Sunday, February 27, 2011

Halo: Combat Evolved Completed for the 8th Time

Now that I've made such great progress on my backlog (and I need a break from BioShock 2), I've decided to do something I've never done before: Play through the entire Halo franchise. The last time I did anything similar was in early 2008 when I played through the Halo Trilogy for the first and only time in succession, and now there's double the number of games to satisfy my Halo-fix.

As I always do with any kind of marathon, I'm playing the games in release order so this saw me starting off with Halo: Combat Evolved. Instead of playing it on my original Xbox, which is still working great, I decided to play it via my Xbox 360 for the increased resolution and to use my nifty Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller. I haven't touched the game in three years, and I'm happy to say for a title that's nearly ten years old, it's held up very well.

Launched with the original Xbox console back in November 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved really did change the way we approach first person shooters. It innovated on many fronts providing gameplay elements that are basic by today's standards but were completely new and revolutionary back then. Things like:

- Seemless transitions from large outdoor to indoor areas
- Off-hand Grenades
- Melee with any weapon
- Vehicle combat standardized in regular gameplay and not just as special bonus moments
- Limit to carrying only two weapons at a time

Those are all some pretty fundamental changes, and in addition the game looked solid and had excellent friend and foe AI.

Playing on Heroic Difficulty, the game wasn't so bad for the first four Chapters, but the difficulty really started to ramp up on Chapter 5 and I came to realize that I've been spoiled by a lot of modern gameplay conventions. I'm going to be completely honest here, Halo: Combat Evolved on Heroic is harder than Halo: Reach on Legendary, and games in general are getting easier.

Things I missed while playing Halo: Combat Evolved:

- Sprint (why this took 9 years to make it into the franchise is beyond me)
- Vehicle Boarding
- Ghost Speed Boosts and Banshee Rolls
- Heat Seeking Rockets (I died many times trying to take out Banshees with the Rocket Launcher. Ultimately the Shotgun or Assault Rifle proved far more effective)
- The Battle Rifle or Designated Marksman Rifle
- A Flashlight that doesn't run on a battery
- The ability to zoom in without firing when using a non-scoped weapon

Things I'm glad didn't carry over into more recent releases:

- Flood Combat Forms with Rocket Launchers
- Walking into a key combat zone or choke point with no cover
- Hunters easily killed with a single bullet to the back
- The crazy chain explosions caused by a Flood Carrier form detonating around a few Grenades
- The wacky design of the Pillar of Autumn's spine. Seriously, who designs a ship like that?

Overall though, aside from a few frustrating moments, I had a great time. The lower quality textures in 4x3 still look solid, the audio is top notch with some great voice acting, and the story still flows well for a 2001 video game narrative. But it's the gameplay where Halo: Combat Evolved really shines.

Up until Chapter 3, I was actually able to keep more Marines alive than normal which made for some interesting encounters, but after that I found most of my Marine allies fairing more poorly than I remember. Bungie really did go vehicle crazy in this game, as there are Ghosts and Banshees everywhere, especially Banshees in the later Chapters and always in the worst possible places. Without Boarding or heat seeking rockets, they really were a strong threat and if you were caught out in the open you'd likely be reloading your last Checkpoint soon enough.

Elites also posed a serious threat. Overcharged Plasma Pistol shots don't home in as well as they do in current releases, and I found I couldn't rely on it to take them out. They could also fire their Plasma Rifles and Needlers really quickly which murdered your shields and then your poor, non-regenerating health. And woe be it to you if you got into close quarters with a Zealot wielding an Energy Sword, as they're faster than you and you have no defence.

But that's the great thing about the Halo franchise; you die and reload your Checkpoint, there's no guarantee the battle you died in will play out the same. The enemies will react differently to you almost every time, which really adds some great variety, challenge, and replayability. Heck, the Campaign was loads of fun even on this, my 8th playthrough. The weapons you choose, the vehicles you use and encounter, what allies you keep alive, it all changes the battles for what's supposed to be a linear title.

And so, now that I've destroyed Installation 04 and the Fleet of Particular Justice through a great ten hour experience, it's time to go partake in the first battle of Earth and to quell some heresy.

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