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Halo: Combat Evolved
Halobox
Developer(s) Bungie

Gearbox Software

Publisher(s) Microsoft Game Studios
Release date(s) November, 15, 2001
Platform(s) Xbox Windows
Rating(s)
ESRB 

06ESRB M 

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Halo: Combat Evolved, or just simply Halo, is a first-person shooter video game developed by Bungie Studios, and it is the first installment of the Halo trilogy. It was released on November 15, 2001 as a launch title for the Xbox gaming system,and is considered that platform's "killer application".There was more than five million copies that had sold worldwide. Halo is seconded only to its sequel Halo 2. Halo 2 beats halo in sales for the Xbox video game console.

The titular Halo is an enormous, ring-shaped artificial space habitat/planet, which (according to Bungie Studios) has a diameter of ten thousand kilometers. Halo sits at a Lagrange point between a planet and its moon. Rotation provides the station's gravity. In the game, the player assumes the role of the Master Chief, a "SPARTAN" super-soldier with MJOLNIR battle armor. He is accompanied by Cortana, an artificial intelligence who occupies the Master Chief's neural implant. Players battle various types of aliens on foot or in vehicles as they attempt to uncover the secrets of the Halo. The game has been heavly praised for its "engaging story".

It is widely considered to be one of the best and most influential first-person shooters on a game console. Halo's acclaim rivals that of even GoldenEye 007 and Half-Life. For one example Edge gave Halo a full score of ten out of ten. Nevertheless Halo has had it's critics, the game was tenth on GameSpy's "Top 25 Most Overrated Games of All Time"; one reviewer stated that the game "recycled the same areas over and over until you were bored to tears."

Gameplay

As a first-person shooter, Halo's gameplay is fundamentally similar to that of its peers, thus focusing on combat almost entirely in the first-person perspective. The player can move around and look up, down, or to either side. Halo is credited with presenting one of the first successful sets of controls for a first-person shooter on a video game console. The game features vehicles, ranging from armored trucks and hovercraft to giant tanks and aircraft, several of which can be controlled by the player; the game switches to the third-person perspective during vehicle use.

The player character is equipped with a damage-absorbing energy shield, in addition to hit points. Its charge appears as a blue bar in the upper-right corner of the game's heads-up display. When the shield is fully depleted, the player is highly vulnerable, and further damage reduces the character's health level. However, the shield will recharge if no further damage is sustained for a brief period of time.

Combatants

The game's main enemy force is the Covenant, an alliance of alien species. Their forces include Grunts, which are short, cowardly creatures, usually led by Elites, and who often flee in terror instead of fighting unless an Elite is present; Jackals, which have highly durable energy shields attached to their arms; Elites, fierce warriors protected by recharging energy shields much like the players own; and Hunters, large, powerful creatures with thick armor plates that cover the majority of their bodies.

A secondary enemy is The Flood, a parasitic alien life form that appears in three main variants. Infection Forms, the true form of the Flood, are fragile, but often travel in swarms. Combat Forms result from humans and Covenant Elites who are infested by Infection Forms, and have hideously deformed bodies. Bloated Carrier Forms serve as incubators for new Infection Forms. When wounded or near a potential victim, they explode suicidally to damage other nearby life forms and to release their spores. Battling the Flood, the Covenant, and the player are the Sentinels, robotic drones designed by a race called the Forerunners. Sentinels lack durability, but use powerful beam weapons and are immune to infection by the Flood.

The artificial intelligence in Halo has been favorably received. Enemies take cover and use suppressive fire and grenades. Some enemies retreat when their superiors are killed. The player is often aided by United Nations Space Command (UNSC) Marines, who offer ground support, such as manning gun turrets or riding shotgun with the player in vehicles.

Multiplayer

Because Halo was released before Xbox Live, online multiplayer games were not officially supported. The game instead uses local Ethernet or "system-link" that supports a maximum of sixteen players. This setup was revolutionary for a console game, but was often deemed impractical by critics. Because Halo lacks artificially intelligent game bots, LAN parties are needed to reach the game's sixteen-player limit. In addition to five customizable competitive multiplayer modes, two players may co-operatively play through the game's campaign. Halo's multiplayer components were generally well-received by critics.

Although the Xbox version of Halo lacks official support for online multiplayer play, XBConnect and GameSpy's Xbox Connect packet tunnelling software provide unofficial means around this limitation. The PC and Mac ports of Halo support online matches involving up to sixteen players and includes multiplayer maps not in the original Xbox release. However, co-operative play was removed because it would have required large amounts of recoding to implement. On March 15, 2004, Gearbox Software released Halo: Custom Edition for the PC, thus enabling players to use custom-made maps and game modifications. The Halo PC online still brings about 2500 players around peak gaming hours every day and there are special Leagues just for Halo clan matches.

