E3 2001 Preshow Hands-on: Halo

We went up to Microsoft and played a little capture the flag with the Halo team.

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The Halo team at Bungie has remained pretty tight-lipped about its upcoming first-person shooter for the Xbox ever since showing the game for the first time at Gamestock back in March. Back then, all that was on display was one level and fairly basic AI. Since March, however, the game has come a long way, and the version we played, which is set to be unleashed upon the industry at the E3 convention in Los Angeles, contained improvements in just about every area possible.

What really sticks out in Halo is its AI. You'll be finding squads of marines to team up with in your common fight against Covenant forces. You don't directly control the marines. They'll take on the Covenant, jump into jeeps, and even retreat without your help. In all, the final product should be able to handle 30 AI-based characters at once, making the potential for huge, epic battles a great one. In addition, smaller, weaker units will know to team up with stronger units for survival, and to retreat when the tougher units are overpowered. Also, opponents will react differently depending on what they know. As a Bungie representative put it, "An AI who finds the corpse of a fallen comrade reacts very differently from an AI who catches you in the act of firing the bullet that killed him." Also, marines and enemies alike will understand how to properly use their weapons, knowing when to fire in short, controlled bursts and when to open up and lay down some fully automatic fire. The game now features hand grenades, which create some nice explosion effects and really cause enemies (and bodies) to fly around as a result of the blast.

We were also fortunate enough to see one of Halo's multiplayer modes, a 16-player capture the flag mode. The multiplayer is achieved by networking Xbox units together and playing a four-player split-screen game on each unit. The jeep made for some interesting teamplay tactics, as up to three people can be in a jeep at any one time. One player can drive while using his wider view to spot targets for the other two players, one of whom sits in the passenger seat while the other mans the rear-mounted gun turret. The framerate took a hit during large explosions, but it was pretty minor and will hopefully be cleaned up by the time the game is released. We'll have word on some of the game's other multiplayer modes as E3 commences.

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