Halo: Combat Evolved

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Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo Combat Evolved cover.png

Bungie Studios


Microsoft Game Studios


PC, Mac

Release date(s):

US: November 15, 2001
UK: March 14, 2002
PC: September 30, 2003


First-person shooter


Campaign, multiplayer


Mature for Blood, Gore, and Violence (M)

"Halo: Combat Evolved! Buy one! Heck, buy two! That's an order, soldier!"
Sergeant Johnson upon completion of the Halo: Combat Evolved demo

Halo: Combat Evolved is a first person shooter science-fiction video game created by Bungie Studios, which was a subsidiary of Microsoft Game Studios at that time. It was released for the original Xbox game console on November 15, 2001, and is backwards compatible with the Xbox 360 by downloading a free code patch on Xbox LIVE. It was also released for PC and Mac and it is one of the most popular video games for the Xbox with eight million copies sold. Its sales are rivaled only by its sequels, Halo 2 and Halo 3. This game is considered a classic even though it was released in 2001.

Halo: Combat Evolved has been made available as an Xbox Original game title for Xbox 360 since December 4, 2007 for download on Xbox Live Marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points.[1]

A remake of the game which features a new graphics engine, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, was released on the original game's tenth anniversary on November 15, 2011.


Character and settings

Halo's storyline is linear; there is a single ending in contrast to other first person shooters such as Deus Ex that could have several different endings. The storyline is presented to the player through an instruction manual, scripted events and conversations during the game, and a number of cut-scenes rendered using the game's graphics engine. This method of storyline delivery is common among modern video games. The Xbox version of Halo: Combat Evolved allows one player to play the campaign alone, as well as allowing two players to play through the campaign in split screen. The PC version of Halo: Combat Evolved allows only one player to play through the campaign.

Plot synopsis

Halo: Combat Evolved begins with the UNSC Pillar of Autumn emerging out of slipspace after the Fall of Reach, only to find a huge ring world—a "Halo"—floating in space. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, a SPARTAN-II, is aboard the Pillar of Autumn when the ship comes under attack by the Covenant, a religious alliance of aliens and the archenemy of humanity.

With the ship about to be overrun, Captain Jacob Keyes, the commander of the Autumn, orders John-117 to protect the ship's artificial intelligence, Cortana. She carries highly sensitive information about the United Nations Space Command, including the location of Earth, which would prove disastrous if captured by the Covenant. John-117 evacuates the doomed ship for the surface of Halo to protect Cortana. With the UNSC Marines by his side, Cortana providing direction, and his assault rifle ready and loaded, John-117 sets out to uncover the mysteries of Halo and fight the Covenant.

After meeting up with surviving UNSC forces under Staff Sergeant Avery Junior Johnson, John-117 participates in a mission to rescue Captain Keyes from the Covenant cruiser Truth and Reconciliation. After rescuing the Captain, Cortana learns that Halo appears to be a weapon that holds great religious significance to the Covenant. Realizing that the Covenant cannot be allowed to control Halo, Keyes dispatches John-117 to secure Halo's control room while he leaves with Johnson to secure a Covenant weapons cache.

With UNSC Marines as support, John-117 leads an assault on the Silent Cartographer, a map room which holds information on every location on the ring, including the control room. Heading to the ring's control room, Cortana is inserted into the ring's computer system and learns that Halo was made by the Forerunners, an ancient alien race that the Covenant worship as gods. However, Cortana soon learns that there is something else on Halo, something that terrifies the Covenant. Frightened, she says that John has to stop Keyes from accessing the "weapons cache" before it is too late. John-117 leaves for the last spot where Captain Keyes and Sergeant Johnson's squad were seen, an underground facility in a swamp. He finds evidence of battle all over the facility, and soon finds a recording of one Marine, which details Keyes' squad encountering a new threat: the Flood.

