Halo: Combat Evolved, by MacSoft
Posted: 24-May-2004

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: MacSoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: GAMES

Overview
Halo is a science fiction epic adventure first person shooter, created by Bungie and Gearbox for the Xbox, and brought to the Macintosh by MacSoft. Halo: Combat Evolved contains all the gameplay and rich story that made it a hit with Xbox gamers, but Halo for Mac also allows you to take the battle online with all new multiplayer features, including new maps, weapons and vehicles. What's more, Mac players are joined by Windows players making it easy to find people to play with any time of the day or night.

The Story
Bent on Humankind's extermination, a powerful fellowship of alien races known as the Covenant is wiping out the Earth's fledgling interstellar empire. You and the other surviving defenders of a devastated colony-world make a desperate attempt to lure the alien fleet away from Earth. Shot down and marooned on the ancient ring-world Halo, you begin a guerilla-war against the Covenant. Fight for humanity against an alien onslaught as you race to uncover the mysteries of Halo.

Features

  • An award-winning, twisted, sci-fi story, filled with complex characters and cunning enemies
  • Fight on foot, in vehicles, in the air, and beneath the surface of an orbiting alien ring
  • Increased precision of obliterating the Covenant swarms with a mouse and keyboard
  • Play as a single-player or take the battle online with gamers all over the world
  • Intense 16-player, online PC/Mac battles; new weapons, maps, and vehicles
  • 15 multiplayer maps including 6 brand new, never before seen maps
  • Unleash multiplayer destruction with new vehicles and aircraft, and new weapons such as the fuel-rod cannon and flamethrower


Setup
Installing Halo off of the CD is a breeze. However, you will need to go to MacSoft's web site and download the latest patches that fix some problems with the 1.0 version. For this review, I brought my version up to 1.0.4. Installation requires a serial number, and gameplay requires the CD in the Mac. You will also want to go through the setup of the controls, and either memorize them as they are, or set them to keys that you are more comfortable with. About half the action keys I reconfigured for my tastes, and the other half I left as the default. Overall, the setup process was relatively simple.

Single Player Game Play

The first things I noticed playing Halo are the rich graphics and the great sound effects. I was blown away by the detail of the graphics, and how quickly the game engine rendered scenes and animations. Having a long history of playing Bungie's Marathon series first person shooters, I couldn't help but notice the flavor of Bungie all over this game, from the physics to the weapons to the taunts and yells of the aliens. Of course, the quality of both the graphics and sounds are far superior to the now dated Marathon engine. The action flows smoothly in Halo, and the story is well integrated into each level.

The story is broken into major chapters, and within each chapter are different levels. Some levels pit you against the bad guys all by yourself, and others include the option to have marines fighting with you. You might be tempted to let the marines battle for you, but without your help, they'll be killed eventually, and you won't have any help later on in some more tougher battles. In other words, try to fight with them, and use them wisely!

The available weapons in Halo have some similarities to the weapons in Marathon, such as having a pistol, a machine gun, missile launcher, and even the alien gun. The weapons are more refined, better graphics, and better usage (especially the alien guns). The biggest difference is that you can only carry two weapons at a time (versus being able to carry every weapon you encounter in Marathon). It makes for a little more interesting game play. When given a choice of shotgun, missile launcher, and sniper rifle, which two to choose depends upon the type of battle you are in (or ones that are coming up). Sometimes you may leave the wrong weapon behind.

One of the most exciting features of Halo is that it includes vehicle support, and although there has been some vehicle support in some other games, I have never encountered it done as well as it is in Halo. Whether behind the controls of a jeep "hog", a "ghost" hovercraft, a tank, or a flying alien "Banshee", the physics that control the behavior of the vehicle are extremely intuitive. The ability to control the vehicle is critical during game play, and Halo does a good job of keeping the control within ease. This allows you to concentrate on other aspects, such as running over bad guys, not running over good guys, and picking up your fellow marines to go into battle. The marines will hop aboard your hog when you pull up next to them, and one will man the gun on the back of the hog, while the other sits shotgun shooting at enemies and tossing grenades. It is just as exciting as in the movies, only you are taking part in the action. You can bang up a vehicle pretty good without hurting yourself, and if the vehicle flips, you can use the action key to flip it back over. I thought it was amusing that I was strong enough to flip a tank over, but for the sake of game play, this is actually a good thing. In fact, it appears that a lot of thought went into each aspect of the game, ensuring that you have a realistic and challenging gaming adventure, yet not to the point of being too frustrating or complicated.