Synopsis

Setting

Halo takes place in a science fiction universe created by Bungie Studios specifically for the game. According to the story, the overpopulation of Earth and the realization of superluminal travel have caused the human race to colonize other planets. A keystone of these efforts is the planet Reach, an interstellar naval yard responsible for building starships, and a hub of scientific and military activity. A secret military endeavor, dubbed the SPARTAN-II Project, was established on Reach to create an army of biologically-engineered, cyborg "super-soldiers". Thirty-two years before the beginning of the game, a technologically advanced collective of alien races, the Covenant, began to attack human settlements. Declaring humanity an affront to their gods, the Covenant launched a holy war against the human race. The United Nations Space Command experienced a series of crushing defeats, and, although the super-soldiers of the SPARTAN-II Project fought impressively against the Covenant, they were too few in number to turn the tides of war.

To prepare for a mission to discover the location of the Covenant homeworld by boarding one of its starships, SPARTAN-II soldiers were recalled to Reach for further augmentation. Two days before the mission was to begin, Covenant forces attacked Reach and destroyed the colony. A starship, the Pillar of Autumn, survived the onslaught and initiated a random jump to light speed, hoping to lead the enemy away from Earth.

Characters

The player character is "Master Chief Petty Officer John SPARTAN-117", one of the few (see Halo: The Fall of Reach and its sequels for more information) surviving super-soldiers of the SPARTAN-II project, and the main character of the story. Accompanying the Master Chief is the Pillar of Autumn's feminine artificial intelligence construct, Cortana, who resides in a neural implant connected to his battle armor which is codenamed MJOLNIR Mark V. The Pillar of Autumn's captain, Jacob Keyes, is also a major character. Playing an antagonistic role in the game's events is 343 Guilty Spark, an eccentric artificial intelligence responsible for monitoring and maintaining Halo's systems.

Plot

The story is presented through an instruction manual, scripted events and conversations during the game, and in-game cut scenes. The game begins as the Pillar of Autumn exits slip-space near a mysterious ring-shaped space station, called "Halo" by the Covenant. A Covenant fleet attacks and heavily damages the Pillar of Autumn. Jacob Keyes initiates "The Cole Protocol", a procedure designed to prevent the Covenant from learning the location of Earth. While Keyes prepares to land the ship on Halo, the Master Chief and Cortana escape via an escape pod, which crash lands on the ring.

Captain Keyes survives the Autumn's crash landing, but is captured by the Covenant. In the second and third levels of the game, the Master Chief and Cortana gather human survivors and rescue Captain Keyes, who then orders Master Chief to beat the Covenant to Halo's control center and to discover its purpose. The Master Chief and Cortana travel to a map room called the Silent Cartographer, which leads them to the control room. There, Cortana enters the systems and, discovering something urgent, suddenly sends the Master Chief to find Captain Keyes, while she stays behind. While searching for his commander, the Master Chief learns that the Covenant have accidentally released the Flood, a parasitic alien race capable of spreading itself by overwhelming and infesting other sentient lifeforms. Keyes falls victim to them while looking for a cache of weapons. The release of the Flood prompts 343 Guilty Spark to recruit the Master Chief in retrieving the Index, a device that will activate Halo and prevent the Flood from spreading beyond the facility.

Halo master chief 343 guilty spark screenshot

The MAster Chief (left) converses with 343 Guilty Spark

After the Master Chief retrieves and begins to use the Index, Cortana re-appears and warns him against the activation. She has discovered that Halo's defense system is a weapon designed to kill all sentient life in the galaxy, thus effectively starving the Flood. When confronted with this information, 343 Guilty Spark states that the installation technically only has a maximum radius of twenty-five thousand light-years, but that its pulse would trigger other similar installations as well, killing all sentient life in the galaxy.

With Cortana's help, and while fighting the Flood, the Covenant, and Guilty Spark's Sentinels, the Master Chief attempts to destroy Halo before 343 Guilty Spark activates it. Cortana discovers that the best way to destroy Halo is to cause the crashed Pillar of Autumn to self-destruct. However, Captain Keyes' authorization is required to destroy the ship. By the time that they reach Keyes, he has been infested and turned into a Brain Flood. The Master Chief retrieves Keyes' neural implants directly from his brain, and Cortana activates the Autumn's self-destruct sequence. However, 343 Guilty Spark reappears and deactivates the countdown, discovering the record of human history in the process. The Master Chief manually causes the Pillar of Autumn's fusion reactors to begin to melt down, giving him and Cortana only fifteen minutes to escape. The Master Chief and Cortana flee in a UNSC Longsword fighter, before Halo explodes. The ending reveals that 343 Guilty Spark survives the explosion of Halo, and the story is continued in Halo 2.

Soundtrack

Halo's soundtrack was created by Bungie Studios' audio director, Martin O'Donnell, and received enthusiastic praise from many critics. O'Donnell has stated that his goal was to provide "a feeling of importance, weight, and sense of the 'ancient'." 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)."

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.... the 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." 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."

