Halo: Combat Evolved

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Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo - Combat Evolved (XBox version - box art).jpg
Artwork for U.S. and European releases
Developer(s) Bungie[a]
Publisher(s) Microsoft Game Studios[b]
Director(s) Jason Jones
Producer(s) Hamilton Chu
Designer(s) John Howard
Artist(s) Marcus Lehto
Composer(s)
Series Halo
Platform(s)
Release
Genre(s) First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Halo: Combat Evolved is a 2001 military science fiction first-person shooter video game developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The first game of the Halo franchise, it was released as a launch title for the Xbox gaming system on November 15, 2001.[2] More than five million copies were sold worldwide by November 2005.[7] Microsoft released versions of the game for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X in 2003, and the surrounding storyline was adapted and elaborated into a series of novels, comic books, and live-action web series. The game was later released as a downloadable Xbox Original for the Xbox 360. A high-definition remake, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, was released for Xbox 360 on the 10th anniversary of the original game's launch, and was rereleased as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection on November 11, 2014, for the Xbox One.[8]

Halo is set in the twenty-sixth century, with the player assuming the role of the Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier. The player is accompanied by Cortana, an artificial intelligence who occupies the Master Chief's neural interface. Players battle various aliens as they attempt to uncover the secrets of the eponymous Halo, a ring-shaped artificial world. The game has been commended for elements such as its story, the variety of strategies players can employ, and its multiplayer mode;[9][10][11] however, the repetitive nature of its level design was criticized by some reviewers.[9][12]

Halo has been praised as one of the greatest video games of all time,[13][14] and was ranked by IGN as the fourth-best first-person shooter made.[15] The game's popularity has led to labels such as "Halo clone" and "Halo killer", applied respectively to games either similar to or anticipated to be better than it.[16][17] In addition, the game inspired and was used in the fan-created Red vs. Blue video series, which is credited as the "first big success" of machinima (the technique of using real-time 3D engines, often from video games, to create animated films).[18]

Gameplay[edit]

The Master Chief fires his MA5B Assault Rifle at a pack of Grunts on the level "Halo." Ammunition, health, and motion sensor displays are visible in the corners of the screen.

As a first-person shooter (FPS), the gameplay of Halo: Combat Evolved is similar to other games in the genre, focusing on combat in a 3D environment that is viewed almost entirely from a first-person view. The player can move around and look up, down, left, or right.[19] The game features vehicles, ranging from armored jeeps and tanks to alien hovercraft and aircraft, many of which can be controlled by the player. The game switches to a third-person perspective during vehicle use for pilots and mounted gun operators; passengers maintain a first-person view.[10] The game's heads-up display includes a "motion tracker" that registers moving allies, moving or firing enemies, and vehicles, in a certain radius of the player.[20]

The player character is equipped with an energy shield which nullifies damage from weapons fire and forceful impacts. The shield's charge appears as a blue bar in the corner of the game's heads-up display, and it automatically recharges if no damage is sustained for a brief period.[20] When the shield is fully depleted, the player becomes highly vulnerable, and further damage reduces the hit points of a secondary health meter.[9] When this health meter reaches zero, the character dies and the game reloads from a saved checkpoint. Health can be replenished through the collection of health packs scattered around the game's levels.[20]

Halo's arsenal consists of weapons from science fiction. The game has been praised for giving each weapon a unique purpose, thus making each useful in different scenarios.[21] For example, plasma weapons need time to cool if fired too rapidly, but cannot be reloaded and must be discarded upon depletion of their batteries, whereas conventional firearms cannot overheat, but require reloading and ammunition. In contrast to the large weapon inventories of contemporary FPS games, Halo players may carry only two weapons at once, calling for strategy when managing firearms.[11]

