If you asked a few PC gamers earlier this year what some of their most anticipated titles were, chances are atleast someone would have said Halo. What interests most gamers here is the fact Halo was originally intended as a PC only game, however with such rich and unique offerings on the drawing board, Microsoft just couldn't help themselves after purchasing Bungie Software - they just had to make Halo the feature title for their soon to be released gaming console, the Xbox. Great news for console gamers at the time, but terrible news for PC gamers.
So after years of unstable promises, where one moment Halo PC was just an idea in the air, to another where it seemed almost certain, finally it was confirmed Gearbox Software would take over the task of molding Halo for the PC. Although they played no part in the development of the Xbox version, it was a strong point to suggest Halo's success was purely based on the fact the Xbox, or any other console for that matter, had never seen such an advanced First Person Shooter. We all know the PC is the home for FPS's, so obviously, our expectations are much, much higher. Can Halo survive with the big boys on the PC?
As far as game modes go, Halo is very primitive. You have either Campaign mode, or multiplayer mode.
Campaign mode, otherwise known as the story mode in other titles, sets you off into the world of Halo, where you take control of 'Master Chief', a solider with a slight difference - that being the cool robo combat suit. Often FPS's create an awesome story, but the main character doesn't quite stack up, whether it be the personality or simply the appearance of the character. Not in Halo however, as you can't really go wrong with a character that has a chrome shield helmet with body armour to match, you simply can't hate a character that looks this cool.
One could expect 'campaign mode' to entail the ability to pick and choose which missions you participate in, with other dynamic features like skill points and weapon customization in the mix, however there is nothing of the sort in Halo. The single player mode is a simple mission to mission style mode, with complete linearity from start to finish.
Lucky for Halo, the ingame action makes up for the linear restrictions. Simply put, Halo is more fun than diving into a pool of taffy (which I imagine is pretty fun). Whether it be the campaign mode or the multiplayer mode, Halo really defines FPS action better than anything else I can recall in recent memory, atleast since the Serious Sam series anyway.
One of the aspects that create this is the excellent A.I. During combat, you can expect enemies to hide behind cover points, attack in spurts and even retreat should the situation demand it. Even though this sounds simple enough, many FPS titles fail to offer A.I of this quality, and it is a really refreshing to see such attention towards a very important aspect of FPS gameplay. As you progress through the game, the A.I. will become more distinctive depending on which enemy you come across. Smarter enemies will use cover rather than charging, and may even throw a grenade or two, while the dumber enemies will blindly run into your fire without hesitation. This allows you to pre-plan your attack depending on the enemy, which is essential once the enemies start rushing you by the bucket load.
Another aspect which helps to create the awesome gameplay is the engine and its physics. For example, a few previous FPS titles have attempted to master the "rag doll" effect, where the limbs of character models are dynamically moved and shaped to their surroundings upon death. These such attempts generally failed, where bodies often ended up in very unrealistic positions. Halo's rag doll system, on the other hand, is refined precisely, where it is very unlikely to ever see awkward body positions from fallen enemies. Should you shoot an enemy near a ledge, its body will droop over the edge, providing it doesn't fall off of course. On top of this, everything else about the physics in this engine generally feels spot on, it is a very polished engine indeed.
Perhaps the most impressive of all the cool gameplay aspects found in Halo PC is the explosions. I can't stress enough how important it is for a quality FPS to feature effective explosions. Honestly, I've never been satisfied with the effectiveness of explosions in any FPS to date, that is, until I played Halo. While the game still respects a realistic blast radius, just because an enemy is shielded by a light barrier doesn't mean he will remain unharmed by a grenade, which is the way it should be in every FPS, but alas, it is the way that it almost never seems to be. Also, should an enemy feel the full effect of an explosion, it will not simply fall back and lose half its health points, it will be launched in the air causing instant death, and with some enemies, it will leave them lying in pieces.
