Retro – Review: Halo – Combat Evolved

Less than 10 days out from the release of Halo 5: Guardians I thought it was the perfect time to look back on each chapter of the Master Chief’s journey so far, starting with the game that started it all way back in 2001. Back then after a Nintendo 64 I was tossing up between a PS2 or jumping on board Microsoft’s new Xbox. Not invested in any PlayStation titles due to my previous experience with the N64 Halo was one thing that helped me reach a decision, one I have never regretted. This is all easy to say but what has made Halo, one of the most successful franchises in gaming and allowed it to revolutionise the first person shooter?

Gameplay

In the late 90’s the first person shooter was dominated by Rare’s Goldeneye and Perfect Dark with an overflowing bag of weapons with multiple firing modes, duel wield and different level objectives. Halo was a departure from this formula as for the first time it introduced a two weapon cap on players which means you had to think about your load out, ammo and the terrain. The addition of grenades and mêlée attacks without holstering your weapon enhanced the speed of combat making it more intense than other shooters at the time. This combination, Bungie’s “golden trilogy” is a large part of Halo’s success as it added strategy to the well-established run and gun experience.

Halo never just relied on the traditional FPS format however as after the first stage the straightforward “The Pillar of Autumn” players are quickly introduced to more open environments with a range of more complex objectives. Once the Chief crashes on the ring the game takes on a whole new life with the addition of a range of vehicles from Warthogs to Banshee’s. Not only does this continue to add diversity to the campaign but vehicles have become a key element of the multiplayer experience. I will never forget taking out a guy in a Scorpion with a shotgun and then repeating it with his brother in a Ghost, priceless.

This diversity is definitely a highlight of the first part of the game whether it’s the covert start to “The Truth and Reconciliation” or the playful beach combing of the “The Silent Cartographer” the game just draws players in with the combination of elements. Unfortunately, the only criticism I have is that some of the later maps just can’t keep this up and become a little to repetitive. In part this is because you are in fact back tracking at times through the same environment while fighting the Flood. Even so Halo’s game play developed a winning formula which has now redefined the way gamers approach first person shooters since the old Rare days.

Storyline & Setting

Being the first entrant into the Halo universe the game needed to introduce gamers to the Covenant, the UNSC and their ongoing conflict without trying to bore us with long explanations. The opening sequence with Captain Keyes does this really well as we know that humanity is at war against a more advanced Alien species and the ship you are on has been trying to escape. Aside from this you are introduced to Cortana and set out to kill some Covenant while trying to escape the besieged Pillar of Autumn.

During game play Cortana is actually able to build your knowledge of the Halo universe whether it is through intercepted Covenant communications about the ring, an analysis of the artificial weather or simply warning the Chief of incoming ‘Hunters’. This is extremely well-done as Cortana’s dialog works within the context of the game to assist the Chief yet teachers the player almost subconsciously to be able to recognise different types of enemies or build their knowledge of the wider backstory. It is through this ongoing communication that we first learn that Halo holds some form of religious significance for the Covenant as this is never mentioned in any of the games cinematics which like the opening tell you enough while avoiding explorations by focusing on the development of plot.

It doesn’t take long before the universe you thought you were getting to know gets thrown upside down with introduction of the Flood. Quickly you find yourself trying to work out this new enemy without Cortana who is temporarily replaced by 343 Guilty Spark thanks to a well-planned series of events that find you a companion who is in a position to give the same style of hints about this new enemy. Lesser games and even poor quality movies would just say that Cortana has hacked a console to find the information rather than providing 343 Guilty Spark to fulfil the role in “The Library”. The monitors betrayal and the revelation of Halo’s true purpose is the final twist that sets up the games conclusion as you fight your way through the Flood, Covenant and the installations drones to destroy the ring.

The main plot is engaging and has always been successful at drawing gamers in to the Halo universe but it is the cultures and history it alludes to that has allowed the franchise to build over the next decade. A mention of the destruction of Reach has grown into its own game and numerous books while the Forerunners are currently being explored in the latest additions to the Master Chiefs story. All of this is ultimately the result of the world presented to us in this original master piece.

Audio

Normally, I wouldn’t comment on the sound of a game as while it is perhaps the most important element that allows gamers to leave their living room and become engrossed in another world it is never usually that memorable. Again this is where Halo is unique like the James Bond theme or the opening to TV shows the score is cemented in our minds and can conjure memories of playing the game. I cannot think of another game with a similar effect and its testament to the strength of the composition to inspire a sense of wonder.

Since 2001 Halo has rightly been recognised as one of the greatest games ever made as it revolutionised the genre and gave fans such a rich world to explore. It is definitely responsible for the success of the original Xbox and Microsoft’s continued presence in the console business. Personally, what still sets Halo apart for me is the well-crafted and non-predictable storyline which is something absence from most shooters.

Gameplay 9/10

Storyline 10/10

Audio 9/10

Overall 9.5/10

Check back in a few days as I take a look at Halo 2,

Jono

About jgbarry

A teacher, poet, novelist and causal tech guru I am always keen to share my thoughts. A firm believer in critical thinking I rarely rush a decision without any research and once made my mind is primed for a good debate.

Posted on October 20, 2015, in Consoles, Games, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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