Development

First official halo screenshot

The first official sceenshot of Halo

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

At E3 2000, the first trailer of Halo was well-received. The version shown there differed greatly from the one exhibited previously, marking the first major overhaul in the game's development. 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. 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."

In accordance with rumors, Microsoft announced on June 19, 2000 that it had acquired Bungie Studios. Halo became an exclusive game for Microsoft's Xbox video game console, and Bungie Studios rewrote the game's engine, heavily altering its presentation and turning it into a first-person shooter. Originally a key element, the game's online multiplayer component was dropped because Xbox Live was unfinished at the time of Halo's release. While a playable demonstration of the game at Gamestock 2001 was well-received, critics had mixed reactions to its exhibition at E3 2001. The game was released in North America simultaneously with the Xbox, on November 15, 2001.

A Halo port for Windows was announced to be under development by Gearbox Software on July 12, 2002. Its showing at E3 2003 was positively received by some critics, with skepticism from others. It released on September 30, 2003, including support for online multiplayer play and featuring sharper graphics, but possessing compatibility issues that caused poor performance. Halo was later released for Mac OS X on December 11, 2003.

Reception

Halo broke sales records; by April 8, 2002, one million units had been sold; this pace was faster than that of any previous sixth-generation console game. During the first two months following Halo's release, the game sold with more than fifty percent of Xbox consoles. Halo's retail price remained at US$49.99 until November 30, 2003. By July 14, 2003, the game had sold three million copies worldwide, and by January 28, 2004, it had reached four million copies. Since its release on November 15, 2001, Halo has sold over five million copies worldwide.

Halo was critically acclaimed, earning an overall score of 97% on Metacritic. Electronic Gaming Monthly observed, "This game has me totally mesmerized ...  engages your intellect on a whole different level," and awarded the game a perfect score. GameSpot claimed that "Halo's single-player game is worth picking up an Xbox for alone," commenting, "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." IGN remarked similarly, calling Halo a "can't miss, no-brainer, sure thing, five star, triple A game." Edge called it "the most important launch game for any console, ever," awarding it a 10 out of 10 score. The game received numerous Game of the Year awards, including those of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Edge, and IGN. 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.

Although Halo's overall reception was positive, the game was criticized for its level design. IGN wrote that "the middle third of the game basically has ... the same level over again." GameSpy notably disliked the game, awarding it 10th place on its "Top 25 Most Overrated Games of All Time" list, stating that the levels often "degenerated into recycling the same areas over and over until you were bored to tears," in addition to complaining about the multiplayer's lack of online functionality. Noting the level design as a problem, an article on Game Studies.org stated that the game still "triumphs in understanding the anatomy of the FPS," and is "not so much about 'combat evolved' as the subtitle suggests, but about 'genre evolved'."

Halo's PC rendition was subject to mixed reactions, receiving a score of 83% on Metacritic. While GameSpot claimed that it was "still an incredible action game ... [and] a true classic" while receiving a 9.0 out of 10.  It received a score of 8.2 out of 10 from IGN, remarking "if you've played the game on the Xbox, there's not much for you here." Eurogamer called the game "a missed opportunity," but stated that the online multiplayer component was "a massive draw .. for Halo veterans."

Legacy

Halo's influence has been called "undeniable", and its "numerous subtle innovations have been borrowed by countless other games since." The game is often cited as the main reason for the Xbox's success, and it began what is commonly known as the system's flagship franchise. Through criteria including revenue, average review scores, commentary, spin-offs and other elements, Halo has been estimated as the top second game of the twenty-first century, behind only Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The game's popularity sparked the usage of terms like "Halo clone" and "Halo killer". Notably, the game Killzone was billed as a "Halo killer". The Halo engine has been used for the game Stubbs the Zombie in "Rebel Without a Pulse".

Halo has been featured at both Major League Gaming and the World Cyber Games. In machinima, the game was used as the basis for the extremely popular 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, earning it the distinction of the fastest-selling United States media product in history.

Novelization

The Halo universe has been adapted several times into novel form. The first such adaptation was Halo: The Fall of Reach, a prequel to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Published in October 2001, this novel was written by Eric Nylund, who reportedly finished it in seven weeks. The novel eventually became a Publishers Weekly bestseller with nearly two hundred thousand copies sold. The following novel, entitled Halo: The Flood, is a tie-in of 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. 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 sixteen weeks, it was published in December 2003. Nylund also wrote the fourth novel, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, which was released October 31, 2006. The next novel, however will be written by Joseph Staten and will be called Halo: Contact Harvest.

Another adaptation is the Halo Graphic Novel, a collection of four short stories released in July 2006. It was written and illustrated by well-known graphic novelists Lee Hammock, Jay Faerber, Tsutomu Nihei, Brett Lewis, Simon Bisley, Ed Lee and Jean Giraud. Bungie Studios regards Halo's adaptations as canon.

Furthermore, Marvel Comics is scheduled to produce a limited-run Halo monthly comic starting in July, 2007.

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