Halo PC, as I've suggested before in some of my previous articles
, is a port from Bungie's
Xbox version of Halo. Along the way, Gearbox Software
has had the license to add some things to the game, specifically new multiplayer maps and weapons. It's unfortunate that with these additions some things have had to be removed: as the cooperative play feature would simply not work for split-screen on a PC, Gearbox is shipping Halo to stores with lack of cooperative play support. Future support for this has not been ruled out, but this is something that should be noted for would-be Xbox converts.
My original "Gearbox Giveth; and Gearbox Taketh Away, Part 3"
article suggested that "if your computer's requirements are at the low end of the performance spectrum, Halo PC/Mac might not be for you." These words remain true when we've heard some of the initial performance reviews.
Ripping Open the Box
No, I'm not referring to the Xbox
; rather, the fact that Halo PC came in the new, smaller size of game box. There's not too much in it to be noteworthy. Included in the box: a manual, an Alienware contest advertisement, and the actual Halo CD (with the ubiquitous mark of Microsoft's presence on the back: the 25-character product key.) Unfortunately it's in a cardboard CD case – a jewel case would have been preferred.
A seal is placed over the opening of the CD case, which means that removing it must be performed carefully if one doesn't wish to scratch the CD.
Installation and Single Player
For technical purposes, I installed Halo on a fresh copy of Windows 2000 Professional, Service Pack 4, as well as my alternate operating system, Windows XP Home with Service Pack 1. Installation was overall extremely simple to perform; however, my Windows 2000 installation made the background music stutter and skip, whereas I received several "Windows Installer" warnings on Windows XP. The game installed equally well on both operating systems in spite of these glitches.
Initially, as I started playing Halo PC in Campaign mode, I was frustrated that I had to start from the Pillar of Autumn. In an effort to reach "Assault on the Control Room", one of my favourite levels, I had to run through the Pillar of Autumn and complete it, and then realized that I had to complete three more additional levels. I dropped the setting to "Easy" and completed Campaign mode with relative ease.
But single player is effectively the same experience as it was on the Xbox. I realize Bungie's single player campaign, while criticized by some as "repetitive"
, needed to remain the same in order to introduce PC gamer audiences to the wonderful plot. Additional levels might have detracted from the original story but to an Xbox gamer, playing the game through will seem like a chore. Those who hated the Library the first time around should realize that in order to complete the campaign missions, the level must be relived in all its repetitiveness.
Coming from the Xbox, I found that getting used to the standard control style used by first person shooters was difficult initially. After several hours of gameplay, I found I was able to switch between controller and the keyboard/mouse combination quite effectively.
Halo 1.0 to 1.01: Upgrade Fixes Some But Not All
It was at this point that I decided to add another command line option, "-use11" to see if this would improve performance. (For reference, this and other command line options can be found in the Halo PC Readme on the CD.) While I was at it, I decided to run a "timedemo" to benchmark my system's performance.
However, running the timedemo erased my saved progress on the last level and set my character to an unmovable checkpoint on "Keyes", which is the last level the demo uses to gauge performance. The only way I could restore my character to working order was to restart the last level from the save selection screen. If I had been at a critical part of the game, this would have been an extremely onerous process.
Patches seem to be a necessary addition to any online game, as hacks, cracks and performance issues arise as large numbers of people flock to play first person shooters over the Internet. While Halo's server-authority based design might delay the development of such cheating utilities, it's unfortunate that we'll have to expect the inevitable.
Multiplayer Online: Quick to Start, and the Fun Never Stops
By far, when I started up Halo PC and joined a server with a reasonable ping, it was the quickest-loading online game I've ever played. I would even venture to suggest that the load times for Halo PC levels are similar to those experienced in Blizzard's popular game of StarCraft
. For those who have never played the game, it would not be exaggerating to say that both Halo PC campaign and multiplayer levels load in approximately three seconds.
Once a game has been selected, it’s necessary to get your bearings. For Xbox Halo players, getting used to the "classic" levels is a piece of cake. The new levels will put most players on an equal footing, as their layout hasn't yet been fully explored. I think a good idea would be for Gearbox, Bungie or Microsoft to release some overhead views of the levels along with ideas for using them, much like the ones available from halo.bungie.net
. In any event, both the classic and new levels are extremely fun.
