Plugged-In Games – “Halo: Combat Evolved”: A Review.

Halo-Combat-EvolvedIn my last blog post, I went into specifics about my gaming career (although in brief detail) and the necessities of video games as an art form. This next blog posting will be of video games in the same nature, but will stand as a review. Seeing this as my first review, I will also post an upcoming topic relating to gaming that I’d like to share my interests in. But for now, let’s concentrate on the focus of this particular post, which is covering a review of one my childhood games, Halo: Combat Evolved.

There is no shortage of classic and unforgettable video games in the entertainment media. Mario, Crash Bandicoot, Zelda, Resident Evil, Donkey Kong, they all bring back instant memories for those who celebrated and rejoiced in the fun that they brought to the table. Out of all the classic video games, none stood out so uniquely as did Halo: Combat Evolved. Released for the original Xbox back in November of 2001, it was instantly recognized as the flagship game for the Xbox and the first true “killer app” for any console back in its time. Created by a development team known only as Bungie, they sought out to envision and create a video game unlike any other. Originally slated to be an RTS (Real Time Strategy) for the Macintosh back in 1998, Bungie’s development cycle for Halo was rooted very deep. Test-builds were presented and featured when the game was in its RTS stages, but Bungie’s vision for their product didn’t exactly feel parallel to what their original idea was. So they took a different route and changed the entire structure of the game, eliminating the core RTS design and instead molding it into an FPS (First Person Shooter). With the final design in mind, Bungie released the game in 2001. And right then and there it was acclaimed and applauded as one the industries greats.

The story of Halo: Combat Evolved is that takes place in a science fiction setting, during a time of space travel and intergalactic war. The basis of the story revolves around a group of humans drifting through space on a ship named the Pillar of Autumn. They’re running from an alliance of several different alien species known only as the Covenant. While trying to escape the Covenant from a battle that cost the humans one of their main planets, they escape to a remote destination farther into space, outside of a ringworld structure floating next to a huge gas giant. This ringworld, Halo, is of mysterious background and origin, and the only safe way for the humans to survive the Covenant is to crash land on Halo and fortify themselves. In the game, the player takes control of a certain “human” called Master Chief 117. He’s part human, part genetically engineered and physically augmented machine that holds much more endurance and stamina than that of an average human. He comes accustomed with a recovering shield and is fully armored in a green tinted battle armor, and a helmet with a reflecting gold visor. In physical form, he’s basically a killing machine that holds no emotions or anguish, only the need to kill as many aliens as possible and save humanity. While the story is really easy to follow and is dug deep into its science fiction roots, it holds one interesting element that gives the stories personal investment some weight. While the Master Chief doesn’t visibly have a face that we as the player can paste onto that visor, it gives us the perspective of witnessing all his actions through the FPS viewpoint. The essential connecting tone is that we are behind that helmet, and while the Master Chief doesn’t show off his emotions, it gives us as the player a need to do it instead. One of the many crowning features in Halo: Combat Evolved is the interconnectedness between the enigma that is the Master Chief and us, the player. Another powerful element to the story is the Chief’s relationship with the Pillar of Autumn’s AI (artificial intelligence), Cortana. At the beginning of the game, Cortana is infused into the Master Chief’s helmet, giving him directions on where to go, where enemies are placed, what objective is currently important, along with little snippets of story and emotion sprinkled throughout the game. Their relationship is the main component of the story of Halo: Combat Evolved, testing the theory of man’s relationship with machines and putting it to good use.