Halo departs from traditional FPS conventions by not forcing the player character to holster its firearm before deploying grenades or melee-range blunt instruments; instead, both attacks can be utilized while a gun is still equipped, supplanting or supplementing small-arms fire.[20] Like the game's other weapons, the two types of grenades differ; the fragmentation grenade bounces and detonates quickly, whereas the plasma grenade adheres to targets before exploding.[22][23]

Combatants[edit]

The game's main enemy force is the Covenant, a group of alien species allied by belief in a common religion. Their forces include Elites, fierce warriors protected by recharging energy shields similar to the player's own; Grunts, which are short, cowardly creatures who are usually led by Elites in battle, and often flee in terror instead of fighting in the absence of a leading Elite; Jackals, originally space pirates, who wear a highly durable energy shield on one arm and a form of handgun on the other; and Hunters, large, powerful creatures composed of small worm-like colonies with thick armor plates that cover the majority of their bodies and a large assault cannon that fires explosive rounds of green plasma.[24]

A secondary enemy is the Flood, a parasitic alien life form that appears in three main variants. Spores, the true form of the Flood, are fragile beings and do little damage individually, but often travel in swarms of several dozen in order to infect their prey. Flood warriors result from humans and Covenant Elites who have been infected by the spores, and have deformed bodies as a result. Carriers serve as walking incubators for spores; when wounded or near a potential victim, they explode to damage other nearby life-forms and to release their spores.[25]

Another group of enemies are the Sentinels: robotic drones designed by an extinct race called the Forerunners to protect their structures and prevent Flood outbreaks. Sentinels are able to hover around in enclosed spaces and produce an energy shield when under attack. They lack durability, but use powerful laser beam weapons and are immune to infection by the Flood.[25]

The artificial intelligence in Halo has been favorably received.[26] The player is often aided by United Nations Space Command (UNSC) Marines, who offer ground support, such as manning gun turrets or riding shotgun while the player is driving a vehicle.[21]

Multiplayer[edit]

A split screen mode allows two players to cooperatively play through Halo's campaign.[19] The game also includes five competitive multiplayer modes, which all can be customized, for between two and 16 players; up to four players may play split-screen on one Xbox, and further players can join using a "System Link" feature that allows up to four Xbox consoles to be connected together into a local area network.[19] Halo lacks artificially intelligent game bots, and was released before the launch of the Xbox Live online multiplayer service; therefore LAN parties are needed to reach the game's 16-player limit,[27] a setup that was a first for a console game, but was often deemed impractical by critics.[21] Aside from this limitation, Halo's multiplayer components were generally well received by critics, and it is widely considered one of the best multiplayer games of all time.[10][11][28]

Although the Xbox version of Halo lacks official support for online multiplayer play, third-party packet tunneling software provide unofficial ways around this limitation.[29] The Windows and Macintosh ports of Halo support online matches involving up to 16 players and include multiplayer maps not in the original Xbox release.[30] However, co-operative play was removed from the ports because it would have required large amounts of recoding to implement.[31] In April 2014, it was announced that GameSpy's servers and matchmaking, on which Halo PC relied, would be shut down by May 31 of the same year.[32] A team of fans and Bungie employees announced they would produce a patch for the game to keep its multiplayer servers online.[33] The patch was released on May 16, 2014.[34]

Halo: Custom Edition[edit]

On March 15, 2004, Gearbox Software released Halo: Custom Edition for Windows, which enabled players to use custom-made maps and game modifications via the Halo Editing Kit developed by Bungie.[35] Halo: Custom Edition is multiplayer-only, and requires an original copy of Halo for PC to install.[35]

Synopsis[edit]

Setting[edit]

