Halo is One Smooth Ride

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Halo is a first person shooter (fps) set on and around a ring world of the same name. A ring world, the concept first mentioned in the Ringworld series by Larry Niven, is a ring band, or thin donut shaped world were the cities and population resides upon the inner surface.

The year is 2552 and while earth still exists, overpopulation has forced Earth to colonize distant planets. A keystone to this colonization is the planet Reach. Reach is a massive shipyard, and center of scientific and military activity. Thirty two years ago Earth made disasters first contact with an enemy known as the Covenant, a collection of alien races united in their fanatical religious devotion.

On Reach, a secret military project to create cyborg super-soldiers results in the Spartan-II project. While these soldiers rack up an impressive record, they are too few to turn the tide of war. All Spartan-II soldiers were recalled to Reach, where they were preparing for a secret mission to take control of a Covenant ship and locate the Covenant home world. While they were preparing for this mission, Reach was attacked by the Covenant and they annihilate the colony. One ship, the Pillar of Autumn, manages to escape with the last Spartan-II on board. This ship makes a blind jump into deep space.

You are the Master Chief, the last Spartan-II Super Soldier. As the story opens you are in cryogenic sleep when the ship is again attacked and Captain Jacob Keyes orders Cortana, the ships AI, to get everybody ready to defend the ship, which includes waking you up. Once they wake you up, the Doctors start to run you through a systems check, which basically allows you to learn some of the controls including looking and moving around, but before you get to weapons the captain calls you to the bridge. On the bridge, the captain tells you that there is no hope and orders you to load Cortana into your suit and protect her from falling into enemy hands as he is going to ram the Covenant ship and then if all goes well land or crash on Halo. Your first mission is to get some weapons and get to a life pod. Through out most of the game, you get help from marines. The marines have a good AI and attack and defend like seasoned soldiers, unfortunately, the enemy has the same cunning and skill.

While the support of the marines is always welcome, you are a walking cyborg super soldier incased in a state-of-the-art MJOLNIR battle suit making you almost an army unto yourself. The heads up display (HUD) inside your suit shows you the current information about your shields, health, ammo and grenades as well as nav points and a very helpful motion tracker.

Your weapon selection includes Grenades, a pistol with a x2 zoom, a assault rifle, a shotgun, a sniper rifle with a 2x and 10x zoom, and a rocket launcher as well as two vehicles. The two vehicles are a warthog light reconnaissance scout with a mini-gun mounted on the back and a scorpion main battle tank. I should point out at this time that you can only carry two weapons at a time in your inventory.

The enemy consists of four types of Covenant. They are The Grunts which are approximately 5 feet tall and relatively weak. They travel in packs and often stick close to tougher allies. When a pack attacks and only one remains he will often retreat screaming "They are everywhere." The Jackals act as scouts and assassins. They carry a plasma pistol and a strong energy shield which they can hide behind in relative safety. The Elites are 8′ 6" tall very strong and quite capable of brilliant battlefield tactics. They carry a variety of weapons and have rechargeable shields. The final enemy is the Hunters which stand 12′ tall, are heavily armored and fire a deadly fuel rod gun and carry a metal shield that can also act as a melee weapon. I have not mentioned any bosses because there are none, but there are a few surprises. But the Master Chief is quite capable of handling them.

The enemy weapons that you can pick up include a plasma grenade, pistol and rifle as well as a needler. The also have a stationary gun called a shade which you can take over and use to your advantage, as well as a ghost, which is kind of a reconnaissance hover bike and a banshee, which is a ground assault aircraft. Both human and Covenant craft are controlled by looking in the direction that you wish to travel and then hitting the gas. It takes a good bit of getting used to, but there is ample time within the game.

Given the opening story line, I found the progression of levels to be terrific. Get to an escape pod. Land in the escape pod and get away from the area before you are overrun by the enemy, help locat other survivors, rescue the captain and finally destroy the ring. Like most games of this sort, their are a few times when you do what you think is the right thing, only to find out that you now need to do something else to fix what you had just done. To put it simply the story line resembles a number one best selling science fiction novel. Yes it is that good. And I can’t wait for the rumored sequel.

Given that I heard a lot of grumbling about the Xbox controller before the system was released, I was extremely impressed with the game controls for this game. I really do not understand what all the fuss was about. All of the controls are at your fingertips and the layout even makes sense. To turn your flashlight on and off you hit the clear button. Moving around is done with one finger and aiming is accomplished with the other. Changing or reloading weapons is easy to do on the move.

As far as the graphics go, if this is only a first generation game, so I can’t wait until stuff starts pushing the envelope. Though I am not sure how much better the graphics can really get. Standing on the surface of the ring, surrounded by realistic waterfalls and mountains, watching the segments of the ring as they slide off into the distance I felt like I was truly there. If you are in a dark room with some marines all using flashlights, you can see where each flash light is pointing and if they are pointing in your direction, you will be able to see the corona effects on their beams. Starting on the Pillar of Autumn before it crashes, you will get the sensation that you are on a functioning ship traveling through space. Later when you return to the ship after the crash landing, it feels like a different place even though you are passing through the same rooms you visited earlier. The same goes for Covenant ships, as they are completely alien. All of the building and ship architecture have a different feel, depending on what it is, and how it should make you feel. It is all in the details and the guys at Bungie seem that have taken everything into consideration.

Where Halo really shines is in the multiplayer area. You may have played and solved the game, but nothing beats having two of you moving down the halls raining death upon the Covenant., covering each others back. All you need add are four of your closest friends to your game and an extra controller for each person. To go beyond four people you are going to have to connect your Xbox to another Xbox and have a second television.

The sound effects and musical score of Halo further complement a fantastic game. The first time you hear the marines cheering your arrival, or the first time you plug a Covenant soldier that has just taunted you, then you will begin to feel the rush. Most of the sound effects seem so natural like the revving of the engine or the sounds of machine gun fire off in the distance that you will again think you are there. Bungie in their quest to make the perfect game have even gone so far as to give the different grunts an accent. The musical score is not overdone. When you notice the music change, you know something is about to happen.

I found the difficulty level of halo to be just right. As game play progresses, there is a Darwinian effect where the weaker soldiers and enemies get killed off early on in the fighting and you start facing tougher and smarter opposition. By the end, you will be facing guys that will jump out of the blast radius of your grenades. Or if they get a plasma grenade stuck to them, they will sacrifice themselves by running right towards you.

The only problem I have with Halo is that the game is just to short. By the end I found myself wanting more. I was addicted to the graphics and the story, and I would wake up wanting to play the game. I would play so late that I would just be about ready to drop before I would drag myself to my bed. Halo is in my opinion the best Xbox game to come out with the system and I have to give it 5 GiN gems.

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