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System: 1.26 - 1.5 GHz Dual G4     Location: Miami Shores FL, USA
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Halo: Combat Evolved

But is it, really?

As much maligned as the game may be in certain circles (i.e. amongst Mac users), yes, it definitely is.

Realise that you're reading the words of a die-hard Marathon player. Understand that I bought my first Macintosh at a time of the worst, most dire straits for Apple and gaming on the platform. Bungie's acquisition, when it happened, felt just as crushing to me as it did for anyone. There are blemishes in the history of Mac gaming. Halo is not one of them.

And this is pretty much the best time to review it as for a fairly standard G4 hardware user, the game is now--after updating to 10.3.4 and a handful of game updates--fully complete, presuming you have some powerful nvidia hardware (GeForce 3/4 Ti).

The translation from Xbox to freeform look-anywhere/aim faster mouse/trackball system has gone very, very well. Last year there was a lot of concern about placement of enemies and stage design--considering the control pad layout the game was originally created for, it was believed that with faster aiming and lack of auto-assist to targetting, Halo could become much too easy. I could understand the concerns, and even had my own doubts about the potential issues to game balance. Incredibly enough, they're not rooted atoll in reality--all enemies, weapons, items of interest and stage layout are complete clones of the Xbox original. Each stage is replicated down to the most exacting detail, and even if you manage to head-shot that Covenant Elite to his maker in a single snipe, you're not going to find Halo any easier just because you happen to have your desktop layout at you fingertips. This is really a testament to a couple of things--just how excellent of a job bungie made of translating their analogue first-person-shooter experience to a control pad, and their years of experience to creating exacting levels and objectives. The incredibly realistic, "smart" AI (which can actually be fooled) takes care of the rest--every time you play Halo feels like the first.

The graphics--this was the kicker that kept me from spewing a great deal about this title. As a longtime Xbox owner with HDTV in tow, I have to admit that as elated as I was to get Halo in my hands back in December, I was at the same time pretty darn let down. The game functioned like a dream, as I'd rather expected it to, but graphically the game was just solid, as in "didn't suck." It was obviously not as nice as the Xbox version. "Nice" included pixel shading effects, bump-mapping, detail textures, specular highlights to lit objects, and reflective surfaces. Knowing that almost the same hardware as my GeForce 4 Ti was powering the Xbox version, but couldn't do all these things was disheartening in the least, but for the trade-off of a DirectX optimised video engine rather than an OpenGL one, I had the consolation of still getting much better performance than my PC buddy at high resolutions (1024 lines, 1280, etc). Active camoflage looked very, very nice and the framerate at these high resolutions ran beautfully, even in a furious multiplayer fracas. A couple of updates later and the nvidia renderer gained bump mapping via pixel shading. The framerate for me took a slight hit (4-6fps) but the gorgeousness of the shiney, bumpy surfaces and detail textures were worth it. Surfaces were still not reflective, the specular effects were not complete, but the game finally looked genuinely like the beauty of the screenshots that I'd dreamed over for so many years in development. I could've been happy right there, and I was. In fact I was thrilled, right up til the last update along with the newest system version (10.3.4) that enabled reflectives, completed the specular effects, fixed a fog issue, and enabled FSAA for the GeForce 4 Ti. That last bit is the most noteworthy par--with 2x FSAA turned on all jaggies are gone. The screen becomes suitable for framing with no question of its graphical superiority over the nearly three-years-old Xbox title. Incredibly enough the antialiasing doesn't destroy the framerate, and my Mac benches at the same rate both with and without.

A friend of mine gets on my case for benchmarking all the time--with everything on including FSAA, I'm getting 31fps. There is still no way to benchmark the actual game or to turn on an fps monitor, but without the AI overhead I could only imagine multiplayer (even big maps with 16 players) being faster. Which just gets me giddy inside! Seriously, little things matter. It's not that I benchmark more than I play, but I want to be able to turn on the game and think, "wow. Just wow." And I can do that here, and still not lose a firefight for all the visual beauty... I gamed on a Performa 6400 for five years in college, I should have a right to expect these things. ;)

Storywise, it doesn't get any better than Halo. I don't personally understand how it's so hip to hate Halo for its story, "worse than Marathon" is a mantra that I've heard fairly repeated without much explanation, thought, or care. I personally feel a lot of the nay-saying Marathon fans who hate Halo's story aren't very observant. If you just stop yourself for a moment to notice things, Halo is rife with references and foreshadowing. In an interview bungie founder Alex Seropian once revealed the Master Chief is in fact the same character in Marathon; nobody knows how this is possible considering the history we know about each character and Matt Soell immediately tried to spin it away from the blatant obviousness of what was said. But I'm confident and patient that Halo 2 and subsequent entries are going to reveal a lot that even I haven't expected. Bungie are all longtime fans of the hard science fiction that fueled my own interest in writing and creativity, some novels that I read in high school were direct influences on Marathon and Halo. How is loving one mutually exclusive of the other? Heck if I know, but they're both superb; had the technology existed to carry exposition in cinema instead of text terminals, I think a lot of the Halo-haters would have hated Marathon, too, even if it kept the same story.

I've completed Halo on Legendary and I continue to play. Games this visionary just don't get old.

Posted on June 1, 2004 at 8:07 am
Games Playing:
TimeSplitters 2 (Multi)
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
TimeSplitters: Future Perfect (Multi)
Kingdom Hearts (PS2)
Katamari Damacy (PS2)
 
Reviews:
Snickers Commercials 7/10/2006
   
Gradius V 9/24/2004
   
Halo: Combat Evolved 6/1/2004
   
 
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