Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo: Combat Evolved

released on Nov 15, 2001

Halo: Combat Evolved

released on Nov 15, 2001

Bent on Humankind's extermination, a powerful fellowship of alien races known as the Covenant is wiping out Earth's fledgling interstellar empire. Climb into the boots of Master Chief, a biologically altered super-soldier, as you and the other surviving defenders of a devastated colony-world make a desperate attempt to lure the alien fleet away from earth. Shot down and marooned on the ancient ring-world Halo, you begin a guerilla-war against the Covenant. Fight for humanity against an alien onslaught as you race to uncover the mysteries of Halo.


Also in series

Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST
Halo Wars
Halo Wars
Halo 3
Halo 3
Halo 2
Halo 2
Halo: Custom Edition
Halo: Custom Edition

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Jaime Griesemer, designer on this game and a lead designer for Halo 2 and 3, has a decently well-known quote about the sacred 30 seconds of fun. Essentially, take 30 seconds of gameplay, make 'em good, and then stretch that across the entire game. This could be cynically interpreted as a way of excusing Halo's heavy asset reuse, especially in its first two installments, but my understanding of this quote is that the 30 seconds are not set in stone. Contained within those 30 seconds are a stupid high number of possibilities, According to Griesemer, “if you don’t nail those 30 seconds, you’re not gonna have a great game”. Halo nails the thirty seconds by allowing so many things to happen within them.

In Halo, killing an Elite makes all the Grunts scatter and stop shooting. This is nice for saving ammo since you can just go and melee the Grunts, so the risky and rewarding strategy is to ignore them and their potential damage entirely and just shoot the Elite. What seems like a simple tradeoff is anything but binary, since killing an Elite is rarely that simple. Maybe you shoot one or two of the grunts so you can poke your head out longer and give yourself more time to kill the Elite, but this spends ammo. Maybe you melee those grunts and retreat, saving the ammo and making the Elite killing easier for yourself, but this puts you at risk. Maybe you just blow them all up with a grenade (you probably do), but if you do, you probably wanna stick the Elite (harder), since he’s unlikely to get blown up with the rest of them.

Depending on where each of these enemies as well as any cover is placed, the execution of any of these plans changes. For example, they may not be in a clump for the grenade to work. Not only are they capable of flanking your cover spots (which can be rough given Chief’s movement speed), but they might do so from multiple angles, complicating things and forcing you to make quick decisions and aim good. Maybe all the enemies are grouped together, great for not just grenades but also dodging projectiles. Maybe they lose sight of you and you pop out the other side and get a few valuable shots in. Maybe you don’t pop out and instead wait for them to come to you, which often does result in clumping (also Jackals will move their shields). If they're further away, meleeing is impossible, you have to calculate the grenade throw arc, shooting is generally harder, and enemies are more than content to just sit behind cover, with Elites especially happy to get their shields back. The AI's sense of self-preservation goes a long way in encouraging more aggressive play, and rather than constantly moving straight towards the player, their strafey, often zigzaggy movement quite naturally sets them up into these different positions.

This also highlights how good grenades are as a mechanic. Obviously efficiency and satisfaction in blowing up clumps of Covenant is fun, but they can also be used to trigger dodge animations and make enemies stop shooting for a few seconds. You can exploit this behavior to reposition, buy yourself just enough time to get your shield back, or flush enemies out of cover and give yourself some time to shoot (or throw another grenade). All of these strategies arise from a secondary interaction that grenades have, not even the main purpose of the damn things, which is really the magic of Halo. All of these strategies can realistically arise if you give the player a Magnum and some grenades, and throw them into an arena with 2 enemy types and a rock, because variety doesn't have to come from the presence of a lot of ideas, but the depth of ideas that already exist. Now see how everything changes if you give the player a rocket launcher, add a second Elite so getting the grunts to scatter is harder, add some Jackals to make the scatter phase more complicated, or put some dickhead Wraith on the player’s ass across the map.

This baked-in variety is how Halo can get away with having 4.2 unique arenas and 7 enemies (not counting vehicles or popcorn flood), each encounter can play out differently even if the arena and enemy placements and makeup are the same (although yes it is still better if they are different, which is why the game will sometimes randomize enemy placements on restarts). The systems do a lot of the heavy lifting. As always in a shooter, aiming is going to be the key factor (like if you noscope headshot an Elite, you can get away with otherwise boneheaded positioning choices [this is a good thing]), but that positioning is quite important too, and arenas often spread cover far enough apart to where changing that positioning is not done for free. Enemies drop weapons so that you can't get stuck in a truly fucked up position with no way out (it helps that the Plasma Pistol is among both the most versatile and common). The core mechanics of Halo are quite-well considered, yadda yadda every weapon has a role and the balance is good more on that later. Even small things like the Magnum's long weapon swap animation feel smart, since it makes the noob combo much harder to run (especially combined with the AI behaviors god it's so good).

