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Review: Halo: Combat Evolved

by Nick Haywood on 27 November 2003, 00:00

Tags: Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), FPS

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qau5

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Gameplay, Weapons and AI

The first level has you crash landing on Halo and throws you into an escape and evasion role. You don't have the firepower or ammo to take on the Covenant forces looking for you so it's time to leg it, and this is where you come across one of the games first big failings. The game is obviously capable of handling large open areas but this causes two big problems with the game play. First, you're character moves slower than a dead dog, even with always run enabled. Second, you often don't have the faintest clue where you're supposed to be going. Finding your way in the early stages becomes tiresome and monotonous as you head off up a promising looking valley to find it's actually a dead end and you have to double back. Not a problem if you moved a bit faster but a real pain in the butt at the sedate walk you seem to be stuck in.

When you do finally get to see some action another flaw rears its head. Betraying it's console roots, Halo has some sort of weird proportional mouse movement. The faster you move the mouse, the quicker your character spins. Sounds reasonable, yes? Ok, let's add in that the quicker you move the mouse, the FURTHER your character spins. Confused? Ok, let's say that a slow 5cm movement of the mouse moves your character 15 , moving the mouse the same distance but doing it faster will rotate your character 180 . Now, think about how quick you move the mouse around in the heat of a firefight and you can see that aiming becomes a real problem. You've just spent 15 minutes plodding through the countryside, you walk into a futuristic version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral and as soon as you whip your gun out you're facing the very marines you came to help. Not good, not good at all.

While we're on the combat, a word I think about the weapons. You can only carry two weapons at any one time and two different types of grenade. You start off with a machine gun which eats ammo for breakfast, a pistol that has a 2x zoom built in and a couple of frag grenades. As you progress in the game you can swap these for a shotgun, a sniper rifle or a rocket launcher. Ammo for these is in short supply though, so once deep into Covenant bases you'll find yourself having to use the weapons they drop. That gives you a plasma pistol with the usual 'overboost' to give one big shot, a plasma rifle with rapid fire that overheats very quickly and a needle gun which fires delayed action explosive homing darts. And that's it. Yep, eight weapons in the whole game. Considering you can only carry two, surely a few more would've added some much needed variety to the proceedings.

What weapons you do get just don't 'feel' right. The machine gun sounds like a badly tuned sewing machine and the shotgun would be hard to tell apart from an air rifle. Even the alien weapons leave you wishing they had more 'oomph'. This is another area where this game shows that it was designed to played with a joypad. All of the weapons have the world's largest bullets. Don't get me? Ok, imagine you're aiming with the machine gun at a bad guy roughly 100 meters away. Three shots and he's down. Ok, you think, I got lucky… so now get out the sniper rifle. Zoom it in all the way and go for a headshot on the baddie at the base of the tower. This time, aim off to one side, a couple of feet away from his head. What's that? He's still dead? Halo's weapons must fire the largest calibre bullets in the universe. Even if you deliberately aim to miss, if the target is any where within the reticule, he's toast. That's fine if you've got to deal with an inaccurate joypad, but this is the PC and I've got a mouse. It says on the back of the box to "Unleash destruction with incredible new weapons", I dread to think how crap the old ones were.

That said, the AI of your Marines and the Covenant is pretty good. They retreat when hit, take cover when under fire, all the sort of thing that we've come to expect form AI nowadays, so although it's in no way bad, it doesn't deserve any praise for doing what it should do. First person shooters these days HAVE to have decent AI, Half Life set the standard years ago and at least Halo's programmers have put some work in on that.