Level design, Sound and ConclusionWhich brings me nicely to level design, where the programmers have obviously decided to make half a game, then take the rest of the week off. With the exception of the first couple of levels, you play every level in the game twice. Once on the way in, and once on the way out. It's ok on the way in, as everything is new, but once you start retracing your steps boredom sets in very quickly, turning to frustration and anger as you realise that you've seen it all before. Not only that, but each level is very, very repetitive. The vast majority of the game is about getting somewhere to either collect something or throw a switch. To do this you go down a corridor, into a room, shoot the aliens, down a corridor like the first, into another room like the previous one, shoot the aliens… and so on and so on. EIGHT TIMES! I kid you not, one level had the self same set of corridor, room, corridor, room eight times over. Ok, I was getting further into the base but to repeat the exact same room over and over again was intolerably boring. Not only that, but Halo plays this little trick on you for every level. It's a sign of a poor game when you close it down not because it's 2am and you have work in the morning, but because its 8pm and a repeat of 'The Good Life' on UK Gold looks infinitely more attractive.
And last on my list of woes is the physics of the game itself, including the sound. Ragdoll physics models are all the rage at the moment, with enemies crumpling in a realistic fashion as you pump them full of plasma. Halo's writers obviously would have had to, shock horror, re-write the engine (gasp!) to incorporate this newer technology, and as demonstrated by their laziness in level design, they obviously couldn't be arsed. What we've got here is a faux physics model. Blow up an enemy and he pinwheels his arms in a convincing manner as he flies through the air to his death. All well and good, but blow him up again and his corpse suddenly re-animates and pinwheels his arms all over again. Then you realise that your watching a death animation and not a ragdoll physics model.
The sound also has a lot to answer for. Having double and triple checked that EAX was on in the options screen I didn't hear anything like environmental sound until I was stood on a bridge in the wide open when I suddenly got a cavernous echo effect. Spending a good half hour checking my drivers and set-up, testing EAX with other games only to find all was fine left me in no doubt that I had discovered the EAX in the game… shame its for about 20 meters of the most echoing bridge in history. The rest of the sound for the game is as flat as flat can be.
So now you're wondering if Halo does ANYTHING well. To be honest, it does have some good ideas in there, such as the flyable vehicles, drivable jeeps and tanks, but again, control of these is dodgy and has been done better by other games. The sad thing is, before Halo was released on the X-Box, many of it's features had been done in other games. Rather than learning from those games' mistakes, Halo has just ignored feedback about those games and gone on and made the same mistakes again. To my mind that's a worse crime.
So now it's time to sum up the experience that is Halo. Well, if this game had been released on the PC two years ago, it would've done pretty well against what was out back then. Unfortunately for Halo, gaming has moved on since then and it's 'innovations' are old hat, it's flaws glaring and the whole package irritating. Unreal 2 has a better, smoother graphics engine, capable of vast outdoor and indoor areas, easily beating anything Halo can muster. The limited weapon system has been done better, and more realistically by Mafia. The environmental sound implementation is terrible, something System Shock 2 did far better, (and had me crapping myself about), 3 years ago! Level design makes a tedious game into a suicidally boring experience and quite frankly, if I had forked out my hard earned for this, I'd be back at the shop right now, getting my money back.
Halo offers nothing new to the genre in anyway. Anything which Halo has implemented here has already been done better by a myriad of other games. The only new thing Halo has is the ability to bore, frustrate and irritate all the same time. If you get this for Christmas, take it back without opening the wrapper, trust me, your sanity will thank you for it later.
Pro'sYou can take it back
Con'sLimited, weak feeling weapons
Repetitive level design
Boringly dull gameplay
Thoroughly beaten by the competition