the Andrew Bailey

Halo: Combat Evolved

Two days after dissecting Borderlands 3, the time had come. In all my life, I had played a grand total of about 5 minutes of the entire Halo series (in Halo 3, probably). After making a threat to buy it over 5 years ago, Halo: The Master Chief Collection has come to Steam, which I bought in the last sale. Selecting it in Steam, I hesitated clicking the play button as I contemplated the gravity of the situation. Although Halo was on PC shortly from the start, the series became something different in my eyes, as it became an Xbox icon. As a member of the PC Master Race, I see Master Chief as a horseman of the PC gaming apocalypse. Even after a generation, the Halo scar is still tender. But Halo isn't what it used to be, and from all accounts, is coming back to PC. All of it; even the new stuff. Still, it felt like I was about to betray my values and violate something deeply sacred. I gulped and clicked.

Screenshot of Halo: Combat Evolved showing unevolved combat

From vicarious exposure to pop gaming culture, I gathered that Halo is a sci-fi shooter that involves a cyborg warrior in green armor, space rings, and lots of aliens: the Covenant and the Flood. I somehow had the idea that the Covenant wasn't a single kind of alien, but a religion of some sort, and the Flood were the Zerg (more or less). Due to Halo's console roots (it was a launch title for Xbox 1, as in, the first Xbox), it has auto aim. I don't play many shooters with auto-aim, but I didn't mind it here, but I wonder if that's why my hits didn't feel effective.

I may have touched on this before, but Microsoft has terrible naming. First of all, even though they can count past 3, they can't count correctly. Secondly, while this game may have been innovative at the time, the tagline "Combat Evolved" looks stupid. When a game has a tagline, it always refers to some plot point inside the media, but not here! Combat isn't any plot point (it just happens in a shooter), and no evolution happens in it. What can you expect from the company that would later bring you the "Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate UPGRADE Limited Numbered Signature Edition"? Nowadays, they've messed up numbering Xboxes so bad, they've decided to stuff letters on the end instead.

Gameplay has enough weapon variety, and there's even alien weapons to choose from. Unlike other games, you don't carry a knife or any kind of dedicated melee weapon, instead opting for your gun's butt. Due to a bug with my specific version of Windows 10, I wasn't able to pickup weapons for about half the game! That's a big problem, because another thing that Halo is known for is that you can only carry two weapons! Regardless of which weapons I carry, I can't change them sometimes. When I hit the swap weapon key, it sometimes registers twice (or something), and I pull out the same weapon, ditto for grenade types.

People praised Halo up and down for years, at least up to the third game, but I wonder if that's because of the multiplayer. I heard that Halo 2 is where it really takes off. Like a rambling man named after a board game, I don't do multiplayer except with friends, so none of that for me! I've also heard that Halo has an excellent story. Halo has an entire bookshelf of actual books that delve into the lore, but this is a video game (and the first thing in the series, at that). Since Halo was a launch title on a platform of a new entrant, I can't expect that this has much story. I'd think that most of the lore and story came later after Halo became a pop culture icon.

Screenshot of Halo, showing 343 Guilty Spark, Master Chief, and Cortana

Master Chief isn't a silent protagonist, but he's quiet enough to make you think so. He doesn't even so much as grunt when he jumps or gets hit with shields down. Is he such a cyborg that he doesn't feel anything (physically or otherwise)? The superior officer is not always yelling at you, and can't for about half the game. Instead, the computer in your head talks to you. This computer is named "Cortana", and she later found her way into Windows. The villain, after which the new developers were named, is extremely polite as he tries to kill you, yet thankfully doesn't have a British accent.

The level design gets a bit tedious at times. I thought I was going insane when fighting through repeating identical hallways, when I remembered that these are floors in a structure. (I recall that someone said 10?!) Even the campaign as a whole suffers from this, because you fight your way back through the first levels in the opposite direction to get out at the end. That said, there are plenty of out-of-the-way areas that reward you with supplies.

About half of the Covenant's forces are made of small, weak enemies that flee in your presence. Some others carry shields around to deflect incoming fire. There are other hulking aliens that are quite strong, and often come in pairs. There's another similarly sized type that are more agile, and have a tendency to duck and sidestep your incoming fire.

The Flood are a hivemind that infects any organism of sufficient intelligence and mass. The simplest and most numerous Flood enemy are small. They don't cause much damage, so I didn't bother spending much ammo on them, because I preferred to gun butt them. Other Flood are twisted versions of Covenant and Human soldiers. A few of them are swollen and will explode, releasing the tiny Flood. The rest are still able to hold and use weapons.

Screenshot of Halo, showing the Flood coming down a hallway

Almost every enemy drops supplies. When you throw grenades, be careful: grenades that dead enemies dropped may light when yours explodes. I have caused many spectacular chain reactions of grenades going off because of it.

Because the Halo structure that the game takes place on is a huge superweapon, I'd like to know why its surface is a bucolic terrestrial paradise. Is it a trap? (I can't help but think that Mass Effect ripped off Halo.) That nasty biological defense suggests so, but some sick person spent a lot of effort to build it all.

I've heard praise about the armored transport vehicle, the Warthog. These are about the second worst vehicles* that I've had the displeasure of using in an action game. Even though there's a machine gun mounted on it, you can't shoot it if you're driving and the only one in it. Friendlies can jump in and man it, and they seem OK, if a bit slow in dispatching enemies. However, later in the game, your friendlies are all casualties. That might be acceptable, but despite these things having wheels, I've seen ice skaters have more traction than one of these. Warthogs have terrible handling. Unfortunately, large portions of the game take place in icy areas, and Warthogs handle even worse on actual ice!

The sound and music are excellent. Guns sound like they have punch (not just firing, but in swinging them around), goo ooze is moist and gross, and the environments sound amazing. The chanting in the menu isn't that great, but other synth and choral pieces played in the lull of an intense battle are beautiful.

There's millions of people my age that have countless memories of playing Halo, and have profound experiences of what it means to them. They will go on and on about all the times they've played it with their friends, as if Halo was an old car. Even though I've never played enough to make an imprint until now, I will remember that I was playing it the night before a severe family emergency came up. I ended up going away for a month, pausing my playthrough right in the middle. Maybe Halo is cursed for me? Perhaps the saddest thing for this blog's future, is that I already had a rant intended for Halo 3 written before that emergency started. Rest assured: that rant is coming, but it will have to wait for another day. (EDIT: that rant has arrived.)

All in all, Halo is a great game. I can tell that it was lovingly crafted and great attention was given to every detail. I look forward to other parts of the collection.

*The worst vehicle was that aerial troop carrier in Crysis.

Posted under Gaming. 0 complaints.