The Flood is a parasitic species which received their name due to the way they assimilate all resistance with overwhelming numbers. Free for the first time in a hundred thousand years, the Flood sweeps across Halo, devastating Human and Covenant forces alike. The release of the Flood prompts 343 Guilty Spark, the eccentric AI Monitor of the ring, to activate Halo's defense systems. The AI instructs the SPARTAN-II to activate Halo by obtaining the Activation Index from the Installation's Library. The Chief does so, battling hordes of Flood along the way, and returns to the control room. Before Halo initiates its systems, Cortana intervenes and tells John the truth about the Forerunner structure and its purpose- Halo was designed to eliminate the Flood threat by starving the Flood of any life source large enough to sustain them; when fired, it would essentially wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy. Realizing the threat of Halo, Cortana instructs John-117 to detonate the Autumn's fusion reactor. This detonation would result in the destruction of Halo, which was against 343 Guilty Spark's protocol.

Before doing so, the two sabotage three generators needed to power Halo, which buys them enough time to locate Captain Keyes, now succumbed to the Flood, and steal his neural implants to operate the Autumn. After battling his way through scattered and disorganized Covenant forces, the spreading Flood, and the Sentinels under direct command of 343 Guilty Spark, John-117 successfully overloads the ship's engine, and he and Cortana evacuate from Halo in a Longsword before the Autumn's engine detonates and destroys Halo. The pair appear to be the only survivors, and John-117 realizes that they are simply beginning a harrowing battle.


Halo PC main menu.

Halo: Combat Evolved's gameplay was characterized by several features which set it apart from less acclaimed first-person shooter games of its time.

  • Storyline Execution: Halo: Combat Evolved's gameplay and storyline are tightly interwoven, delivered in a convincing manner consistent with the flow of the game.
  • Vehicular Incorporation: Halo: Combat Evolved's includes the option for players to control multiple land and air based vehicles in third-person view. This vantage brings a welcomed sense of immersion and enhances specific points of gameplay, again setting Halo apart from contemporary first person shooters.
  • Weapons System: Halo: Combat Evolved's new weapons system is unique in two major respects. The first is only allowing players to carry two weapons at a time, thus forcing the player to make trade-offs as they progress throughout the game. The second is a single, separate button for throwing grenades, making them much more significant in both campaign and multiplayer games.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Halo: Combat Evolved's AI is quite sophisticated for its era. With a brand new advanced AI system, actions performed by the AI such as panicking after the death of a superior, diving out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, or taking cover from explosives and suppressive fire, helped Halo stand out from the rest of the first-person shooters being released at the time.

Movement in Halo is similar to other first-person shooters, allowing the player to move forwards, backwards, and strafe left and right (including diagonally) independently of their aim. On the Xbox, moving and aiming are normally separated between the two analogue sticks, and on the PC, between the keyboard and the mouse. Halo also allows the player to crouch and jump, although jumping from a high ledge will often result in death, or at least major fall damage. Damage from falling can be reduced or negated entirely with a well-timed crouch right as one lands. Additionally, if the player crouches at the peak of his jump, he will be able to land on something slightly taller than if he were to jump without crouching. Also, if the player is jumping from a cliff he can make sure he is touching the wall periodically while he is falling. This will count as if he is touching floor, and every time the player touches the wall, the damage counter goes to zero (there is no visible damage counter during gameplay).


Halo: Combat Evolved features a wide variety of environments including human and Covenant star ships, ancient buildings on Halo itself, and expansive outdoor climates. The first level, Pillar of Autumn, is fought entirely on the human star ship of the same name. The next level, Halo, takes place in a temperate highland climate with open-air Forerunner structures scattered about. This level also contains the famous "Blue Beam Towers". Truth and Reconciliation begins in a rocky desert, but the setting changes to the titular Covenant cruiser about one-third of the way through. The Silent Cartographer occurs on a tropical island, with substantial combat both outdoors and inside futuristic Forerunner installations. Assault on the Control Room takes place in a snowy, icy area of towering cliffs and underground tunnels as well as high-tech suspension bridges and oft-repeated Forerunner structures built into and through cliff walls.

