Halo Preview

We've gathered all the pertinent information on Bungie's eagerly awaited shooter.

Halo enjoys a near-mythic status among PC gamers. Unveiled at the 1999 MacWorld Expo, the hybrid first- and third-person shooter drew countless wows from all attending members of the gaming press. It was more graphically impressive than anything seen before it, so gamers longingly awaited any news of the game for years after it was announced. The stream of information has indeed been relatively slow, but there have been some major developments announced. One such development is that Halo is being developed primarily for the Xbox platform, in light of Microsoft's acquisition of developer Bungie.

The game takes place in an altogether unique world. Appropriately named Halo, the world takes the form of a ring-shaped planet, in the spirit of Larry Niven's famous science-fiction series. The game's story pits humankind against a conquering alien race known as the Covenant, which is intent on wiping out all trace of humanity. The single-player missions will take place on the distant outpost of Halo, where players enact humankind's last stand against the Covenant, using the foul race's powerful technology against it.

At its core, Halo is a first-person shooter of the classic variety, though it bears a few notable features that will make you believe otherwise. Most notable is the game's use of vehicles. Throughout your missions, you'll have occasion to pilot a variety of craft, including the jeep that has been shown in many of the game's screenshots. While Bungie hasn't been too forthcoming with specifics, it's safe to say that you can expect to man everything, from stationary weapons and ATVs to all kinds of transport vehicles. Our hands-on with Halo has shown us that piloting these craft will be rather smooth, incorporating both of the Xbox's controller's analog sticks in a scheme not unlike that of many console racers. The bulk of the game, however, will take place via a standard first-person perspective, which maps both camera control and movement to each of the controller's analog sticks. Certain areas will trigger a shift to a third-person perspective, but we get the impression that these will be largely incidental. Support for a mouse and keyboard has not been announced at this point, and given Microsoft's negative stance on external peripherals, its implementation seems unlikely. If such is indeed the case, hard-core FPS fans have reason to be disappointed. In any event, if the history of console-first-person shooters is any indication, we can be sure to expect a handful of control-schemes available.

While specifics have not been given by the developer directly, it is known that Halo will feature a relatively large and varied selection of weapons. Players will have access to both human and Covenant weaponry, including plasma swords, semiautomatic pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, fragmentation grenades, flamethrowers, and rocket launchers. Humanity's arms will consist mostly of futuristic versions of real-world weapons, while the Covenant will primarily employ energy weapons. Each race's weapons will come with their own drawbacks and advantages--energy weapons will have unlimited ammo but will overheat quickly, while human weapons will tend to be more powerful, yet dependent on ammunition. The exact weapon count has not been released at this point. It's safe to expect, though, to see a standard array of light and heavy guns, at least one melee weapon, and a handful of vehicle-mounted artillery sets.

Even less is known about the vile Covenant. Screenshots and demos have displayed only two of their types--the taller, deadlier elites and the shorter, dumber grunts. Fans following Halo's development should be very familiar with both types. It's safe to assume that there will be many other types, but no others have surfaced at this time.

Halo is easily the most anticipated Xbox game in development, and it's easy to see why people are so excited about it--technically, the game seems leagues beyond its competition, and its graphical polish, even at this early point, is very enviable. The game's level design is perhaps its most impressive aspect, however. And ironically, it's the aspect of the game that the press has had the smallest amount of access to. Essentially, the transitions between environments will be seamless, with, according to first-hand looks, absolutely zero load time. Essentially, entire vistas will load on the fly--if your mission takes you from a vast outdoor environment to an underground bunker, for instance, the transition from one to the other will be smooth, and basically instantaneous. If successful, this feature will result in a completely fluid, seamless experience with an immersion factor unrivaled.

The existence of Halo's online multiplayer capabilities is dubious at this point. While the game will feature a variety of split-screen multiplayer modes--including capture the flag, deathmatch, and cooperative--the likelihood that Microsoft will have an installed gaming network at the Xbox's launch is rather slim, making the possibility of online counterparts of these features seem grim. This is bleak news indeed for hardcore FPS fans. The game's AI-controlled teammates might serve as solace to this, though. During certain missions, your teammates will accompany you, providing backup, bringing up the rear, or whatever the situation calls for. Conversely, enemy AI is supposedly especially ruthless--just as your teammates will execute tactics, provide fire, and generally act smart, so will the Covenant.

Halo is set to launch alongside the Xbox on November 8. There should be a good deal of information on the game at this year's E3, however, so keep your eyes on this space for more information very, very soon.

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