Halo: Combat Evolved takes place in a 26th century science fiction setting. According to the backstory, faster-than-light travel called slipspace allowed the human race to colonize planets other than Earth. A keystone of these efforts is the planet Reach, an interstellar naval yard and a hub of scientific and military activity.[20] A secret military endeavor, dubbed the SPARTAN Project, is established on Reach to create an army of biologically engineered, cyborg "supersoldiers." Twenty-seven years before the beginning of the game, a technologically advanced collective of alien races called the Covenant attack and destroy human worlds, declaring humanity an affront to their gods. Humanity's military experiences a series of crushing defeats; although the supersoldiers of the SPARTAN-II Project are effective against the Covenant, they are too few in numbers to turn the tide of the war.[20] Two days before a mission to discover the location of the Covenant's homeworld, Covenant forces attack Reach and destroy the colony. The starship Pillar of Autumn escapes the planet with the SPARTAN-II Master Chief on board. The ship initiates a jump to slipspace (similar to hyperspace), hoping to lead the enemy away from Earth.[36][37]

Plot[edit]

The game opens as the Pillar of Autumn exits slipspace, finding a large alien ringworld of unknown origin. A Covenant fleet attacks and heavily damages the Pillar of Autumn. Following protocol, Autumn's captain Jacob Keyes entrusts the ship's artificial intelligence (AI) Cortana to Master Chief to prevent the Covenant from discovering the location of Earth. Cortana and the ship's crew escape the Autumn via escape pods to the ringworld's surface while Keyes attempts to land the ship on the ring. On the ground, Master Chief and Cortana rescue other survivors. Learning Keyes has been captured by the Covenant, Master Chief and a group of Marines infiltrate the Covenant cruiser Truth and Reconciliation to rescue him. Keyes reveals the ringworld is called "Halo" by the Covenant, and that they believe it is a kind of weapon. Intent on stopping the Covenant from using Halo, Master Chief and Cortana fight their way to the control room, where Cortana enters Halo's computer systems. She urgently sends Master Chief to find and stop Keyes, who was looking for a weapons cache elsewhere on the ring.

Reaching the captain's location, Master Chief finds signs of a battle and encounters a new enemy—a parasite known as the Flood. The release of the Flood prompts Halo's caretaker, the AI 343 Guilty Spark, to contact Master Chief and enlist his help in accessing the ring's Activation Index in order to activate the ring's defenses. After Master Chief retrieves the Index and prepares to use it, Cortana re-appears and warns him against the activation. She has discovered that Halo doesn't kill the Flood, but their food—activating the ring would wipe the galaxy of the sentient life the Flood infests.

Defying 343 Guilty Spark, who sends his robotic Sentinels to stop them, Master Chief and Cortana decide to destroy Halo to prevent its activation. Cortana decides the best way to destroy the ring is causing Pillar of Autumn's fusion reactor to go critical, but she requires the command codes of Captain Keyes. Master Chief returns to Truth and Reconciliation, fighting through Covenant and Flood, but discovers Captain Keyes has been assimilated by the Flood. Retrieving the implants, Master Chief returns to Autumn, but his attempts to activate the destruct sequence is stopped by 343 Guilty Spark. Instead, Master Chief manually destabilizes the ship's reactors, before narrowly escaping the blast using a fighter, apparently the only survivors. In a brief post-credits scene, 343 Guilty Spark is seen having survived Halo's destruction.

Development[edit]

In 1997, Bungie was a game development team of roughly 15 people working out of offices in south Chicago, Illinois. While the studio worked on Myth II: Soulblighter, a small group began work on a side project, originally envisioned as a science-fiction based real-time strategy game with a strong focus on realistic physics simulations and three-dimensional terrain.[38] The project was first called Monkey Nuts, then renamed Blam! when project lead Jason Jones could not bring himself to tell his mother the original name.[39][40]

On July 21, 1999, during the Macworld Conference & Expo, Steve Jobs announced that Halo would be released for classic Mac OS and Windows simultaneously.[41] Before this public announcement, game industry journalists under a non-disclosure agreement had previewed the game in a private showing during E3 1999,[42] and were reportedly amazed.[41][42] Bungie later stated an even earlier development build of the game centered on real-time strategy and was "basically Myth in a sci-fi universe."[43]

The first official screenshot of Halo.