The levels within a chapter are all connected, and you can usually return to previous scenes (although sometimes doors close that cannot be re-opened, or elevators that once worked are now non-functioning). As the chapters change, you usually end up being picked up by a drop ship, and then when the next chapter begins, you start off with a different set of weapons (usually a pistol and a machine gun). That is sometimes upsetting because you may have gone through great pains to grab a full compliment of rockets for your missile launcher, and then all of a sudden you don't have the launcher anymore.

One problem I ran into with the single player adventure is that there were a few scenes where I simply had to play through them a few too many times. This is because Halo does not have a real-time save function. There are built in "checkpoints" that automatically save the game when you reach certain points. That means that you cannot go back to a previously saved point, which is something you might want to do (especially if you happen to have made some really bad decisions between the two save points). I discovered some inconsistencies with the automatic save points as well. For instance, if you back track, old save points usually don't "re-save" the game. In one chapter, I was in a major battle and decided that I needed to do some major back-tracking to find a sniper rifle. After doing so, I then came back up to where I had been, but died again. That was an awful lot of work for nothing. It would have been nice if the game "re-saved" at past checkpoints so that I didn't have to go back and find the rifle again. On the other hand, some previous save points did re-save the game. At one point, I had gone back far enough that it did re-save at an earlier stage. The problem now was that it was way way back, further than I really needed to go, and now I had to move forward through several old save points (that no longer saved), back into battle. Upon dying again, the whole process had to be repeated. These
anomalies happened to me rarely, but they were miserable enough to leave some lasting memories of wasted evenings.

The only other issue I had with the story is when you get to the point where you are following the alien "eye" around in a
monotonous string of battles against the "flood" (parasitic creatures that attack you in a variety of ways). The graphic nature of these creatures was great, and their behavior often unpredictable. Their presence in the game was definitely a benefit. They would often scare me when they would jump and lunge at me. However, playing against one swarm after another, after another, after another, as I wandered around this alien building waiting for the "eye" to open the access doors, I began to loose focus on the story. Fortunately, the checkpoints ("save" markers) were many, so I didn't have to re-play too many of these battles.

Despite the issues, the story still kept my interest. It is a really fun story, with some major cool battle scenes. In fact, if anything, I felt that the story was too short. By the time it was over, I was left wanting for more levels. My favorite part of the single player game was teaming up with other marines. I had the most fun with them, and those chapters of the game are the most memorable.

Multi-Player Game Play
Where the single player game approached addiction, the multi-player feature of the game went far beyond it. I cannot begin to count the number of nights I stayed up long past 3:00 AM driving around in a hog, making a flag run, and mostly getting my butt shot off. Often, around 11:30 PM, I would say to myself, "just one more match". The next thing I knew it was 3:00 AM and I could barely see out of my eyes (and when I laid down to sleep, I was still riding my hog).

Getting setup for internet play is as simple as clicking on the Multiplayer button, and clicking on "Get List". If you have an internet connection, all sorts of server names show up, indicating the type of game currently in progress, the number of players, and the ping. The lower the ping, the better the connection you'll have. You can pick any server that has an open player slot and join the game in progress. Switching from the solo levels to the multiplayer games is a major transition, so be prepared to die a lot when you first start playing against other real people. There are some vidmasters out there that will make you feel like cannon fodder.

There are different types of multiplayer games, such as slayer (most kills wins), king of the hill (most time in marked areas wins), and capture the flag (CTF). After months of play, I have come to appreciate the CTF games more than all the rest, as it involves more strategy and teamwork than just brute killing. You play as teams that are divided in blue and red, and you usually don't know any of the other people in the game (often reaching the maximum of 8 players on each team). The better organized your team, the better your chances of winning. For instance, if everyone on your team just runs for the other team's flag, that leaves no one left behind on defense, giving your opponents the advantage. Likewise, with everyone on their own, you lose the advantage of attacking in a concerted effort. I found going in with about 3 vehicles filled with your comrades will give you a better chance at stealing the other team's flag successfully.

Playing against live players is nothing like playing against the computer. The computer AI can become predictable to some degree, but with live players of varying abilities, it's very difficult to anticipate the actions of your enemies. Also, in the solo levels I loved the sniper rifle, but it's my least favorite in multiplayer. The fact is that nobody stands still long enough to get the scope targeted on them. I much prefer the rocket launcher, or getting behind the wheel of a hog. Driving the hog in a network game has become my biggest addiction.

The network play was not without it's flaws. First, it's an unsettling transition from playing against the computer AI to playing against live players. To ease the transition pain of going from computer AI to live players, it would have been nice if the net levels could be played against the computer AI. This would have allowed me to practice more as well as learn the net maps (it's crucial to learn where the good weapons are).

