(Herald rating: * * * )

Halo is the best shooter ever to appear on any console and Microsoft can be justifiably proud of what has already been achieved with this third-party title.

The first-person shooting genre has recently begun to regain some momentum on the PS2 through the strength of games such as Red Faction, Medal of Honor and TimeSplitters, but before these we'd need to time-warp back to the ageing N64 shooters Perfect Dark and Goldeneye to find anything worthwhile.

This is why Halo has made such an impact because console gamers know how tough it has been for this genre without the assistance of a keyboard or mouse.

But hitting like a laser blast right between the eyes, Halo has floored the gaming world — everything on the game looks and plays exactly as you would want it to.

Designers haven't bothered hiding their influences. Halo is a tribute to all the great games that came before it — games like Quake, Goldeneye and Time-Splitters all paved the way for this evolution.

The story is set in the year 2552. You are known only as Master Chief, an experienced soldier hurriedly thawed from a cryogenic snooze to help to save your ship that has come under attack from an alien threat. Deep in space, your ship is crippled and the crew forced to crash land on a gigantic ring-shaped relic: Halo.

The missions are refreshingly varied with a measured build in intensity that makes Halo almost impossible to resist once you're underway.

Halo is played mostly on foot, but there are numerous vehicles that you can operate, including the Warthog, an all-terrain, all-purpose jeep that comes with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back.

The weapons are a highlight. You start out with only a pistol, albeit a highly impressive one that comes with a two-zoom feature for the all-important headshot.

Enemies come in different classes — the smaller aliens are even somewhat endearing until they lob a plasma grenade at you or open up with a Needle Gun.

The aliens that carry the shields are known as Jackals — these guys can be a nuisance though by far the worst are the creatures known as Ultimates whose shielding allows them to withstand enormous amounts of damage. You'll unload over 100 rounds into one of them with your MA5B assault rifle before they drop.

You can only juggle a couple of weapons at any one time, so it's important to find the one that works for each level. The MA5B is great for killing alien grunts, with short bursts of fire, though you'll need something with a lot more stopping power later on.

Fortunately there's a high-powered sniper rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher and a host of hi-tech alien weaponry to choose from.

The single-player missions are challenging enough to make victory truly gratifying but you can also play them co-op with a friend, using split screen.

For those who prefer multi-player, there are options including death match or "capture the flag"-type scenarios using either double or quad split screen.

But for the ultimate Halo experience, Xbox owners should get together to link up a few consoles.


Released: October 3