Review: My First Time with “Halo: Combat Evolved”

This past year, I’ve been playing through the Halo series for the first time on Xbox One. I’ll admit I am not great at FPS games. I don’t play shooters a lot, and those that I do play tend to have some other element to the combat that I really enjoy (like the powers in Mass Effect). I also tend to go for third-person shooter games first, which is why I have made Gears of War my go-to shooter series.

So, I played some Halo: Reach a while back but did not fully enjoy it solo. Playing an FPS game feels very plowing-along to me… because I’m not good at them, and I don’t really care to be. I’ll level up a mage in a fantasy game as fast as I can, but in an FPS, just switching between various firearms doesn’t do it for me (most of the time). I guess that’s why Reach wasn’t an instant winner for me.

However, I’ve been able to play Halo 3 and Halo 4 co-op the past few months, and it’s been a blast. I don’t usually play co-op campaigns, but the Halo games have proven that FPS + co-op is a pretty addicting combo.

What I really like is that when one person dies, the other respawns. I had no idea that could make it possible for me to finish a shooter on Legendary difficulty! (I try really hard to hold my weight, but let’s be honest — 70% of the time, I’m the one dying.)

That has led me to finally play the original Halo game this past month. I know it’s supposed to be groundbreaking, paving the way for future FPS games. I wanted to see what it was all about.

Story

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Released in 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved puts you in the military boots of Master Chief, a supersoldier with cybernetic enhancements. On missions, his main point of contact is Cortana, an AI in his neural interface.

I won’t give away the whole plot, but the main story involves rescuing the ship’s captain from alien enemies known as the Covenant, all the while trying to learn the purpose of the mysterious Halo, a ring-shaped space station. Master Chief learns that Halo is a very dangerous weapon… I won’t tell beyond that, but the twist was a big surprise to me and something I hadn’t encountered in sci-fi before.

Vehicles

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Part of what makes the gameplay so fun is that you jump into several different vehicles over the course of the game, including a tank, a hovercraft, and military jeeps. All have weapons. The hovercraft are single-occupancy only, but the others are great for co-op since one person can drive while the other takes the weapon in the back.

To be honest, I can’t drive the jeeps much better than I drove the Makos in Mass Effect. Driving in games is just not my thing (even though I did get pretty good in GTA V and started to love speeding around Los Santos). Nevertheless, the jeeps handle pretty well, and you can definitely “feel” the difference in weight and power when you’re driving one of them on a bumpy road, catching some air, versus when you’re in the tank.

The aircrafts are even more interesting, though. I jumped in one of those purple Banshees any chance I got, because it makes it easier to cover long distances and comes equipped with weapons so you can fire as you move. This made maneuvering through crowds of enemies pretty breezy… although the Banshees will eventually catch fire or blow up if you spend too much time catching bullets in them. (I’m not good at dodging.)

Difficulty

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I played Halo 1 co-op on Legendary difficulty.

First, let me tell you, I got frustrated with the other Halo games at times. Sometimes a lot. When a mission runs too long, when I die too often, when the open landscape feels impossible to traverse without getting killed — those were the times I got cases of gamer rage, like everybody gets once in a while. They were minor, like a little two-day cold.

But I’m pretty sure I got a much bigger share of that with Halo 1 than with the other games I’ve played so far. It was an all-out week-long flu type of gamer rage with some of those missions. After the game, my partner spelled out why it’s actually more difficult than some of the others in the series (enemy shields, etc.), and it totally made sense. Halo 1 is hard, guys. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I guess one nice thing is that even if your health is low, your shield regenerates if you stay out of fire for several seconds. The problem? Being a pretty amateur FPS gamer, I tend to play on lower difficulties when I’m going in solo, so I just rush into firefights and see what I can get done. That’s what I’m used to: not being careful. But when you’re playing Halo on Legendary, that’s a good way to get killed. I didn’t always take cover fast enough, so I died a lot.

Besides that, many maps have very little cover. For instance, a couple of missions have you fighting in an open, snow-covered canyon with just a few small rocks or trees to hide behind, if you can get to them. Elsewhere, there are side-by-side bridges which have plenty of cover from the enemies coming straight toward you… but there are also enemies on the bridge beside you, so you’re taking gunfire from two sides.

There were at least two or three instances I recall where my partner and I took turns running into combat, while the other remained safely hidden in case the one in combat died. When that happened, the other took a turn fighting. I’d run out and throw a grenade, he’d run out and melee a couple of guys, I’d run out and whittle down somebody’s health, he’d go finish them off… It felt like the only way to make it through those missions on Legendary.

