Halo has been a controversial game since it was first announced way back in 1999. Shortly after a big announcement during a keynote with Steve Jobs, Bungie sold out to Microsoft. The original multiplayer marvel that was Halo disappeared for a couple of years, before reappearing as a single-player Xbox game. Mac fans were downhearted; some people (like me) even bought an Xbox just to play it. Even though it’s by far the best game I have played on the Xbox, it was lacking the really exciting stuff: the multi-player games.
The great news is that – finally – Halo is coming to the Mac. It’s a little late, but it should be everything it promised all those years before. We got a special preview of Halo using a dual-2GHz G5 with a couple of gigs of RAM. It isn’t clear what the minimum specs will be, but unsurprisingly it ran pretty well with our setup.
Unfortunately for us, the beta we looked at was yet to have the multi-player features added. But you’re best off playing the game solo until you get the hang of controls anyway. On the Xbox version just about every part of the controller is used. There are two joysticks to control direction and aiming of weapons. On the Mac playing with a keyboard and mouse is quite different. While the mouse is undoubtedly better for aiming, unless you have a multi button mouse you miss out on convenient weapon changes and other features. Of course, the keyboard has enough buttons to access all the features, but when you’re under fire it can be a little frantic.
Visually, Halo is magnificent. The Xbox version was good, but the Mac version has been programmed to take advantage of the latest in graphics-card technology. It should also be compatible with older cards; they just won’t have all the bells and whistles.
The bells and whistles in question are called vertex and pixel shaders. These will bring games one step closer to realism because it puts the shader programming into the hands of programmers rather than card manufacturers. Game designers can come up with their own shaders for fog effects, fur, hair, cloth, and so on. The shader is then loaded onto the video processor. Previously programmers were unable to use shaders that weren’t inherently supported by the graphics card because the GPU wasn’t programmable.
The game starts with the defrosting of the cyborg Master Chief (that’s you). You get to test your abilities for a couple of minutes before your ship is overrun with a variety of alien creeps of various shapes, sizes and transparencies (the Covenant). The first thing you notice about these little horrors is that they aren’t just dumb cannon fodder – they dodge your bullets and hide around corners. They only get smart when they actually see you, though, so sneaking up behind them and giving them what-for with the butt of your rifle is very effective. When you use this rifle-whacking move, the light that is attached to your gun is temporarily pointed away from your target, which shows great attention to detail.
The whole game will take weeks to finish (assuming you aren’t playing solidly). There are some parts of the game that are a bit repetitive; the world on which it takes place is massive, and making your way from one control room to another it’s easy to forget where you are. But it never gets too dull, as there are always new vehicles to steal, new aliens to kill, and new terrain to cover.
As Halo is still at beta stage, I don’t want to wholeheartedly endorse an unfinished program. How good it is depends very much on how well the multi-player modes work.
The companies responsible for bringing Halo to the Mac, MacSoft, has a pretty good history of porting multiplayer games such as Unreal Tournament to the Mac. I’m reasonably confident that this is going to be the best game we’ve seen in a long time. I only hope that the minimum requirements don’t force me to spend two grand on a new Mac. But I will if I have to.