Another issue experienced from time to time is landing on a team with a bad egg, someone who basically goes around killing their own teammates for fun (known as a TK for "team kill"). Some servers are setup for auto-banning a player if they have too many TK's, but many servers will not ban them. It's really annoying to be taken out by your own teammate while you are already struggling to survive against the enemy forces. It's just a game, but still a terrible feeling of betrayal, and often leaves you wanting to forget about the enemy and just seek revenge instead. You have to be careful, as some TK'ers will "almost" kill you to trigger a response, and then when you fight back and actually take them out, to all others in the game, it only looks like you are the betrayer (and you may be the one who is banned). It's a whole lot more fun if you don't have to deal with that issue at all.

Finally, there are also special "mods" of network maps that allow players to incorporate what appears as "cheats" from the perspective of an average player. For instance, someone who has been hit several times with a missile and still lives is suspect. There are those who have unbelievable ability to aim at fast moving targets with perfect accuracy, which would imply aim bots at work. I have heard about mods that give players advantage, but I did not research it to the point of finding out how they do it. Those kinds of cheats do place a slight damper on game play.

A word of caution to parents: Halo network games support real-time chatting during game play, and the taunts that come across the screen are often extremely offensive. In addition to the inherent violence of the game, you need to be concerned about their exposure to some pretty bad language. From an adult point of view, however, it's kind of fun to really let loose from time to time. There are also dedicated servers that have admin players who will ban people who use bad language.

None of the problems list above, however, has stopped me from entering into matches on nearly a daily basis. Network play hones your skills and reaction times, and puts you into a realistic environment that takes you away from the real world for awhile. The fact that you are with other live players makes it much more enjoyable, and having the most flag steals is a very satisfying feeling.

PC vs Mac
The good news is that the Mac version is just like the PC version in terms of the solo level game play. Everything looks, feels and behaves the same way. Is sports the same rich graphics, music and sound effects. Both versions are extremely stable, virtually bug-free.

When it came to the internet game play, however, the first major difference I noticed was in terms of mouse control. The difference is probably there in the solo levels, but it isn't really noticeable until you are playing against live players and depending more on every microsecond of response. There are many settings you can change to increase the game play experience, such as turning off much of the "goodies" effects and details (like bullet indentations, shell casings, fire coming out of the flame guns, etc.). You can also adjust the sensitivity of the mouse, yet no matter what I set it to, I never achieved a level of mouse control with the Mac version as I achieved with the PC version. This put me at a disadvantage playing against my PC counterparts.

The other thing that was different between the Mac and PC versions is the text that is displayed during a network match. In the top left portion of the screen, the game displays match status, such as "so-and-so killed Bob" or "Jane was betrayed by so-and-so". It also displayed text that players type in to communicate with their team or with all the players (sometimes strategic information, most of the times taunts). In the PC version, the text is small, and several lines are displayed at once before they scroll out of view. In the Mac version, however, the text was larger, with altering text sizes, and the worst part is that there are only 3 lines of text displayed. In a large game, information you want to see is often scrolled off the screen before you even have a chance to see it. This is troublesome if you want to see who got credit for a kill, more so if you want to see who may have betrayed you, and the worst when strategic information is provided by your teammates and you didn't get to see it.

Summary
Halo: Combat Evolved is truly a first person shooter experience evolved. The single player action fully immerses you into a dynamic and living environment with amazing graphics, sounds and physics. In terms of network games, the multi-player action in Halo provides a major thrill ride, making it feel like a team sport where the sky is literally the limit as far as what you can do. Gameplay in Halo is finely tuned, with great attention paid not just to the aesthetics, but also to the behavior of the game, how vehicles operate, how weapons work, and how the computer AI engages you (either as friend or foe). In the single player game, the method of saving your game leaves something to be desired, and the story is a bit short. Where the story falls short, however, the multiplayer action picks up the slack. You'll find yourself driving a hog or flying a spacecraft night after night hunting down your enemies and securing your team's flag. The Mac version is not quite up to snuff compared to the PC version, giving your PC counterparts a slight advantage. However, the Mac version is just as addicting. When you cannot remember the last time you had a full night's sleep, don't say I didn't warn you! This game is a blast, and a must have for any first person shooter enthusiast.

Pros:

  • Awesome graphics and effects
  • Well-balanced game play
  • Exciting and addictive multiplayer action
  • Awesome vehicle support

Cons:

  • Lack of save game control
  • Story too short
  • Mouse control not as good as PC version
  • Net games status text scrolls off screen too fast


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice