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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

Hope to Receive it as a Gift

Game Profile
GENRE: First Person Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-4
November 15, 2001
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More in this Series
 Written by Leigh Culpin  on October 10, 2003

Special: Has the evolution come once again?

Initially intended as a third-person PC shooter, Halo has since been become a FPS and an Xbox release title (See initial review here), having made innumerable changes along the way. Now it's finally back in PC format thanks to the folks over at Gearbox, and it's certainly been an interesting transition.

Now since we don't typically do PC articles here at Gaming Target (not yet anyways) this is going to be more of a comparison article than a review, so rather than rating the game as a PC shooter, I'm going to be rating it on a scale relative to the Xbox version, which we gave 9.7 way back when in November of 2001. Rating the original Halo today I'd probably give it a 9.5 however, so we're going to work with that.

I tested the game on three different computer configurations to get a feel for how it performs under most home user circumstances. The low end machine was a 1.8 GHz P4 with 512 megs of RAM and a GeForce 2 GTS video card; the mid-powered box was a 2.4 GHz P4 with a gig of RAM and a GeForce 4 Ti4200 for video; the high-end box was a P4 2.8 GHz with a gig of RAM and an ATI 9800 Ultra video card. Each computer is running either Windows XP (low and mid-powered systems) or Windows 2000 (high powered system). While there's 1000 MHz between the high and low end systems, even the low end has nearly three times the computing power of the Xbox and the high-end machine should have the game running like the wind.

Sadly, this isn't the case ? while the P4 1.8 will run the game, it's at the lowest possible resolution (640x480, whereas the Xbox runs all games at 800x600 on a standard TV [for the technically illiterate: the higher the resolution the more pixels on the screen, so everything looks relatively smoother]), and the GeForce 2 won't let me get away with any of the settings above ?low?. In fact, with the dated card Specularity isn't even enabled ? meaning that nothing has any ?shine,? a feature which was a HUGE aspect of the original version. Everything now looks brutally flat shaded in comparison, and even the look of the shields and special effects (grenade explosions, weapons fire) has changed (due to all settings on low). Having said that, the frame rate is relatively smooth (depending on the options you've chosen) except in the most immensely populated areas of the game. The sound card tested on each system was very similar (the low-end machine had a slightly outdated Creative Live! X-Gamer card) and outputted excellent sound quality each time, so that isn't really a weighing factor in comparisons. Load times aren't an issue on any of the systems either, seeing as how even on this system they're exponentially faster than on the Xbox.

Secondly we have the p4 2.4 GHz, a smoking machine as of last year upon purchase. As it stands now Halo runs pretty well, and the GeForce 4 allows for specular options, making the game look significantly better. Frame rate becomes a problem over resolutions of 800x600 (again, the resolution of a standard TV), but the game still plays well enough. Of course it should since this system has approximately 3 and a half times the power of the Xbox, so why it can run comparably at best to the original game is a bit of oddity.

Lastly, the P4 2.8 GHz ? this machine runs the game significantly better than the other two systems, though while the game does generally run at 1280x1024 (twice the resolution of the low end system, making everything look significantly smoother) at times running anything higher than 1024x768 (basically a step down from the above) isn't the best idea if you actually intend to hit what you're shooting at. Again, VERY odd for a system that is 4 times as powerful as the two-year old Xbox.

Alright, so you can run the game with various visual appeal on a system that's a couple years old and only relatively well on one that's brand new. It's easy enough to find that out from reading the game box ? the minimum system specs are listed as a 733 MHz system (which corresponds to the Xbox's horsepower) and 128 megs of RAM ? I didn't have one of these systems available to me for testing, but quite frankly I wouldn't want to try it on this system anyways, as the game would likely eat it alive (for whatever reason). So why try it on three different systems? Well aside from influencing the enjoyment of the single player game, the different systems have a rather noticeable multiplayer performance difference.

With 6 people in the game, infinite grenades enabled, and all weapons and vehicles in place, the game runs relatively well on all systems over a LAN and even over the internet, though obviously some speed differences were present (nothing that effects gameplay too much mind you if you can get around the lack of specular on the low end system). However, when you start getting a few more players in the game (the maximum of 16 is still in place from the Xbox version) I (on my high-end machine) have a significant advantage on the poor bugger who got stuck on the low-end, though one that's only marginally present over the numerous players on the mid-ends (a whole lab of the mid-ends was available so a few LAN games were in order). This was a shame since the new levels are all VERY large (impressively so) and extremely fun with 16 people, but on the ?low-end? machine (which is clearly significantly better than the minimum system requirements) it wasn't the enjoyable experience that it really should've been.

Speaking of the new multiplayer levels, that isn't all that's present ? a ?rocket Warthog? (Warthog with a rocket launcher on the back, go figure) as well as stationary turrets and the option for multiplayer with Banshees ? an option which can be either extremely fun or extremely irritating since it unbalances the game to such a huge degree. Having said that, they're necessary in one of the new map but kind of excessive in most of the others (though as I said, if you're looking for some mindless fun, throw these suckers in and you'll have a hella good time). The old maps are the exact same as they were before, only you can use new multiplayer modes and the new vehicles as well.