343 Guilty Spark is a significant departure from these majestic environments, with combat in gloomy, exotic swamps and equally gloomy underground complexes that host the player's introduction to the Flood. The player is then teleported to the second of three entirely indoor levels, The Library, encountering repetitive, forbidding hallways and massive elevators. Master Chief returns to the snowy climate of Assault on the Control Room for Two Betrayals, visiting almost no new areas but, interestingly, traveling in the opposite direction. Keyes occurs in the same Covenant ship from Truth and Reconciliation, albeit now heavily damaged, but this time the Flood are present in huge numbers. Finally, The Maw is set on the Pillar of Autumn with three major differences: the presence of the Flood, the heavy structural damage, and access to the Engineering section and service corridors of the ship, which were previously off-limits. In total, six of the ten levels feature a substantial amount of combat outdoors.

Player damage system

In Halo: Combat Evolved, the player has a limited, non-regenerating health, which can be fully restored by picking up health packs. Running completely out of health will result in death, but having lower health does not impede player actions. A player's health can be reduced only if his shields have been depleted. If the player's health is at minimal levels they will faintly hear John-117's heartbeat. This aspect of the game was changed in Halo 2, but returned in Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach.

Serving as the second layer of protection is the shielding system specially built for the MJOLNIR Mk. V armor. The shield will decrease in strength every time it is hit by a weapon and will fail after taking too many hits. The amount of shield drain depends on the attacker's weapon but will quickly regenerate if it is not hit for a brief period of time. The shield represents a marked departure from most first-person shooters, in which one's health bar is basically augmented by picking up "armor".


The campaign in Halo: Combat Evolved consists of ten levels;

  1. The Pillar of Autumn - "Escape intact as Covenant forces board your ship."
  2. Halo - "Seek out surviving Marines and help them fight the Covenant."
  3. The Truth and Reconciliation - "Board a Covenant ship in an attempt to rescue Captain Keyes."
  4. The Silent Cartographer - "Search for the map room that will lead you to the secrets of Halo."
  5. Assault on the Control Room - "Defend the Control Room against wave after wave of Covenant troops."
  6. 343 Guilty Spark - "Creep through a swamp to meet the only enemy the Covenant fear."
  7. The Library - "Fight your way through an ancient security facility in search of the Index."
  8. Two Betrayals - "Re-activate the weapon at the heart of Halo... and learn the truth."
  9. Keyes - "Stage a one-cyborg assault on a Covenant ship and bring back the Captain."
  10. The Maw - "Destroy Halo before Halo destroys all life in the galaxy."


In total, thirteen multiplayer maps are available in Halo: Combat Evolved, with six exclusive maps for the PC/Mac version.

PC/Mac Exclusive


Main characters

Minor characters







Main article: Pre-Xbox Halo
The first official screenshot of Halo.
The old heads-up display and a Halo that has fallen under disrepair. This design was eventually incorporated into Halo 3.

On July 21, 1999, during the Macworld Conference & Expo, Steve Jobs announced that Halo would be released for Mac OS and Windows simultaneously.[2] Before this public announcement, game industry journalists under a non-disclosure agreement had previewed the game in a private showing during E3 1999, and were reportedly amazed.[3] Bungie Studios later stated an even earlier development build of the game centered on real-time strategy and was "basically Myth in a sci-fi universe."[4]

At E3 2000, the first trailer of Halo was well-received.[5] The version shown there differed greatly from the one exhibited previously, marking the first major overhaul in the game's development.[6] At this point, Halo was a third-person action game, in which a transport starship crashlands on a mysterious ring world that orbits a star. Early versions of Covenant aliens appear in great numbers and loot what they can, and war erupts between them and the humans. Unable to match the technologically advanced alien race, the humans on the ring world resort to guerrilla warfare.[7]This version of the game featured Halo-specific fauna, which were later dropped because of design difficulties and the creatures' "detract from the surprise, drama and impact of the Flood."[8]