The gameplay for most first person shooter comes down to the basics: a cutscene plays and tells you the objective, you start playing by mowing down enemies that stand in your way, another cutscene plays, and the cycle repeats again and again. Halo: Combat Evolved is one of those classic FPS’s that not only used this now-cliched formula but perfected it to where it mattered. The main story is divided up into ten levels, each with plenty of mission objectives. Although there is a lack of cutscenes in the game, focusing rather on actual gameplay to tell its story, the objectives are pretty straightforward. Objectives range of clearing LZ’s (landing zones), driving from point A to point B, killing this group of enemies, saving someone, escorting someone, retrieving an object that is vital to the success of a mission, and so on. In some of these missions the player is given free reign over which objectives to do in order they see fit. The game itself is linear, but the idea of giving them some breathing room during which objective to tackle first is a nice touch, as it isn’t restricting them to just one agenda. Along with every FPS is an arsenal of weaponry, and Halo has one of the most memorable. It features a pistol that is incredibly handy when dealing headshots from close and long range, a very resourceful and useful assault rifle that most players will probably want to stick with for the majority of the game, a shotgun that defines the word “overpowered”, along with some Covenant weaponry that is limited, but still very helpful when it comes to the more powerful enemies. Halo: Combat Evolved also sports the use of multiple difficulty settings, which are Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. While the first two will be the default difficulty for most, Heroic and Legendary will test about anyone’s reflexes and patience, especially the later levels.

What separated Halo: Combat Evolved from the rest back in the day was it’s revolutionary co-operative play. Here, up to eight to sixteen players could duke it out on thirteen multiplayer maps, with an additional six on the PC version. This is where I personally dubbed Halo as “the ultimate couch and pizza experience”, because back then when you had a house full of buddies all you wanted to do was play Halo: Combat Evolved and shelve out the pain. Out of personal experience it is one of the more engaging multiplayer games out there without the ability of online play. In this multiplayer, several game modes are available, including Slayer, Team Slayer, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Oddball. The latter is especially interesting, as it requires each individual player to hold onto a skull for a given amount of time to build up points in order to win, all the while being stalked by other players who are looking to take it from anyone holding the “ball”. Back then, ingenuity was at its peak. Nowadays, multiplayer is nothing like it once was. And Halo: Combat Evolved, in my opinion, was the precursor to where we are in gaming today.

Visually, Halo: Combat Evolved is still a great looking game, even after eleven years and hundreds of gaming engines later. The visuals Bungie applied to the game speak volumes about how convincing and mesmerizing alien worlds and settings could feel and appear. When the player enters a structure of alien origin and it towers at least twenty stories in the air, even with all the small detail it’s still a marvel to behold to the imagination. The characters are also well designed, more-so the Covenant than the humans. The animation was great back then as well, but looking back it’s hard to ignore the gap between how far we’ve come and what was present at the time when it came to developing a game of such limited hardware potential. Some animations are clunky, more with humans than anything else, and at times look like animatronic robots. But even with it’s limited constraints, the devil is still in the details. The glowing compass on the assault rifle. The shimmering reflections in water. Dirt being sprayed from tire traction. Weapon reloads and firing effects. The way the vehicles bump around and react to the environment. Even events going on in the background add to the feeling of a real and believable world rather than just another video game dimension. It achieves something that most video games skipped right over, and that’s not only creating an engaging story, but also creating an engaging world that feels legitimately grandiose and symphonic in its own world, keeping the player locked in place until the end credits roll.

One final breathtaking feature of the game is its musical score. Composed by Martin O’Donnell, Halo: Combat Evolved simply has one of the more memorable scores out there. Using monks and chorus chants to feel out its emotion to using some truly creepy and unsettling synthesizers for some of the later levels is what made Halo’s story 1/3 of what it was. The music was just simply incredible. The theme song stuck in everyone’s head, and the impeccable use of drums and sound effects gave it a very science-fiction edge and otherworldy feel.

Halo: Combat Evolved was easily one of the best video games to eve be released, and to this day remains one the most legendary. The overall design and weight of the game was at the top of the pedestal, and its multiplayer revolutionized the way friends got together and celebrated by playing a video game for hours on end. Its legacy today still beats loudly within the halls of video game epics, providing one of gaming’s most celebrated protagonists and providing one of the best all-out gaming experiences of this century. Everyone owes it to themselves to get immersed in the addiction that started it all.

PROS: – Meaty story with great characters and interactions
– Refined FPS gameplay that stands the test of time
– Remarkable visuals for an already dated and aged engine
– The godsend that is the multiplayer
– One of the most memorable and decorated video game scores ever

CONS: – Some quirky animations due to the limited capabilities of the engine
– Minimal use of cutscenes
– One particular level called “The Library” will drive about anybody insane

9.7 / 10

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One Response to Plugged-In Games – “Halo: Combat Evolved”: A Review.

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