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Publisher: MacSoft    Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.2.8    CPU: G4 @ 800 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 1400 MB    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM


Halo: Combat Evolved
December 12, 2003 | Jean-Luc Dinsdale
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The gameís level design is nice, but, overall, not outstanding. There is a decent variety of maps, from verdant fields to snowy meadows, that transition smoothly from vast outdoor worlds to small, dark, claustrophobic indoor locations. While the outdoor maps are gorgeous and complement the gameís AI, the indoor maps feel cramped, and arenít particularly pretty to look at, due to repetitious geometric details and textures. On the bright side, however, the gameís maps load interactively, a la Dungeon Siege, so you never end up waiting for your computer to load the next section of a map (Star Trek game franchises take note). The only time I encountered the gameís load screen was at the very beginning of a level, where loading only took two or three seconds.

Another blow against Halo is its game saving features. Halo charts playerís progress through a series of checkpoints, which advance when an objective has been filled, or some new ground is crossed in the game. The gameís saving structure allows players to save specific checkpoints to disk so they can be recalled later. When a player dies, the options available are to continue from the last checkpoint or restart the level. Problem is, however, that due to the fact that the levels load interactively, it isnít always obvious when an objective has been reached and the game gets saved. Also, since the game only saves one checkpoint, itís impossible for players to back up two or three checkpoints earlier unless you specifically stop every few minutes and save your game.

Graphics
Haloís graphics are top-notch. The outdoor environments are particularly pretty to look at, thanks to Westlake Interactiveís solid work of bringing pixel and vertex shaders in the game Ė a first in Mac history. Texture maps have a real depth to them, shadow falloff and density behave like they do in real life, and shiny objects actually feel like they reflect ambient light rather than simply mirror it.

The visual effects in the game are spectacular, and tell of an impressive attention to detail. Explosions feature realistic lighting effects and glow. Bright objects bloom in distant fog. The really nice touches are the small details that donít immediately catch your eye Ė how the ocean glimmers in the distance, how your bullets spark when you fire at a solid object, or how, when you fire a Needler, the shards of glass will explode in a little lens flare and a wispy dark puff of smoke that quickly dissipates.

Unfortunately, the game does have graphical misgivings. While the textures were all up-resíed for modern graphics cards, polygon counts werenít, and feature a slightly blocky feel that dates the game. And while youíd expect two-year-old software to play relatively well on a new computer, frame rates on my Dual 2.0 GHz G5, equipped with a Radeon 9800 Pro, courtesy of ATI, were surprisingly low. Playing at resolutions higher than 1024x768, with both vertex and pixel shading enabled and all the effects turned up to max, caused significant slowdowns in frame rate. While the gameís minimum system requirements call for an 800 Mhz Mac with a powerful graphics card, a 1 Ghz is recommended, which puts the game out of reach of a lot of players I know.

The gameís biggest disappointment, however, is its lack of support for full scene anti-aliasing. While thereís an option to set FSAA in the opening screen, turning that feature on will screw up the graphics and slow the frame rate down to a slugís pace. MacSoft claims that the problem is due to a bug in ATIís drivers, and will need to be addressed with both updated ATI drivers and a patch from MacSoft at a later date. The FSAA issue is a real bummer Ė as you can tell by the screenshots accompanying this review, the incredible work put into the textures and shaders are overshadowed by the blocky edges on all the objects on screen.

Sound
On the other hand, the gameís sound is magnificent. The gameís sound design and music composition were both executed by Marty OíDonnel, who also designed and composed the audio for Myth I and II, and Oni. The result is a rich and deep audio track that matches the attention to detail in the graphics department.

Halo features a vast and exciting score, filled with life and tension. It was orchestrated with a heavy emphasis on strings, percussion, and orchestral singing, and is as effective in setting the mood in this game as Oniís electronic score. The gameís voice actors were all well cast, and a great amount of work was put into the multitudinous lines of dialogue. As mentioned earlier, the Covenantís dialogue is also particularly effective; the unintelligible aural expressions and emotions coming from the more advanced alien races are as expressive as the English dialogue of the Grunts.

The sound work in Halo is arguably the most impressive effort of any game Iíve encountered. If youíre curious about the huge effort that went into the sound design for Halo, Marty has written an in-depth post-mortem of his work in this game, which can be found here .



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