At E3 2000, the first trailer of Halo was well received.[44] The version shown there differed greatly from the one exhibited previously, marking the first major overhaul in the game's development.[45] At this point, Halo was a third-person action game, in which a transport starship crashlands on a mysterious ring world that orbits a star. Early versions of Covenant aliens appear in great numbers and loot what they can, and war erupts between them and the humans. Unable to match the technologically advanced alien race, the humans on the ring world resort to guerrilla warfare.[46] This version of the game featured Halo-specific fauna, which were later dropped because of design difficulties and the creatures' "detract[ion] from the surprise, drama and impact of the Flood."[47]

As rumors had predicted,[48] Microsoft announced on June 19, 2000, that it had acquired Bungie.[49] Originally a key element, the game's online multiplayer component was dropped because Xbox Live would be unfinished at the time of Halo's release. While a playable demonstration of the game at Gamestock 2001 was well-received,[50] critics had mixed reactions to its exhibition at E3 2001.[51][52][53] The game was released in North America simultaneously with the Xbox, on November 15, 2001;[2] the "Combat Evolved" subtitle was an addition by marketers at Microsoft, who felt that Halo alone was not a descriptive enough title to compete with other military-themed games.[54]

On July 12, 2002, a Halo port for Windows was announced to be under development by Gearbox Software.[55] Its showing at E3 2003 was positively received by some critics,[56][57] with skepticism by others.[58] It was released on September 30, 2003,[4] and included support for online multiplayer play and featured sharper graphics, but had compatibility issues that caused poor performance.[30][59] Halo was later released for Mac OS X on December 11, 2003.[5] On December 4, 2007, the game became available for the Xbox 360 via download from the Xbox Live Marketplace.[60]

Audio[edit]

Halo's soundtrack was created by Bungie's audio director, Martin O'Donnell, and received enthusiastic praise from many critics.[9][10][21][61] Bungie's Director of cinematics, Joseph Staten, told O'Donnell that "the music should give a feeling of importance, weight, and sense of the 'ancient' to the visuals of Halo".[62] He designed the music so that it "could be dissembled and remixed in such a way that would give [him] multiple, interchangeable loops that could be randomly recombined in order to keep the piece interesting as well as a variable length." Development involved the creation of "alternative middle sections that could be transitioned to if the game called for such a change (i.e. less or more intense)."[63]

O'Donnell has remarked that he "sat with the level designers and 'spotted' the level as though it was a movie, with the knowledge that the music would have to be malleable rather than static.... [T]he level designer would tell me what he hoped a player would feel at certain points or after accomplishing certain tasks." Based on this information, O'Donnell would "go back and develop appropriate music cues, then have the designer script the cues into the level, and then we'd play through it to see if it worked as desired."[63] He explained that the use of music in Halo is sparse because he believes that "[music] is best used in a game to quicken the emotional state of the player and it works best when used least," and that "[if] music is constantly playing it tends to become sonic wallpaper and loses its impact when it is needed to truly enhance some dramatic component of game play."[64]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
Aggregator Score
Metacritic (Xbox) 97/100[2]
(PC) 83/100[4]
Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 4/5 stars[65]
Edge 10/10[11]
Eurogamer 8/10[12]
Game Informer 9.5/10[66]
GameSpot 9.7/10[21]
GameSpy 80/100[9]
IGN 9.7/10[10]

Halo received critical acclaim, according to video game aggregator Metacritc, based on reviews from 68 professional critics.[2] Ste Curran's review for Edge[67] praised the game as "the most important launch game for any console, ever" and commented, "GoldenEye was the standard for multiplayer console combat. It has been surpassed."[11] GameSpot claimed that "Halo's single-player game is worth picking up an Xbox for alone," concluding, "Not only is this easily the best of the Xbox launch games, but it's easily one of the best shooters ever, on any platform."[21] IGN remarked similarly, calling Halo a "can't miss, no-brainer, sure thing, five star, triple A game."[10] AllGame editor Jonathan Licata praised Bungie for doing "a remarkable job with Halo, taking many successful elements from previous standouts in the genre to make one very playable game".[65] Among the specific aspects that reviewers praised were the balance of weapons, the role of drivable vehicles,[5][10] and the artificial intelligence of enemies.[5][11]