As rumors had predicted,[9] Microsoft announced on June 19, 2000 that it had acquired Bungie Studios.[10] Halo became an exclusive game for Microsoft's Xbox, and Bungie Studios rewrote the game's engine, heavily altering its presentation and turning it into a first-person shooter.[11] Originally a key element, the game's online multiplayer component was dropped because Xbox Live would be unfinished at the time of Halo's release. While a playable demonstration of the game at Gamestock 2001 was well-received,[12] critics had mixed reactions to its exhibition at E3 2001.[13][14][15] The game was released in North America simultaneously with the Xbox, on November 15, 2001; the "Combat Evolved" subtitle was an addition by marketers at Microsoft, who felt that Halo alone was not a descriptive enough title to compete with other military-themed games.[16]

On July 12, 2002, a Halo port for Windows was announced to be under development by Gearbox Software.[17] Its showing at E3 2003 was positively received by some critics,[18][19] with skepticism and disapproval by others.[20] It was released on September 30, 2003,[21] and included support for online multiplayer play and featured sharper graphics, but had compatibility issues that caused poor performance.[22] Halo was later released for Mac OS X on December 11, 2003.[23]


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Main article: Halo Original Soundtrack

Halo's soundtrack was created by Bungie Studios' audio director, Martin O'Donnell, and received a large amount of praise from many critics. Martin O'Donnell has stated that his goal was to provide "a feeling of importance, weight, and sense of the 'ancient'."[24] He designed the music so that it "could be dissembled and remixed in such a way that would give [him] multiple, interchangeable loops that could be randomly recombined in order to keep the piece interesting as well as a variable length". Development involved the creation of "alternative middle sections that could be transitioned to if the game called for such a change (i.e. less or more intense)."[25]

Martin O'Donnell has remarked that he "sat with the level designers and 'spotted' the level as though it was a movie, with the knowledge that the music would have to be malleable rather than static... [T]he level designer would tell me what he hoped a player would feel at certain points or after accomplishing certain tasks". Based on this information, O'Donnell would "go back and develop appropriate music cues, then have the designer script the cues into the level, and then we'd play through it to see if it worked as desired."[26] He explained that the use of music in Halo is sparse because he believes that "[music] is best used in a game to quicken the emotional state of the player and it works best when used least", and that "[if] music is constantly playing it tends to become sonic wallpaper and loses its impact when it is needed to truly enhance some dramatic component of game play."[27]


Up to four players can play together using the same-console split screen mode. It is also possible for up to 16 players to play together in one Halo game over a local area network, using Xbox and/or Xbox 360 consoles that have been connected through an ethernet hub, or via Xbox Connect. The game's seamless support for this type of play, and a few large maps that can accommodate up to 16 combatants, is a first for console games. Since the game was released before the launch of Xbox Live, mainstream online play was not available for this title.

Marketing promotions and release


Main article: Halo E3 2000 Trailer

In 2000 at E3, Bungie showed off a trailer of the upcoming game to the public. This trailer featured Marines along with the Master Chief scouting out a Forerunner structure and the Covenant fighting them. During this trailer there was still no active AI so all the Covenant was actually controlled by Bungie. This trailer was before the conversion to the Xbox as an FPS.

Viral campaign

Main article: Cortana Letters

Before Halo: Combat Evolved was released, a series of cryptic emails were sent to marathon.bungie.org. The emails were supposedly written by Cortana, but the contents written were greatly out of her character. Her hacking skills, however, were shown, having some of the messages from other email accounts and even from the 1.3 version of the Bungie game Myth: The Fallen Lords CD. These messages provided a small glimpse of the Halo Trilogy plot.


