)
Two other impressive innovations are the way in which the Master Chief’s shields automatically regenerate if left undisturbed for a little while, and the fact that the Chief is only capable of carrying two weapons at once (plus grenades). This latter serves to force interesting decisions on the player. Finally, it is also worth lauding the impressive artificial intelligence in the bad guys (those that are supposed to be intelligent anyway), and their variety. The principal bad guys are called the Covenant, and the Covenant features four different enemy types, each with typical and reasonably clever behaviours. This is very good.
But what about Halo’s weaknesses? Unfortunately, there are a few. I think the biggest is that some of the level design is extremely uninspired. In fact, big chunks of the game feel like repetitive padding. There’s lots of combat in rooms and corridors that are drawn from a very small set. This is very weak, for all that the combats are reasonably interesting in themselves because of the tactical niceties. Another weakness is that the plot is pretty feeble, and its one big “twist” is just an excuse to push the player through a particularly tedious corridor crawl, and against stupid opponents. These secondary bad guys are called the Flood and are zombie-like cannon-fodder that attempt to overwhelm with numbers rather than intelligence. Yes, the religious vocabulary is pretty overt, but it does help with the atmosphere. (Unfortunately, I first misheard “Flood” as “Flub” which didn’t help.)
The atmosphere, feel and play of the game are great, but Halo also features significant design flaws that make it less enjoyable than it should be.