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Halo earns its wings

While not the groundbreaking title it was when first released on the Xbox, “Halo” stands the test of time, even if it wasn’t quite worth the wait.

Originally conceived as an Apple game, Bungie’s “Halo” has a long and sordid history that is well known to most PC game players. Bungie quickly abandoned Apple for the more lucrative PC market, until the developer was purchased by Microsoft and its flagship title was picked to be an exclusive title for the launch of the Xbox. Now, almost three years later, “Halo” finally comes to the PC. While not the groundbreaking title it was when first released on the Xbox, “Halo” stands the test of time, even if it wasn’t quite worth the wait.

Story-driven first-person shooters have become the norm since the massive popularity of “Half Life,” but good ones are still a rarity. “Halo”‘s story is one of the better ones, and seems ripped straight from a Larry Niven sci-fi novel, with a strong cast, original and creative enemies, and enough twists and turns to keep you coming back to see how the story progresses as much as to experience the action-packed gameplay. You play as Master Chief, a seemingly invincible super soldier ordered to protect Earth against the mysterious race called the Covenant. The premise is nothing new, but the way the story unfolds is gripping and entertaining, and should be well received by any fans of Star Trek or the like.

“Halo” is a first-person shooter, but it doesn’t really redefine the genre or attempt to break too many of its established rules. Even when first released, it was a pretty standard FPS, but that isn’t to say it isn’t remarkable all the same. The enemy A.I. is fantastic, and sometimes the game can be depressingly difficult. The A.I. of your allies is just as refined, however, so the game never feels unfair and always seems to give you a fighting chance. Unlike some other FPS that have you fighting alongside computer controlled allies, the computer actually does a good job of keeping them alive and putting up a valiant fight. You’re only allowed to carry two weapons at a time, which adds an additional level of strategy to the game, not to mention an added sense of tension when you have to quickly predict whether you’ll need that sniper rifle in the next room or a plasma rifle.

The level design is a mixed bag, with beautiful, lush outdoor environments and drab, repetitive indoor areas filled with identical corridors and rooms. Indoor areas all tend to turn into a boring spin cycle of fighting in a drab corridor and clearing a room full of enemies, only to find another corridor that leads to another room. If Bungie had spent as much time working on the level design as the did the enemy A.I., “Halo” would be one of the top titles of the genre. As it is, however, “Halo” ranges from brilliant to boring depending upon which area of the game you happen to be playing. The level design does shine in the 20 or so multiplayer maps, a feature that manages to keep the game fresh and fun even after the appeal of the single-player game has worn off.

Graphically, “Halo” isn’t much more attractive than the Xbox version, with higher resolution visuals and some snazzy Direct X 9 effects thrown in for good measure. Most players won’t appreciate the improved visuals, since the game is nearly unplayable on most PCs without the effects turned off and the resolution set to 800-by-600 or worse. The game seems to play best on Radeon videocards, and if you have anything resembling the minimum recommended system specs, chances are good you’ll be disappointed with the game’s performance.

Considering how my Alienware Area-51 makes the Xbox’s specs look like a Sega Genesis, it’s a little disappointing that the port isn’t quit up to snuff. If you have the power to handle the game, however, and appreciate intense action and a gripping story over depth and strategy, put on “Halo.”

Reviewed on Alienware.

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