We were going to write you a long intro describing Halo, but Microsoft's publicity machine has been in overdrive. You'd have needed to live on the moon to not know about the game for which Microsoft snapped up developer Bungie Studios, in order to launch its Xbox games console. It was largely an unknown quantity and needed a killer app for its launch and Halo was it. PC Owners could buy a console or wait. In the second week of October 2003 the game returned to the PC.



Thanks largely to this game, like Goldeneye helping the cement the N64, the Xbox is an extremely known quantity. The Xbox safely established, Opposing Force developers Gearbox were enlisted to bring the game back to the PC. Like A returning favourite soap star, Halo is here without so much as a change to the packaging. We could remonstrate with Microsoft for holding back the game but the real surprise is not how long PC Gamers have had to wait for this game, but how it's one of the best FPS they'll get to play before the end of 2003, with only Far Cry providing any competition, because of the unforeseen delay of the big guns Doom III and Half-Life 2 to next Spring.

The Xbox review can be found in the games channel but the single-player game will pit you against The Covenant, who bring down your ship in a war that's not going well. You crash on Ring World Halo and have to fight your way around it to succeed. It's no great plot spoiler that you'll eventually meet a second race, The Flood, and that they're not exactly best mates with The Covenant, but combined are more than enough trouble for the single player. Also well known is the fact that there's only two weapons on offer, two sets of four grenades and a torch in your arsenal. Sadly you cannot totally rule out the assault rifle even though it's a pea-shooter against the tougher covenant you'll meet early on. Alien weapons either run out rapidly or overheat and need to cool down. So the right weapon at the right time is all that will get you through the game.

The only real concession to mouse and keyboard control is that the sniper rifle, based on those you saw in Robocop but with the railgun action of Quakes II and III, won't necessarily kill first time when the taller Warriors have the same shield you do. So, one sniper bullet to take out the shield and another to kill- and the same goes for your attackers. Backing off for a moment will recharge your shield although a medical pack is needed if you don't have backup from NPCs. Later on in the game there will also be alien craft to fly as well as drive.

The other issue lengthening out the game is the limited saves, where you have a couple of slots but generally the autosave points are where you'll be left by default, and if you didn't have enough health to progress, half the time it's easier to restart the whole sub-section. With two years' passing there are strategy guides galore on the internet when you're really stuck.

For the PC the multiplayer is the main revolution- as long as you never got into Battlefield 1942 or if you were just tired of World War 2 and wanted a science fiction alternative. Sixteen players feels like enough although some may have demanded double or four times that number- maybe we'll see it in the sequel. For now this feels right, and all the same comedic bombing players out of vehicles is there. Once you find a server free of teamkilling, play can stretch into nine hours. Over PC launch weekend it was capture the flag that was most popular although the usual accompanying modes (Deathmatch renamed Slayer) are in the package. Smaller maps limit the weapon types and this can be understandably less popular. Mid sized maps like Blood Gulch, where you can run to the action almost as quickly as you can drive, proved the most popular in general over launch weekend.

The sales of this game sent it straight to number one in the PC charts. It's a shame then that technically it has issues working on mid to top-end PCs. In my case it worked perfectly well up to reinstalling the latest VIA system drivers as my PC was newly installed- after which the game needed reinstallation once more before it would work again. Patches are already out although you need to use a refresh rate fixing program such as Refreshforce for your preferred 3D refresh rate, choose no V Sync, and then maybe you'll get the kind of graphical quality you desire, as well as unlocking the 30 frames per second speed cap that's on by default. Testing on a PIII/933, 512Mb PC133 RAM and a 64Mb GeForce 2 Max 400, This is the kind of machine the performance limiter was developed for though we got 40 frames per second in less busy battles. We achieved 50FPS on an Athlon 1800+ with 512MB PC2100 RAM and a GeForce 4 Ti4600. The game basically scales up according to which GeForce card you have after that, but only a year in conversion has generated less in the way of PC Optimisation- another issue hopefully resolved in the sequel. While it's a pain in the neck it does show that your PC needs to be in top health in the software stakes anyway, even though it's a pain when you just want to play the game. It wasn't lost on me that the two hours I spent getting my PC in top game playing condition would have been two hours' extra gaming on the Xbox.

Verdict

So it's the technical issues, and the lack of the Xbox's Co-operative multiplayer, which lose Halo a couple of points. That is hardly going to have an effect on sales though, but it would have been nice to have been telling you that this game is the complete classic shooter. It's not, but it's still excellent in spite of the unpopular Library level and the tech issues and multiplayer limit. The sad thing is, bringing Gearbox into the picture earlier would have seen a smoother conversion- though multiplayer is ultimately the saviour of the day on the PC. For Halo 2 hopefully the same deliberate delays and excuses will not repeat themselves to the same extent, and we'll get everything Xbox owners get- as it will be competing with the then-complete and modded Half-Life 2. This game should definitely be played by PC owners keen to catch and see what the fuss was about- if they didn't already buy an Xbox to get it. Whenever you play it, stick to Legendary for the best memories of the game.