Weaponry

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Since playing the other Halo games, I’ve gradually become accustomed to the weapons. The assault rifle is handy against the Flood parasites when they’re all over you — which is a lot, in Halo 1. (They’re little guys that don’t do much damage but just take over a room with their swarming presence.) Because you don’t have to reload the assault rifle too often, you can pretty much just shoot to your heart’s content when you’re getting ambushed.

Meanwhile, the plasma pistol is great for charging up a shot that takes down enemy shields in one hit. My partner had to point out that after that, you need to shoot the enemy right away with a different weapon before that shield regenerates. Knowing enemies were just around the corner, I really liked being able to charge shots as I came around face-to-face with them. The shots are also targeted, so there’s a good chance you’ll hit somebody if you’re aiming halfway decently (and the enemy doesn’t dodge).

But the baddest weapon of all is the shotgun. As a close-range weapon that can take down some of the big guys in just one or two well-placed shots, it’s practically a must-have against bigger enemies. I used the shotgun a lot against Elites, for instance. But it was especially helpful against the Flood when they were in combat form, meaning they had taken over humans so had humanoid shapes. Those guys just come after you one after another, trying to melee hit you. Being able to single-shot kill them, one at a time, is really rewarding.

And let me tell you, without a shotgun, those sections require a whole lot of assault rifle bullets and a lot of running around fleeing. It’s like five times harder. The shotgun is your best friend, and it becomes vital in later missions to pick one up wherever you find one.

Obviously, the sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and grenades come in handy at times too, but their usage is much more limited. Playing co-op, it’s nice when one person has the sniper or launcher for special, targeted attacks, while the other has more practical weapons to fire at a wider range of lower-threat enemies.

In any case, I really liked the weapons, although I don’t “feel” them the way I have in some other FPS games. It’s one of the things I love in shooters: being able to tell what weapon you’re handling by the feel of how it fires. Obviously, you’re just holding a controller, but you can tell from the delay in firing, the sound, etc., just how light or heavy it is. I can differentiate between weapons that way in Bioshock Infinite, for example. But in Halo, the difference is much more minor… though I do like little things like the bright color and buzzing sound effect of the plasma pistol when I’m charging it.

Scenery

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The scenery in Halo: Combat Evolved is gorgeous. Playing the Anniversary Edition probably helped that, but still, that’s one thing the Halo games really have going for them: a wide range of interesting locations to visit. You never feel stuck in one sort of habitat — like just desert, or just snow. There’s always a new type of place to explore in upcoming missions.

In Halo 1, those places include a snowy canyon, a beachside jungle, an alien library, and a Covenant ship. I really enjoyed making my way through some of the areas in the ship, while the snow-covered environments were a refreshing change of pace.

Each type of environment brings with it a unique set of combat challenges. Inside the Covenant ship, you have to make your way through claustrophobic corridors where getting away from enemies can be tricky — but they’re also where it’s handy to throw a bomb down the hall and take out a big group in a single blast. Meanwhile, some of the outdoor areas were so open that I could barely scramble for cover when enemies fired. I died a lot in those places, even though they were the most beautiful to me.

Soundscape

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The sound effects in Halo: Combat Evolved did not stand out to me much, other than the repetitive cry of certain enemies and the sweet buzzing sound of my plasma weapon charging for a killer shot. However, everything fits nicely into place, from the whirring of doors opening and closing to the sounds of explosions. After playing three (and a half) games in the series, all those familiar sounds evoke a sci-fi world that feels distinctly like Halo. It’s its own universe.

The voice acting is adequate, with Cortana getting a lot of air time and being my favorite voice in the game. Some of the lines of dialogue from NPCs, such as your fellow soldiers, are a little over-the-top — but that’s standard video game fare, especially considering how old Halo 1 is.

But the real shining star in Halo‘s soundscape is its music. I can’t express how much I love Halo music. I listen to the soundtracks all the time. The music includes echoing male voices, fast-paced violins, epic drum crashes — there are even some kickass electric guitar sections. The soundtrack has it all.

What I love most is how heroic the music sounds. I found myself humming along (sometimes a little sarcastically), because it’s all so catchy. Hearing the music pick up during a tough mission can really lift your spirits, knowing you’re coming to the end and about to do something amazing. I really don’t think Halo would be what it is without it’s outstanding soundtrack. If you want to see what I mean, I recommend listening to the “Truth and Reconciliation Suite” somewhere — it has a little of everything.

Conclusion

Despite being the most difficult in the series, the original Halo is probably my favorite so far. If we’re strictly talking about the combat, I enjoyed playing Halo 4 the most. But I believe Halo 1 has the best story and scenery, which are way more important to me than the combat, and it does a fantastic job of setting the tone for the rest of the series.

— Ashley

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