Halo was the main launch title for Xbox and is said to be the game that made the Xbox what it is today. It is widely renowned for saving the fledgling Xbox platform, as the Xbox lacked any titles to compete with Sony's PlayStation 2 or Nintendo's GameCube. Halo became an overnight success and managed to drive the platform from the brink of an early death. It went on to sell 8 million copies, in other words, 33% of all Xbox owners also owned Halo. It was also critically acclaimed. IGN gave the game a 9.7 out of 10 and stated it to be the best Xbox game of all time. X-Play gave it a perfect 5 out of 5. The game got a perfect ten from EGM, and was 2002 Game of the Year for IGN, EGM, OXM, and AIAS. It also got a 9.5 out of 10 from Game Informer, and an average meta-score of 97 out of 100, making it the most highly rated Xbox game of all time. It was also called the game that reinvented a genre. OXM rated Halo: CE Number 1 in a list of the 100 best games of recent memory, saying "The Xbox did not create Halo, Halo made the Xbox".

Halo: Original Soundtrack

Cover Art
Main article: Halo: Original Soundtrack

Halo Original Soundtrack, composed and produced by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori for the video game Halo: Combat Evolved, is one CD comprising 26 tracks. Some editions include a bonus DVD with game trailers for Halo 2. Most of the music from Halo: Combat Evolved is present on the CD, although some songs are remixed and some tracks are intermixed with others in medley form. It was released in 2001.

Original Halo team

Project Lead
Jason Jones
Lead Producer
Hamilton Chu
Executive Producer
Alexander Seropian
Rick Ryan
Chris Butcher
Bernie Freidin
Charlie Gough
Mat Noguchi
Matt Segur
Art Director
Marcus Lehto
Assistant Art Lead
Steve Abeyta
Eric Arroyo
Chris Barrett
Mark Bernal
David Dunn
Chris Hughes
Stephen Okasaki
Chris Lee
Robert McLees
Paul Russel
Shi Kai Wang
Michael Wu
Brian Schultz
Lead Designer
John Howard
Paul Bertone
Tyson Green
Jaime Griesemer
Dan Orzulak
Additional Writing
Brannon Boren
Matt Soell
Eric Trautmann
Multiplayer Lead Programmer
Michael Evans
Multiplayer Programmers
Adrian Perez
Stefan Sinclair
Multiplayer Lead Designer
Hardy LeBel
Multiplayer Artists
Chris Carney
David Dunn
Peter Marks
David Moore
Stephen Okasaki
User Interface Lead
Max Hoberman
User Interface Designer
David Candland
User Interface Programmer
Stefan Sinclair
Cinematics Director
Joseph Staten
Cinematic Artists
Steve Abeyta
Paul Clift
Adam Crockett
Lorraine McLees
Stephen Okasaki
Craig Mullins
Lee Wilson
Audio Lead/Original Music
Martin O'Donnell
Additional Music
Michael Salvatori
Sound Designers
Jay Weinland
Adam Tewes
Test Manager
Harold Ryan
Test Leads
Curtis Creamer
Ryan Hylland
Keith Steury
Chris Chamberlain
Mike Cody
Chuck Cooper
Erik Davis
John Frey
Rick Lockyear
Paul Peterson
Zach Russel
Mathew Shimbaku
Luke Timmins
Jeff Wilson
Roger Wolfson
Voice Talent
Keny Boynton
Tim Dadabo
Mark Dias
Steve Downes
Todd Licea
Mike Madeoy
Andy Mckaige
Tawnya Pettiford-Waites
David Scully
Pete Stacker
Jeff Steitzer
Jen Taylor
Chris Wicklund
Additional voices
Folks at Bungie
Damage and Spin
Matt Soell
Draft Dodgers
Pete Demoreuille
Tom Gioconda
Joshua Grass
Justin Hayward
Jason Major
Juan Ramirez
Bob Settles
Product Manager
Steve Fowler
Product Planner
Jon Kimmch
Localization Program Manager
Ji Hong


