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Hands On with the Halo Universal Binary
September 28, 2006 | Bryan Clodfelter

The Bad . . .
Despite the approximately nine months that it took Macsoft to port Halo to Intel-based Macs, Halo still feels under-baked. For this article, I actually played through the entire single-player campaign four times: once in Halo 1.5.2 (PowerPC-native), Halo 2.0 (Intel-native), Halo PC, and Halo on the XBox. Despite my loyalty to the superior resolution and control setup offered by the computer, I have to admit that Halo on the XBox simply looks better than it does on the computer. Yes, it may sound shocking, but the truth of the matter is that when Halo was ported, it lost about half of its lighting effects. To make matters worse, when Macsoft ported Halo PC to the Mac, they made several poor decisions, like neglecting to include several important effects, such as the display on the Covenant Fuel Rod (pictured below), and environmental sound. None of this has changed with Halo 2.0.

Halo Covenant Fuel Rod

Macsoft does have several problems that do not exist in Halo 1.5.2 and therefore need fixing. First and foremost, in my journey through the single-player campaign on my heavily upgraded G5, I noticed problems ranging from Elites stuck with their heads in walls to bizarre audio artifacts. While I can shrug those issues off, having an older version of Halo to fall back on, Intel users will be far less pleased. Worse, I found that if you can click the mouse faster than your weapon can fire, the gun will occasionally continue to fire until it reaches the number of times you clicked. To put this in more practical terms, if you pull the trigger ten times, and in that interval, the Covenant Plasma Pistol only fires five shots, the gun should quit firing on the fifth shot. In Halo 2.0, the pistol will occasionally fire five more times without any user intervention. The negative consequences for multiplayer lovers should be obvious.

Problems don’t end with gameplay. Minor audio sync issues in the cutscenes occur sporadically from the moment the Master Chief steps out of his cryotube. Graphical issues range from flickering blue and clear glass to a complete lack of reflection from some surfaces when hit with a flashlight beam. Can’t navigate in the dark? Halo 2.0 will teach you how. One amusing bug that I encountered was during some dialog between the Chief and Cortana (who happened to be inhibiting a Covenant computer system). As the camera panned up to the Chief’s head, I momentarily was alarmed to see a gigantic, semitransparent copy of the Master Chief’s face staring up from the floor behind him. Lastly, the ability to instantly hide Halo with the hide command (Command – H) is gone. This handy ability allowed users to snap back and forth between Halo and the Finder, which I used to fine-tune my custom Halo profile settings in ATI Displays, check my email, and even converse over AIM during multiplayer matches without quitting the game.

And the Ugly
When Macsoft said that the universal binary update was unnecessary for PowerPC users, they should have advised them to avoid it like the plague. First and foremost, PowerPC users can expect a massive drop in their framerates (making Halo the first universal binary that isn’t faster than its predecessor on all machines). As you can see from the performance graph, while every Intel-based system saw an enormous performance increase moving from Halo 1.5.2 to Halo 2.0, my twin G5s experienced a sizeable drop in performance. Even on my fastest system, performance was extremely variable: while certain levels were practically unplayable at resolutions above 1024x768, others ran fairly smoothly (albeit slower than Halo 1.5.2). To add insult to injury, Halo does not cope well with the ATI Displays preference pane. When I enabled both FSAA and anisotropic filtering via ATI Displays, I experienced at least a 35% drop in framerate above and beyond the performance penalty associated with those effects, along with a lovely display of visual artifacts.

The Final Word
All in all, the Halo universal update is undeniably a flawed release. While it offers a substantial performance boost and minor bug fixes for Intel-based Macs, it offsets these benefits by essentially lambasting the entire loyal PowerPC fanbase and introducing some new bugs of its own. Serious multiplayer gamers will not be pleased by the fact that Macsoft still hasn’t given them the ability to chat between matches, and ought to find the new “auto-fire” bug (my own terminology) absolutely unacceptable. When it comes down to it, PowerPC users should clearly stay away from this update, but Intel users have a more interesting choice: should they pay five dollars for a somewhat flawed, feature-incomplete version of Halo for Mac OS X, or pay twice as much to boot into Windows in to enjoy Halo with higher framerates and a complete feature set? In all seriousness, I believe that the answer comes down to a simple matter of convenience—if users find that these bugs and lack of features are more annoying than a minute-long trip into Windows, then Macsoft is in serious trouble. However, if Macsoft addresses the problems with Halo 2.0 (which they certainly have the capability to do), then perhaps Mac gamers will stick to gaming in Mac OS X, at least for the time being.

With that said, we hope you found this article helpful and insightful, and as an added bonus, I managed to do some fairly extensive benchmarking with both versions of Halo (featured below). Enjoy!

Halo Benchmarks

Related Links
Bungie Studios
Westlake Interactive
Halo: Combat Evolved



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