However, if you tend to get sick of repetition quickly, then the gameplay in Halo becomes very repetitive pretty early in the game. For example, many of the levels feature corridors and rooms that are almost identical throughout the entire map, and on top of this, you're shooting the same enemies with the same weapons, using the exact same tactic as you were using 2 minutes ago. Finally, when it appears to be all over, a twist in the storyline occurs, and you are required to go back the way you came, to the start of the level, going through the entire thing all over again - ARGH!!
Another gripe I have is the absence of any real navigation system. While there is a sensor which detects enemies close by, this is hardly a replacement for navigating through levels. This is one aspect which I found to resemble a console port, as console titles don't tend to feature indepth navigation systems because they are generally not needed. Halo PC may not really need one too, as the levels are pretty much straight forward, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt.
Seeing as at the time of writing this review Halo PC was not officially released here in Australia, finding online competitors for some action was simply impossible. For the early gamers with warez or otherwise illegal copies, a cd-key that was not valid would render them playing single player only. So, luckily, our Local Area Network was up to the task. As expected, the multiplayer action is just as intense and awesome as the singleplayer gameplay, and although we only had 4 people in the game (we only have a small LAN), we could imagine 16 people would multiply the fun factor for sure. Hopefully after the release, gamers will respect the rights of the game publisher and developer and purchase the retail copy, because not only is it obviously hurting them as continuously expressed in this industry, but it is also stopping the majority of players from going online, and this is one game that every PC gamer should have a chance to experience online. This scenario, I'm afraid, is where warez directly hurts the honest consumer.
Depending on your system specifications, Halo's graphics can be rated from impressive to 'eye candy so sweet it hurts'. While most of the game's rendering is done using previous Direct3D technology, some of the more advanced features do indeed use the Pixel Shader 2.0 specification found in DirectX 9. The improvements gained from the PS 2.0 implementations may not quite warrant purchasing a highend DX9 card, but if you already have one, you will be at an advantage.
There is really no single aspect of the visuals that I can say are lacking, everything from the textures to the character animations are of very high quality. The drawback from this however is the occasional frame rate slowdown, even on our 3.2GHz 9800Pro gaming machine we had a few slowdowns, however they did not really impact the gameplay a whole lot, though I'm sure most gamers will have to tone down the quality a tad to get acceptable speeds.
Whilst Halo has managed to prove, in the most part, to be more than just a port, the controls do tend to resemble that of a console port. For example, there is no mouse wheel function, which is extremely uncommon in FPS's today, and other functions like picking up weapons and throwing grenades have a somewhat 'console' simplicity to them. Also, the lack of functions like peeking from behind walls and teammate control gives the impression that Halo fails to fully master the control versatility of the PC.
However this is not necessarily bad, as the gameplay in Halo doesn't really call for complex controls. Remember, this is not Rainbow Six we are talking here, this is an action packed title that doesn't have time for fancy control functions. If you can move, aim and shoot, then you can play Halo.
On the other hand though, some aspects tend to use the PC too much. For example, steering a vehicle is done by the mouse, which is reasonably difficult to master, and can sometimes be a little inaccurate. It may represent true analog control, however I personally feel more comfortable controlling vehicles with the keyboard rather than the mouse. I tried to remap the steering to the keyboard but I couldn't manage to do so, however after a while the problem tends to become less and less important and easier to manage.
Despite the fact Halo lacks some of the most generic FPS features, like unlinear events, group command, alternate fire, navigation and inventory control, it still manages to provide excellent, intense, and perhaps the most important of all, fresh gameplay. This isn't the type of shooter that requires a mass amount of brain power to operate, it is simple, fun, and yet combat realism conscious, atleast tactical wise. It is a shame it took this long for the PC to see Halo, especially when Halo 2 is just around the corner for Xbox gamers, however for someone like me, a gamer who sticks solely to the PC, this is one title I, and any other dedicated PC gamer, simply can not miss. Be warned though, there is only so much action any one gamer can take, and with the amount seen here in Halo, things can tend to become repetitive.