The only thing Halo really does wrong in terms of its systems is the healthbar. The regenerating health itself is good, mitigating the frustration of getting shot from offscreen but still punishing the possible bad positioning that lead to it, and encouraging COOL people to get good at the game so they don't have to wait for their shields to come back all the time. Since enemies in Halo can move behind you randomly and dodging isn't possible all the time, it makes sense for the game. This is offset by the actual healthbar underneath, which does not make sense for the game and often leads to more waiting behind cover or restarting on the slightest mistake to avoid damage. The checkpoints are also more than willing to put you in a section with red HP, emulating the worst of F5 to save anywhere systems. Sometimes it's better to go back to the last encounter and do it better so you have a better chance in the current one, and here you don't even have the choice. The healthbar does offer connective tissue between encounters, but the two weapon limit also does that in a much more interesting way that results from your choices and not getting clipped by a couple of offscreen needles.

That two weapon limit hits the nice balance between encouraging but not railroading. It is generally better to not run through Assault on the Control Room with the sniper and the rocket, but efficient use of both and some well-timed grenades (very common strat in this game) means it can work. The decision of what weapons to bring colors the encounters and allows them to play out even more differently, the choice being informed by ammo, upcoming enemies, and your own skill (or foolishness I suppose). Ammo is not a novel system of course, but the game is better for having it, as it makes you consider the downstream effects of your actions (you could have used that rocket later!) Although I have mostly talked about the systems, the weapon placement within the levels here is quite good at bringing these tradeoffs out, sometimes stocking multiple uncommon weapons in a single spot and making you choose, and spreading them out so as to not defeat the point of the system. Weapons being physical objects and not menu items also leads to more possibilities. You could carry three around if you like, and it also allows for the eternally fun and spontaneous kill-a-guy-and-shoot-another-guy-with-his-weapon maneuver. Aside from the Flood, the only tweak I would personally make is to make one more weapon good against Jackals, since they may push plasma pistol use a bit too much. Oh and the fuckin flood

The Flood are probably the biggest problem with the game, their straightforward behavior doesn't really lend itself to any of the strengths listed above. It makes sense why Flood wouldn't take cover or react to their fallen brethren in any way, but it still sucks. They're also often paired with CE's worst level design sins, reused hallways that barely even feature any interesting cover (or cover at all), enemies pouring in for way too long, and even the combo of that with locking the player in! Their more frantic, charge-heavy nature puts the player on the backfoot in the way the Covenant never did, but they can't sustain interesting gameplay for long. They’re too reactive, not proactive or tactical enough in a game that otherwise nails that balance. It is fun to make them infight, but only a handful of encounters really let you initiate it. Most of them are content to just drop them next to other enemies and do it for you, or not mix enemy factions at all. One could say that pacing in a game is a method of disguising how shallow an element is, and with the Flood, it’s much too easy to see through.

Despite some clear missteps, Halo is a wonderful game. In a word it's dynamic. If you imagine each encounter as a 30 second bubble that represents everything that could happen, that bubble is reeeeaaaaaaallllllllly big. Add up every complication that can happen in 30 seconds of Halo, and you get a game that’s fun for hundreds of hours. The game creates a ton of complex situations to work through out of mechanics that are intuitive and simple to parse, and the majority of that fun comes from its robust mechanics more than anything else. Saying Halo 1 has a ton of variety probably sounds like a stretch to most, but don’t be fooled by the visually repetitive exterior (ironically more common in the game’s interior rooms). Firefights may not look different, but they play different. While there is value in the things Halo lacks, it serves as proof that flash, polish, and high production values need not be the priority of video games. Getting the most out of its limited content, Halo lets its gameplay do all the talking. Put simply, real ass video game.

Oh boy these games haven't aged well, level design consists of either endless corridors or directionless "open" grasslands meant for the Warthog, can't say anything positive about the weapons or enemy variety either, they're mostly bullet sponges.
Maybe if I played Halo back in the day I would grow to love the many quirks this franchise has, but as a lad who grew up with my beloved Sony and Nintendo, that was never to be.

Apesar de ter problemas absurdos, principalmente em sua reta final, Halo foi um dos FPS mais divertidos que eu já joguei.

best aesthetic and atmosphere of any halo game. the CE anniversary graphics suck super dick and ruin the lighting. the campaign has its low points but overall solid experience

Really falls apart in some of the later levels but that doesn't stop it from being an excellent FPS to this day

This review contains spoilers

I enjoyed Halo: Combat Evolved, I'm a real sucker for late 90s/early 2000s 3D graphics in games, so this thing was visually stunning to me. Despite it's often repetive gameplay, and it's jank (specifically in vehicles, I played this on keyboard and mouse and that's never a good way to play vehicle heavy games, this was a step beyond the norm), I still really enjoyed it.

Certain parts were annoying, maybe because I'm a noobling, but the Library can officially go to hell. The final level had my blood pumping as I tried (emphasis on tried, it was hard) to drive my car through a soon to explode spacecraft. The poor driving added to the suspense!

In conclusion, not just a game for 14 year old boys, it can also appeal to a 20 year-ish old woman. God bless!