Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: November 22, 2001
Larry Niven’s Ringworld series can always lay claim to being one of the best stories ever told about this theoretical construct. Put simply, a ring world is a torus or doughnut shaped structure that has a landscape on the inner curve of its axis. Usually constructed using technologies that even our widest science fiction can’t describe, a ringworld’s surface area would be billions of times that of Earth’s, and all connected by the underlying ring structure. Taking this idea and running with its shape as inspiration, Bungie and Microsoft have teamed up to deliver us Halo for the X-Box.
Halo takes place on and around a gigantic ringworld of the same name. As this first-person shooter opens, you are heading towards its surface on the human battlecruiser, The Pillar of Autumn. Beset on all sides by an alien race known as The Covenant, against whom humanity has been fighting an interstellar war, the captain of the Autumn decides to bring the ship up to full combat status and perform an emergency landing on the ring. In a telling moment, Cortana, the shipboard AI and your sidekick for most of the game, asks if she should bring all personnel up to combat status. This is, of course, where you come in. Revived from cryogenic stasis, you play an enigmatic character known only as the Master Chief, and are entrusted with safely transporting Cortana away from the Autumn and onto the surface of Halo.
The Chief makes a perfect carrier for the AI’s system because he is a cyborg, and seemingly the only one. While this element of the plot remains a mystery, judging by the soldier’s reaction, the Chief is famous for his combat skills. Phrases like “I thought we were done until you showed up, sir!” and, “I didn’t think he’d be that tall!” are fairly common upon your appearance, and the squads you meet up with in your ship and on the surface will be more than happy to follow your lead. While Halo eschews any sort of order system that gives you direct control over your marine buddies, they react exactly as you’d expect from a group of seasoned veterans. Cover fire, lobbing grenades to clear out corners, and holding position until you clear out some enemies with your sniper rifle are all part and parcel of the marine experience, and they will prove skillful allies.
Of course, even without allies, the Chief has some serious abilities as a result of his cyborg frame. Unlike his weaker allies, the Chief’s body generates an energy field that can absorb a significant amount of fire before his physical body takes any harm. This shield will deplete in heavy combat situations, of course, but after about five seconds of peace, the shield quickly regenerates, leaving the Chief battle ready again. In most cases, your allies will provide you with ample cover fire to duck behind a barricade, boulder, or other obstacle during this necessary recharge.
Thank goodness for that bit of teamwork, since Halo‘s enemies are equally intelligent. Facing off against all manner of Covenant troops, you’ll find that they work together to stage assaults with all the precision of their human counterparts. Covenant come in four sizes, with the smallest being a stocky, squeaky voiced foot trooper with a tendency to run in a panic whenever his buddies get cut down. Infinitely more deadly are their taller cousins who generate shields of their own, thus lending them considerable durability. These larger troopers will also charge you and engage in hand-to-hand combat if they see the opportunity, and like all covenant troopers, they’re not shy about lobbing a few grenades into your position either. Slightly smaller than the shield-wearing commandos are lizard-men who carry arm mounted energy shields, and who can deflect most of your attacks if they pull into the cover of their shield. The largest of the enemy are rare, but virtually unstoppable. Equipped with internal plasma rifles, these juggernauts will pepper your position with heavy fire until you draw close enough to run down with their shields; about the only defense against their attacks are to carefully pick them off while dodging their shots or to engage in a dance of death, dodging their charges while peppering them with fire.