The game received numerous Game of the Year awards, including those of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences,[68] Electronic Gaming Monthly, Edge, and IGN.[69] The British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded Halo "Best Console Game," and Rolling Stone presented it with their "Best Original Soundtrack" award. According to Xbox.com, the game received a total of 48 awards.[69]

Although Halo's overall reception was largely positive, the game received criticism for its level design. GameSpy commented, "you'll trudge through countless hallways and control rooms that all look exactly the same, fighting identical-looking groups of enemies over and over and over...it is simply frustrating to see a game with such groundbreaking sequences too often degenerate [into] this kind of mindless, repetitive action."[9] Similarly, an article on Game Studies.org remarked, "In the latter part of the game, the scenarios rely on repetition and quantity rather than innovativeness and quality."[70] Eurogamer concluded, "Halo is very much a game of two halves. The first half is fast, exciting, beautifully designed and constantly full of surprises. The second half is festooned with gobsmacking plot twists and great cinematics but let down by repetitive paint by numbers level design."[12] Halo was released prior to the launch of Xbox Live, and the lack of both online multiplayer and bots to simulate human players was criticised by GameSpy;[9] in 2003 GameSpy included Halo in a list of "Top 25 Most Overrated Games of All Time."[29]

Halo's PC port garnered mixed reactions and received a score of 83% on Metacritic.[4] GameSpot stated that it was "still an incredible action game ... [and] a true classic," awarding it 9.0 out of 10.[59] It received a score of 8.2 out of 10 from IGN, who stated, "If you've played the game on the Xbox, there's not much for you here."[30] Eurogamer called the game "a missed opportunity," but stated that the online multiplayer component was "a massive draw ... for Halo veterans."[31]

Commercial performance[edit]

On its release Halo broke sales records; by April 8, 2002, a little under five months after its release, one million units had been sold: this pace was faster than that of any previous sixth-generation console game.[71] During the two months following Halo's release, the game sold alongside more than fifty percent of Xbox consoles.[72] By July 14, 2003, the game had sold three million copies worldwide,[73] and by January 28, 2004, it had reached four million copies.[74] As of November 9, 2005, Halo has sold over five million copies worldwide.[7] By July 2006, its Xbox version had sold 4.2 million copies and earned $170 million in the United States alone. Next Generation ranked it as the second highest-selling game launched for the PlayStation 2, Xbox or GameCube between January 2000 and July 2006 in that country.[75] Its computer version sold 670,000 copies and earned $22.2 million in the United States by August 2006.[76]

Legacy[edit]

According to GameSpot, Halo's "numerous subtle innovations have been borrowed by countless other games since."[77] The game is often cited as the main reason for the Xbox's success,[78] and it began what is commonly regarded as the system's flagship franchise.[79] Game designer Vox Day credited the game with using science-fiction environments to follow Half-Life in eschewing static levels and a similarity to dungeon crawls, which the FPS genre inherited from Akalabeth. Day further wrote that Halo spurred a sustained trend of many other FPS console games.[80] In July 2006, Next-Gen.biz published an article estimating Halo as the second-highest revenue-generating 21st century console video game in the United States, behind Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.[81] The game's popularity sparked the usage of terms like "Halo clone"[82][83][84] and "Halo killer."[17] The Halo engine has been used for the game Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse.[85]

