• Kurt Lewin

The Halo Diaries - Halo: Combat Evolved

You may have heard of the iconic BBC radio show I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. Well, that is me but for the illustrious gaming franchise behemoth which is Halo. Yes, I have (or had) never played a Halo game. I am a big fan of First Person Shooters (FPS) and have played all the other classic FPS games and franchises out there such as Half-Life, Call of Duty, Doom, Wolfenstein and more. Yet, for some reason Halo had eluded me all these years, it was not for lack of owning an Xbox console over the years, so I can't quite put my finger on why this classic of the genre has escaped me.

When I started writing for FYVGaming, I decided one of the features I wanted to write was a diary of my experience of each Halo game as I worked through the series (hopefully in time for the release of Halo Infinite). This diary is not only from the perspective of a newcomer to the franchise, but also looking at the games from a modern perspective, having played more modern FPS games in recent years and without any nostalgia influencing my opinion. So, with the benefit of the inclusion of the Master Chief Collection (MCC) on Xbox Game Pass, I was able to embark on the start of my adventure with the seminal Halo: Combat Evolved (Halo CE).

Upon starting the game, I was immediately impressed by the enhancements which had been made to the game. A cool feature of the MCC version of Halo CE is that you can instantly flick in between the original and new graphics, that is impressive in itself but the actual graphical upgrade is startling. It might not be cutting edge graphics, but it certainly does not look out of place on current consoles. The environment, weapons and levels all have a new level of detail previously unseen which really adds to the games sci-fi setting and atmosphere. The colours really pop and it all runs buttery smooth with hardly any loading on the Xbox Series X.

One of the most impressive aspects of Halo CE I found was the scale of the environments and the enemy AI. So let us begin with the environments, they are huge. I first got a taste of the gigantic scale of these levels in the second level named ‘Arriving on Halo’. This is a linear game in essence, but some of the levels are so huge it almost feels like an open world, it makes the large environments of the recent Doom games look small in comparison. To navigate through this level and others, you have to use a variety of vehicles, which made me feel as though I was truly embarking on an adventure with galactic proportions. It is not just the outdoor levels though, as even some of the indoor environments are huge such as ‘The Library’, which although I really didn’t like, I cannot deny its impressive scale.

Despite the problems I had with the game, which I will come on to, the enemy AI was always impressive and I would even consider to be better than some modern AI enemies. I was really quite taken aback by how they would dodge fire, projectiles and flank me. Sure, The Flood enemies were a bit thick, but that kind of made sense as they were almost zombie like cannon fodder.

There are lots of great moments and levels in the game, but there are two that stand out. The first is the level ‘The Silent Cartographer’. What I loved about this level was how it combines both vehicular and on foot combat to navigate the level as I went from each alien ruin to the next. I found that it really allowed the game to flex its gameplay muscles as I got to see the excellence of both the enemy and squad AI. It was pretty awesome taking control of a Warthog full of my squadmates, bounding into a group of the Covenant and taking them to task with the soundtrack kicking in, so much fun!

The other level which stood out to me was ‘343 Guilty Spark’ which is where I was first introduced to The Flood enemies. The level starts in a swamp type area, which was unlike anything in the game up to that point and was quite surprising to me. For some reason I was not expecting a setting like that in a Halo game. Furthermore, the pace of the game slows down here till we get introduced to The Flood which was a nice change. I had heard of The Flood through podcasts and social media but had no idea what they were or what they would look like, so to see that they were zombie like aliens was a genuine shock to me, this whole level reminded me of Ravenholm from Half-Life 2 in that it almost borders on a horror game.

Unfortunately, the game then took a turn for the worse in the latter levels. ‘The Library’ was absolutely horrendous. It felt like a maze due to it looking the same throughout and the endless waves of The Flood became very tedious. I cannot believe no one at Bungie thought that level went on far too long.

Then there was the finale of the game during ‘The Maw’ level. On paper, a Warthog escape sequence through The Maw spaceship sounds incredibly cool, but I unfortunately found it to be very frustrating. The sequence is on a timer, I didn’t mind that so much as it added urgency to proceedings, my problem is that I hate how the Warthog controls, both in how it handles and its button mapping. This might be controversial to some of you and I’m sure there will be cries of ‘Git Gud!’ but why oh why does the Warthog (and all the other vehicles for that matter) not use the triggers for acceleration and braking? I struggle to think of any other game which solely uses the sticks for vehicle controls and I think that is for good reason! Because of this issue the whole sequence was more me creeping my way through the level as I navigated between obstacles and pillars instead of an intense fast paced race to the exit.

Overall, I had a largely positive experience with Master Chief's first outing. There are some great levels, the AI is really impressive even today, the story is well told and the soundtrack is now etched into my brain so much that I have been humming it whilst going about my daily business. Sure there are aspects of the game which suck like The Library, but I do not think that is due to the games age as I am almost certain people would have thought the same as myself back when it was released in 2001. I can certainly see why this game was such a revolution for the FPS genre on console at the time (I have not even gone into the multiplayer aspect) and after my experience with it, I am really looking forward to tackling Halo 2 and the rest of the series.