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Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 72: Pixel Force Halo

I'm a sucker for re-envisioned games.  Always have been.  I know there's a point of view that sees derivative works to be lacking in creativity, but I've always thought that a loving homage is one of the nicest compliments a game can receive.  Way back in Issue 29, I wrote about Pixel Force Left 4 Dead, in which Eric Ruth "de-made" the best zombie game around into a top-down 8-bit style shooter.  Well, Eric is back, and this time he's applied his skills to an even more ambitious undertaking.

Pixel Force Halo takes the same 8-bit aesthetic that took Left 4 Dead so gracefully into the top-down shooter genre, and uses it to re-paint one of the world's most beloved FPS games as a side-scroller.  I think you'll find the results, while mixed at times, to be well worth your attention.

For a complete change of perspective and an obviously vast reduction in technical complexity, Pixel Force Halo manages to keep a surprising amount of the material on which its namesake hung its hat.  Your diminutive Master Chief will face off against the expected arrangement of Covenant forces, using an array of weapons, exposives and vehicles.  Only one gun can be carried at a time (though the infinite ammo pistol is always available, should your primary run out of clips), so you'll be constantly switching weapons and tactics based on what you can find in the field.

While generally limited to 8-directional firing (the needler being a marvelous and powerful exception), all the weapons do a surprisingly good job of mimicking their console counterparts.  The plasma pistol is a peashooter unless you power up its shots, at which point it becomes formidable.  The rocket launcher is slow and devastating.  You will, at some point, get a plasma grenade stuck to you, and shout obscenities as you try to run away before it blows you up.

Plasma grenade RUN!!

The gameplay notes are retained just about as clearly as the weapon variety.  You will face off against Grunts, Elites and Brutes;  you will run over enemy infantry with the Warthog;  you will chuck grenades at unsuspecting enemies who haven't seen you yet;  you will frantically dodge fire as you face off against a Banshee all by yourself;  you will shake in fear a bit the first time an Invisible Elite or a Hunter shows up.  For a game in a different genre, it all still feels very Halo.

Unfortunately, there are places where strict adherence to the Halo legacy does the game no favors, and some bits aren't as tight as others.  The Flood is still awful, and I really never enjoyed them in Pixel Force Halo any more than I did in the original.  The top-down vehicle sections, while a neat diversion, all end up feeling a bit same-y, even when you get to switch to the Scorpion Tank, which you'd think would be more satisfying.  And several times the narrow multi-tiered level design got me trapped in enemy fire I couldn't avoid, leading to deaths that felt a bit cheap.  Checkpoints are mercifully frequent, but with no recharging shields and few health packs, I still spent more time cursing at the game than I might have liked.

The Warthog IS pretty sweet, though.

Still, there's a whole lot to like here, and I was glad that I played through the whole thing.  It's meatier than you might expect, summarizing the entire story of the first Halo game over the course of some 9 or 10 missions that took me the better part of two hours to complete.  There's a Hardcore mode waiting for you after you're done, too, if you can handle it.  With completely custom-made graphics, sound effects and music (including some very well composed NES chiptunes), it's clear that a lot of love went into making Pixel Force Halo.  I'd say it's worth giving it a little bit of yours in return.

Pixel Force Halo is...

  • a charming "de-make" of one of the most popular console games of all time.
  • a surprisingly accurate translation of Halo into the style of something more like Contra.
  • sadly burdened by some of the same problems Halo had, and a few new minor ones.
  • nevertheless a very impressive effort and well worth your time to download and play.

The game is keyboard-controlled by default, but I was glad for the services of a gamepad and some key mapping to make it more playable.  Button use is minimal, but intense at times.

Pixel Force Halo is Windows only, weighs in under 15MB, and can be downloaded right here.  Remarkably, this showed up as a news item on, which I'm guessing means that they know about it and have no issue with it.  So it may be here to stay, safe from legal challenge.  ...You might want to get it now, though, just in case.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Colony of Gamers.  This piece also appears there.  If you're done with this one and want more, feel free to browse the archives.

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