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January 09, 2004

Halo for the Mac at last

About five years ago, my jaw dropped as Steve Jobs showed off a new game for the Mac. Yes, the Mac. Halo offered incredible graphics, the ability to use vehicles, and cooperative play with intelligent bots.

The company developing Halo was Bungie, responsible for the 2 greatest Mac game franchises: Marathon and Myth. The Mac world was shocked a few months later when Microsoft bought Bungie, with a plan to make Halo a cornerstone game for its then-planned XBox gaming console. Man, did we howl.

Halo for the XBox came out in 2001, Halo for the PC in September 2003. Through the work of Westlake Interactive, the busiest game-porting house in the Mac world, and MacSoft, who also distribute Unreal Tournament 2003, Halo for the Mac was released in December.

I'll mostly be comparing Halo to Unreal Tournament 2003 for the Mac, the latest first-person shooter I've played on my 867-mhz 12-inch PowerBook. First things first: Halo is less brainless. There are times when you have to work out tactical situations or carefully marshal your resources. One interesting wrinkle is Halo's limitation on weapons. Many first-person shooters let you hold on to whatever weapons you come across, no matter how many. Halo limits you to 2 weapons, and you have to choose based on your expectations of the upcoming game situation.

Another way that Halo keeps things fresh through its lengthy campaign is by switching up the missions. One level may require you to play sniper ahead of a coordinated assault, while the next may require you to take to the air, and knock enemy fighters down so you can move in on a ground target. Sure, there are a few "just keep hitting the mouse button" levels that test your ammunition collecting skills as much as your combat planning, but all in all, there's something for just about anyone here.

Halo's plot is thicker than average: You're the final example of a group of genetically and mechanically enhanced soldiers on board a spaceship that crashlands on a gigantic ring world called Halo. You're able to take the sexy AI from the ship, Cortana, along in your battle suit. You start out fighting the Covenant, who have been warring with humanity, but things soon take a turn for the worse.

Probably the area in which Halo is most likely to have a lasting influence is in its integration of land and air vehicles. You can walk up to a jeep (called a Warthog here), a tank (Scorpion), a land speeder (Ghost) or a fighter plane (Banshee), and climb right in and take off. With the Warhog, you can also climb into the bed to use the pivoting machine gun, climb into the passenger seat to add firepower, or (if you're driving) pick up other Marines to provide firepower while you drive. My favorite was the Scorpion, which lets you drive, fire the main gun with the primary mouse button, or fire the machine gun with the secondary mouse button. Unreal Tournament 2004 is starting to be advertised heavily, and, no surprise, it includes land and air vehicles.

I'm on the low end of the acceptable range for the game, but found only very rare slowdowns at 1024 x 768. I've only played the network version across the internet, and only long enough to get roasted to a crisp a few times, but frame rates seemed fine when ping times were low. This one would be great at a LAN party. Reportedly, the Mac and PC version are supposed to work together, but the cross-platform network games were broken by a recent PC update, and should be fixed by an upcoming patch.

Another advantage of Halo over UT2003 (and for that matter, Bungie's Myth series) is that once the game is installed, there is no further compliance compelled. No 'Insert disk now', no 'please re-enter your serial number'. In two weeks of game play, the game has locked up once, which led to me force-quitting.

January 9, 2004 in Apple - Software, Reviews | Permalink

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