Halo has been featured at both Major League Gaming and the World Cyber Games.[86][87] In machinima, the game was used as the basis for the popular web series Red vs. Blue. The game's sequel, Halo 2, made US$125 million with unit sales of 2.38 million on the first day of its release,[88] earning it the distinction of the fastest-selling United States media product in history.[89] Three years later, Halo 3 shattered that record with the biggest opening day in entertainment history, taking in US$170 million in its first 24 hours.[90]

Adaptations[edit]

The story surrounding Halo: Combat Evolved has been adapted into novels, the first of which was Halo: The Fall of Reach, a prequel. Published in October 2001, this novel was written by Eric Nylund, who reportedly completed it in seven weeks.[91] The novel became a Publishers Weekly bestseller with almost two hundred thousand copies sold.[92] The following novel, entitled Halo: The Flood, is a tie-in to Halo: Combat Evolved, describing not only the experiences of the Master Chief, but also those of other characters on Installation 04. Written by William C. Dietz, this novel appeared on the Publishers Weekly bestsellers list during May 2003.[93] Nylund returned to write the third novel, Halo: First Strike, which takes place between the events of Halo: Combat Evolved and those of Halo 2. Written in 16 weeks,[92] it was published in December 2003.[94] Later novels, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx (written by Nylund and released on October 31, 2006)[95] and Halo: Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten further extended the Halo storyline. More recently, a collection of new stories in Halo: Evolutions and Greg Bear's first book of his Forerunner series Halo: Cryptum was released continuing to flesh out the stories. Two additional books: Karen Traviss's Halo: Glasslands, the first in a new Post-Halo 3 series and Greg Bear's Book 2 of his Forerunner series entitled Halo: Primordium will be released in the near future.

Another adaptation is The Halo Graphic Novel, a collection of four short stories released by Marvel Comics in July 2006.[96] It was written and illustrated by Lee Hammock, Jay Faerber, Tsutomu Nihei, Brett Lewis, Simon Bisley, Ed Lee and Jean Giraud. Bungie regards Halo's adaptations as canon.[97] Marvel subsequently released the four-issue miniseries Halo: Uprising, which was written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Alex Maleev, which premiered in August 2007. Halo Wars: Genesis, a supplemental graphic novel featuring art by Graeme Devine and Eric Nylund, was included with Halo Wars: Limited Edition in March 2009. Marvel then published Halo: Helljumper, a five-issue miniseries written by Peter David and illustrated by Eric Nguyen, which premiered in July 2009. Additionally Halo: Blood Line and Halo: Fall of Reach were released, the latter being a comic retelling of the novel Halo: The Fall of Reach premiered in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Remake[edit]

During the Microsoft press conference at the 2011 E3 Expo, it was revealed that Halo: Combat Evolved would be remade by 343 Industries with an in-house game engine and would include achievements, Terminals, and Skulls. It was released for the Xbox 360 on November 15, 2011. The release date marks the 10th anniversary of the original game's release.[98] The remastered version of the original game includes online multiplayer and cooperative play functionality.[99] The remake is also the first Halo game to include Kinect support.[100] The game is a mix of two game engines—the original Halo engine created by Bungie which provides gameplay and a new engine created by 343 and Saber which is responsible for improved graphics—and the player is able to switch between the improved and classic modes of the game at any time.[101] The game's multiplayer component uses the Halo: Reach gameplay engine, tailored with a map playlist to mimic the original multiplayer, as opposed to including the original game's multiplayer mode.

The Anniversary version of the game is the version contained in The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One. The single-player game is identical to the Xbox 360 version, including the ability to swap between the updated "anniversary" graphics and the original game graphics. However, unlike the Xbox 360 release, the multiplayer component is the original multiplayer engine from Combat Evolved as opposed to Halo: Reach and is playable over Xbox Live, something not possible until The Master Chief Collection.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Additional work on the Windows and Mac OS X versions was done by Gearbox Software and Westlake Interactive respectively.
  2. ^ Published by MacSoft on Mac OS X.

References[edit]

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