There are in fact 6 new maps in total: Timberland (8-16 players recommended) has two bases on opposite sides of a rather large ?forest? filled with paths and hills, but isn't exactly the most inspirational of the new maps. Death Island (8-16 players again) basically takes the beach level from Halo, strips it down a bit, adds some turrets and banshees and makes for a huge and immensely enjoyable level (easily one of the better of the batch). Gephyrophobia (2-12 players) has a three story bridge and sniper perches on either side, which are accessible through Banshees. This is the level where the flyers are more or less required, and while it's fairly well designed, it's also somewhat repetitive after a while. Next up is Danger Canyon (4-16 players), a map which is both very large and especially fun with larger groups of people. Vehicles here are practically a must and really do add a lot to the mostly outdoors level. Infinity is a desert-tile type map and isn't as fun as some of the others: there's nothing wrong with it but the flow just isn't quite as present as it could have been, perhaps due to too many wide open areas. Lastly there's Ice Fields (4-16 players) which would have to be my second favourite (following Death Island) and is immensely fun with an excellent combination between wide open spaces and close-quarters areas ? there's even a bridge large enough to get a tank across, making for some brute force ?sniping?. As a whole the new multiplayer levels are all well designed and definitely add numerable hours to the gameplay experience (assuming you have a mid-powered system that is).

There are also new weapons for multiplayer ? the flamethrower and the Hunter's mortar-like plasma weapon. The flamethrower is ridiculously powerful but limited severely by a short range, making it great for defending flags, while the new plasma weapon has a great range and does a rather impressive amount of damage. If you're good at throwing grenades then you'll enjoy this weapon without question.

Speaking of throwing grenades, while the single player campaign hasn't been touched (levels are exactly the same as they were in the Xbox version, as are models, textures etc) there are some things that seem to have been subtly altered: it seems that the grenade arc has been altered somehow (which is extremely irritating) and the plasma grenades seem to take longer to blow, amongst other things. Also, with the visual options all turned all the way down cloaked players are completely invisible, giving them an obvious and very unfair advantage. The gameplay also seems to have been slowed down just a tad? even on the high end system things just felt a little less frantic, though perhaps it's due to having a finer degree of control with a mouse and keyboard. In any case, these things do affect play somewhat, though it's nothing evident enough to keep you from enjoying the game.

Graphically Halo PC looks almost identical to the Xbox version of the mid and high-level systems, though obviously nowhere close to the original on the low-end box. This raises the question of why the Xbox can run the game so smoothly when it has significantly less power than any of the other systems, and while the fact that all Xboxs are the same and most PC's are different is indeed a factor, it shouldn't impact gameplay so heavily. Having said that, if you can run it well, Halo still looks damn good for what is essentially a 2-year-old game.

Audibly Halo's 5.1 surround support is extraordinary even with an older sound card, assuming you have a sound system to supplement it. Vehicles and weapons fire blasting by, yells, taunts, and explosions all come to life around you adding a huge amount of depth to the game play. Having said that, it's not something that's terribly groundbreaking these days, despite being very well implemented and a rather welcome feature.

Internet play is perhaps the most important aspect of Halo PC ? while you could play the original online through Gamespy's Xbox Connect, it wasn't a supported feature and it never ran quite as well as one might hope. Assuming you have a powerful computer and a fast connection you will certain get your money's worth here ? since I own an Xbox and have Live! I obviously have a broadband connection, and as such wasn't able to test the game out on a 56 K modem, but again that's not necessarily something I'd want to try anyways.

So yes, there are a wide variety of technical disadvantages to having a computer, and seemingly few advantages since little has changed from the original game. There is one major one though ? keyboard and mouse. I myself am originally a PC gamer. I've always loved my Sega Genesis but since my days with the N64 I've returned to my Castle Wolfenstein and Doom roots, and not until the Xbox came out and I picked up Halo had I ever been able to use a controller half as effectively as a mouse and keyboard. But I've had Halo Xbox for two years and in that time I've gotten sickeningly good using two joysticks and a couple triggers, so what's the big deal with a keyboard and mouse? It's the best control scheme I've ever experienced, that's what. Playing Halo with an Xbox controller is great, but playing it with a mouse and keyboard is like playing it with your hands rather than a large piece of plastic. If you're a console gamer rather than a PC gamer at heart you may think I'm crazy, but if you've ever loved the way Half-Life, Unreal Tournament, Quake or Deus Ex responds with that crazy preciseness then you need to try Halo with these two simple yet wonderful input devices.

Assuming, however, that you aren't the Mouse/Keyboard combo's biggest fan, there is one additional Halo PC exclusive perk ? the ability to create your own content. As of this writing that software isn't available yet, but we're being assured that the ability to create your own multiplayer levels is on the way, hopefully along with support for new single player campaigns and player models. In any case, if the PC owning fan base is as strong as one would expect and hope, we may have a whole lot of incredible new multiplayer levels coming our way in the near future.

So how does one rate this game? Well, that's a difficult matter on a platform such as the PC. While most web sites rate it once only on their high end systems, I'm actually going to rate it three times ? once for each system it was tested on. This rating is meant to convey how strongly it plays in comparison with the original Xbox version and how worth your money it is, as well as how well it runs, the visual presentation and the online experience. So, without further ado:

  • Low-end System: 6.0 ? While it runs well enough to play, your money would be better spent buying a new computer. Besides that, if you have an Xbox you can already run it better anyways.
  • Med System: 8.0 ? There's enough new content here and the old is good enough to let some minor problems slip by
  • High-end System: 9.5 ? Ya, I know, that's what I gave the 2 year Xbox version and this is essentially the same game, but between the new maps and vehicles, the controls, the online play and more accessible LAN play (assuming that it's easier to get high end computers together over Xboxs) this game is pretty much the pinnacle of the first person shooter once again.

    So, overall, Halo's a mixed bag of tricks depending on whether or not your computer cost you an arm and a leg. Running down near the minimum system requirements (or even significantly higher) gives one the impression that the game should be entitled ?Halo: Combat Devolved,? yet running on a high-end machine with a mouse and keyboard can be quite the blessing. Is there enough new content here to warrant purchasing a game twice? If you can run it well, then hell ya ? especially since more content is on the way thanks to what will surely be a huge collection of user-supplied add-ons. If your PC isn't up to the task however, you may just want to wait for Halo 2 to get your extreme online action fix.

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