Several generally unadvertised changes have been made to the "classic" levels for those purists, so you may never be able to recreate that Xbox Halo experience, even if you choose to lock frame rate at 30 frames per second and elect not to play with the new weapons or on new levels. For example, Sidewinder's one-way teleporters have been transformed into multi-directional ones, allowing access to both bases. This change benefits both Slayer and Capture the Flag modes: it's easier to move around the level (Gearbox developers elaborate on the changes in this thread
Other levels have been modified in this manner as well. Hang 'em High, as another example, does not require players to jump to exit the trench in the middle.
Most gamers have sat in Capture the Flag matches that went on forever, where the teams were evenly matched and no other player could manage to gain access to the other team's base. While the new edition of Halo does have the map additions, another feature is the ability to end games after a certain set time limit. Vehicle respawn is another frequently-used option that will put an end to many people's vehicle hiding ways.
Unfortunately, the major problems with multiplayer have no real person or company to blame. One is the lack of a centralized nickname service: without this, an in-game "friends list" or player messaging system cannot exist. Before you begin to play the game, make sure you and your friends all know which server to use. Another is the widespread "capping" of broadband services by Internet service providers around the country. With an upload rate of only 192 Kbps, my Internet connection would be unsuitable for hosting a server; this means most residential broadband users will be joining games rather than creating them.
Rate the Game: Is it Necessary?
itself is a great game. And the fact is that Halo for the Xbox plays like a console game: the bare essentials are there, but don't expect too many extras. A console crashing is unacceptable, and to its credit, the only Xbox Halo issues I've experienced are minor glitches. On the other hand, Halo PC plays like a computer game: variations in frame rate, but if the capability of the computer is there, beautiful things can happen.
In retrospect, playing Halo PC gives one some idea as to the power of the Xbox and its integrated GeForce3-like graphics chip. For a computer-like console that would be considered past its prime by the average gamer, it is able to run a demanding game like Halo acceptably. "Optimizations" aside by Bungie, Microsoft or Gearbox, the fact remains that yes, the performance of Halo PC could improve, but I'm perfectly satisfied with it at this point.
At this point, I'm still indifferent as to whether I like either the Xbox version or PC version more than the other. On the whole, the console version seems more "solid" than the computer game. That is the desired but the additions brought by Gearbox's port to the PC gaming world will make it worthwhile for computer gamers, or existing owners of the Xbox version that want a more fulfilling online experience.
Rating Deductions and Reasoning
All the reviews published up to this point have applauded Halo PC on its beautiful graphics and chastised the developers on the lack of co-operative play, as well as the framerate issues experienced. I'm inclined to agree with the performance fixes: after all, it's not unreasonable to expect a game that's been in development for as long as Halo has to perform as well as many other popular PC first-person shooters.
I justify my rating of 9.3
in this process: Initially all games start at a rank of 10/10. As I encounter bugs or issues with the game, I will consider whether my computer or the game is the differing factor, and deduct points based on my observations. Halo PC loses points in the following areas:
for the performance issues. Anything below 30 frames per second really needs to be addressed, and I would expect that a subsequent patch should improve frame rate and therefore improve gameplay.
Marty O'Donnell's audio experience is indeed uncompromised, but my integrated sound card (a C-Media model present in many modern motherboards) loses some weapon effects and dialogue in scenes with many noises. Most people who care deeply about sound will have a separate sound card, but since this C-Media chip is quite common in the PC world, I'd expect it to function better than it does.
Online Play: -0.2
With Halo's server-authority based design, the graphics on online multiplayer effectively lie. The only way to tell if you're hitting someone is to listen to the noise created by the game. While this is an inherent part of online multiplayer, one must begin to adjust for latency in games with anything above a ping of 60.
Physical Format: -0.1
One tenth of a point is deducted for shipping the game in a cardboard sleeve (as opposed to an actual jewel case), as well as placing a seal over it. One might consider many eager gamers attempting to open the sleeve and scratching the CD with scissors or a knife, as well as the fact that jewel cases can take more abuse. Every other Microsoft game that I've purchased has come with an actual case: why not Halo, a game that should rightly be Microsoft's crown jewel?
Turning away from the negative focus, I'd like to conclude this review with how immensely happy I am with Halo PC
The online multiplayer is a blast; the campaign mode improved with higher resolutions and new shaders for even more eye candy than the Xbox original. While some may say otherwise, I believe Gearbox deserves a big "thanks" on behalf of the gaming community for porting and helping to develop such an entertaining game. See you in Timberland with the fuel rod cannon!
Bungie's "Tru7h and Reconciliation"
Gearbox Software Forums