  • Halo was originally being developed for the Mac and PC as a Real Time Strategy-based game, and was later changed to a third person shooter, before Microsoft took interest in its development and purchased Bungie Studios, thereby owning a promising video game to use exclusively with Xbox.
  • As a literary side note, the ring, "Halo", borrows heavily from the Ringworld of Larry Niven and the Culture Orbitals of Iain M. Banks.
  • There are 8,087 lines of dialog, most of them randomly triggered during combat.[28]
  • The Halo: Combat Evolved box art shows the Banshees in the background in their pilotless stance, yet they are still flying. Similarly, they are shown firing thin laser beams, rather than the plasma orbs that they actually fire in-game.
  • Bungie mentioned that none of the characters in the E3 video for Halo: Combat Evolved had AI. In fact, all of the movement was actually scripted. This, however, was proven to be partly false. The AI will move to what are called "firing positions", which are not only places that the AI fire from, but places which the AI will not stop moving unless already in one, save for scripted command lists, although the AI will usually attempt to move to a firing position.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved was originally going to have most of the weapons that were introduced in Halo 2 and Halo 3, but due to time constraint, most of the weapons were cut from the final version.[29]
  • In the Halo: Combat Evolved handbook, the Plasma Rifle's "blueprint" is an overlap of a Needler underneath and the rifle on top.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved was originally planned to have a changing weather system which was mentioned in the August 2000 issue of PC Gamer magazine.[30]
  • Halo: Combat Evolved was not the original title made by Bungie; the original title of the game had always been intended to be simply "Halo". The subtitle "Combat Evolved", which Bungie has stated they "hated", was suggested by Microsoft Game Studios during the Halo's development phase in order to make the title more descriptive and indicative of a shooter game.[31]
  • Between the A and the L from Halo the Marathon symbol can be seen.



  1. ^ Xbox Marketplace: Halo: Combat Evolved
  2. ^ "IGN": Heavenly Halo
  3. ^ PC Gamer: Your first look at... Halo
  4. ^ Bungie.net: Inside Bungie: History
  5. ^ Blue's News: Blue's News Best of E3 2000
  6. ^ "Halo.Bungie.Org": Frequently Asked Questions about Halo
  7. ^ "Computer Gaming World": Games That Will Change Gaming
  8. ^ "Bungie.net": One Million Years B.X. (Before Xbox)
  9. ^ IGN: Rumors, Rumors Everywhere, but None to Drink
  10. ^ "Microsoft": Microsoft to Acquire Bungie Software
  11. ^ GameCritics.com: Halo (Xbox) Preview
  12. ^ IGN: Playable Halo at GameStock
  13. ^ "Next Generation Magazine"
  14. ^ FiringSquad: 2001 E3 Part 1
  15. ^ "GamePro"
  16. ^ Edge: A Space Odyssey ("Quote" Jaime Griesemer: At the time, Microsoft marketing thought Halo was not a good name for a videogame brand. It wasn't descriptive like all the military games we were competing with. We told them Halo was the name. The compromise was they could add a subtitle. Everyone at Bungie hated it. But it turned out to be a very sticky label and has now entered the gaming lexicon… so I guess in hindsight it was a good compromise. But the real name of the game is just Halo.)
  17. ^ "IGN":Halo Officially Official for the PC!
  18. ^ GameSpy:Halo (PC): The Very First Look
  19. ^ GameSpot:Halo PC Hands-On
  20. ^ "IGN": E3 2003: Halo Hands-On
  21. ^ "Metacritic"
  22. ^ GameSpot: Halo: Combat Evolved PC Review
  23. ^ "Gamespot" :Halo: Combat Evolved Macintosh
  24. ^ "Xbox.com": Just the Right Sense of Ancient
  25. ^ "Music4Games": The Use and Effectiveness of Audio in Halo: Game Music Evolved
  26. ^ "Music4Games": The Use and Effectiveness of Audio in Halo: Game Music Evolved
  27. ^ Halo.Bungie.Org: Producing Audio for Halo
  28. ^ halo.bungie.org, Halo Dialogue Statistics - November 12, 2007
  29. ^ Youtube: Evolution of Halo Part 2: Pre-Xbox 1999 Version to 2000 Demo
  30. ^ halo.bungie.org: PC Gamer August 2000
  31. ^ ComputerAndVideoGame: Microsoft forced Bungie to accept 'Combat Evolved' name