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PC fans find heaven in new 'Halo'

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Halo lets players be humanity's last and best hope.
Halo lets players be humanity's last and best hope.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

While it was originally planned as a Windows and Macintosh game, Bungie Studios' action epic "Halo: Combat Evolved" launched two years ago as one of the Xbox console's breakout games, leaving many computer gamers disappointed.

Now that "Halo" has made it to the PC, many are wondering: Was it worth the wait? Or is it a case of too little too late?

"Halo" for Windows is a real treat for action fans. Its lengthy campaign mode and multiplayer options make it a must-have 3-D shooter.

In case you haven't laid your hands on the Xbox version, "Halo" is a stunning sci-fi action game that drops the player in the middle of an epic battle between humans and aliens on an ancient ring-world. In the single-player story mode, players assume the role of Master Chief, a powerful cyborg commissioned to fight with humans against the malicious Covenant faction.

Like many 3-D shooters, game play involves navigating through many indoor and outdoor environments, picking up various weapons and ammo, boosting health by running over med-packs, and most importantly, destroying the enemies before they destroy you. But what separates "Halo" from other 3-D shooters is its well-written story, stylistic graphics (supporting resolutions up to 1,600-by-1,200 pixels), smart enemy artificial intelligence and a fantastic orchestrated score.

Two perspectives

While the game is played from a first-person perspective, gamers also have the ability to drive (or sit shotgun) in a number of vehicles, viewed from a third-person perspective.

What's more, "Halo" adds more strategy than other 3-D shooters because players can only hold two weapons at one time. Therefore, it's up to you to choose the correct ones for the situation, even if that includes picking up an alien weapon from a fallen enemy.

Although "Halo" is more or less a straight port from the Xbox version, the addition of multiplayer support via the Internet (or local area networks) is worth the price of the game alone. As many as 16 players can engage in DeathMatch modes (every man or woman for himself) or team-based modes, where players must work together to take down the enemy.

The PC version also includes six new multiplayer maps (bringing the total to 19), a new vehicle and a couple of new weapons, including a flamethrower. Finding someone to play against in the game lobby is a breeze, and the game play is lag-free provided you can find a low "ping" time (under 100 is recommended for a smooth gaming experience).

Something's missing

"Halo" for the PC does have one noticeable omission. In the Xbox title, gamers can choose to play the campaign mode alongside another player. This isn't an online option on the Windows version, which is disappointing because it would be fun to run through the story mode cooperatively with a friend.

Shortcoming aside, "Halo: Combat Evolved" on the PC plays and looks just as good -- if not better than -- its Xbox counterpart.

A Macintosh version of the game is in development at Westlake Interactive and will be published by MacSoft sometime next year.

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