Halo: Anniversary preview – why the word “remastered” doesn’t do it justice

Not all special editions are (re)created equal.

If you’ve lumped Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in the same category as other recently updated last-generation classics like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Resident Evil, Sly Cooper or Beyond Good & Evil, you’re making a mistake. And if you’re upset that Halo costs more money or offers less gameplay than those examples – that Microsoft is marketing this single 10-year-old shooter as a major holiday release with the $40 price tag to match – you’re missing the difference.

That difference is clear from the very first mission, from the very first moment you wake up in a cryogenic chamber as Master Chief. Remember the generic military grunt who opens the pod’s door and teaches you the game’s controls? Well, you will this time, because he’s no longer generic. What was once a cookie-cutter collection of polygons, indistinguishable from all the other military grunts on the ship, now has a distinctive pear-shaped body, instantly recognizable eyebrows and custom uniform. He’s a unique-looking human being, and so is his buddy in the observation room, and so are the officers on the Pillar of Autumn command deck, and so are the marines you fight alongside in the corridors after the Covenant have attacked.

See, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary doesn’t just feature HD graphics – it features entirely brand new graphics. When you hit the button that switches between the game’s 2001 and 2011 visuals, you won’t care how much cleaner and crisper the textures appear, because you’ll be staring at textures (and objects and environments and special effects) that didn’t even exist before. Walk up to a basic, boring ship window in 2001 and – switch! – gently glowing rays of starlight filter and fall in patterns upon the floor in 2011. Inspect a fuzzy, pixelated tunnel grate in 2001 and – switch! – it’s a completely realistic pane of glass, transparent yet slightly distorted and dirtied, in 2011.

Those are minor examples from the opening hour of the game. By the time you land on the titular Halo in the second level, the difference between old and new graphics is almost too much to properly describe. A static matte sky has been replaced by puffy, sun-streaked clouds with believable movement and volume. The cliff view from your crash site, once a muddy gray bitmap with something barely resembling a river drawn on the surface is suddenly a gorgeous, expansive view with believable height and distance that makes the player feel smaller and humbler. The water, grass and trees? Well, you can imagine.

Original developer Bungie never planned for you to see these things at such high detail and close proximity, but the current Halo caretakers at 343 Industries have added so much extra detail – big and small – that they seem to welcome fans’ scrutiny. A random and uninteresting computer terminal, for example, may now include a complex schematic for John-117’s SPARTAN armor… or for Linda-058’s, a name only recognizable to hardcore fans.

Despite the fresh coat of paint, however, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s engine is still the same, resulting in occasionally clunky animation that distracts from the makeover. And that makeover, of course, is still no prettier than what you saw in last year’s Halo: Reach. But the fact that it’s even that pretty – that the visuals offer a new experience rather than just a less old experience – justifies the price tag and the holiday push. Halo is more comparable to Monkey Island’s special edition or Tomb Raider’s anniversary edition than the recent crop of upscaled re-releases. 

Now, whether we actually recommend buying it again? We’ll let you know in next month’s review.


  • Yeager1122 - October 25, 2011 6:21 p.m.

    I dont know $40 still sounds like alot for this maybe ill get it if the price ever goes down.
  • ThatFanInThePeacoat - October 25, 2011 8:23 a.m.

    I'm still hoping for a Firefight mode featuring the Flood. But even if that's not there I'll probably still get this after I play through Skyrim and Dark Souls.
  • Grif - October 25, 2011 1:13 p.m.

    That is the best idea I have ever heard.
  • mothbanquet - October 25, 2011 7:20 a.m.

    Looks nice and the first game was and still is my favourite but I'll be waiting for the price to drop. I still have my original copy of the frist game, after all.
  • minimaxi - October 25, 2011 3:42 a.m.

    looking forward to this, just not sure whether to buy new or used. want to see what alot of people say as the best halo (I'm not a halo fan) with current gen graphics.
  • DualWieldingIsNotFeasible - October 25, 2011 2:22 a.m.

    Even as an embarrassingly-huge Halo fanboy, I have to admit that the years have not been kind to CE's graphics. However, the core mechanics of the first Halo are still fantastic, and I absolutely cannot wait to play through it again, without having to stare at un-textured surfaces and those weird puppet mouths that the NPCs have.
  • CrashmanX - October 25, 2011 8:11 a.m.

    Untextured surfaces..... uh bro. I don't think you know what you're talking about. Every surface in Halo had a texture. Otherwise it would come out as either a wiremodel or whatever the game was told to do when it had no texture (I.e. put a huge NO TEXTURE texture on it or make the object completely grey)
  • Fox_Mulder - October 24, 2011 11:17 p.m.

    Looks great, but it pales in comparison to the other games releasing this holiday. Let's just say, this is low on my priorities list.
  • Fuzunga - October 24, 2011 9:31 p.m.

    Or how about the new Ocarina of Time? That's what I think of when I see this. And I have to disagree about how pretty it is. It doesn't look as good as Reach. It looks better. MUCH better. It's the best looking Halo game by far (and yes I have seen it in person).
  • ZigzMagoo - October 24, 2011 9:19 p.m.

    I know who Linda-058 is ;)
  • D0CCON - October 24, 2011 9:10 p.m.

    I took advantage of that one Game Deal a couple of 'casts ago and have this preordered on Newegg for $30. It's no Skyrim in how much I'm excited for it, but considering that I always love new Halo Reach maps and the price of just the 8 new maps by themselves would be sold in packs totaling $26.67 plus tax, getting those maps as well as an awesome updated campaign (library mission excluded), new achievements, and more campaign maps for online coop for an additional $3.33, I can't complain.
  • Kibosh - October 24, 2011 8:03 p.m.

    I've pre ordered this in hopes that they'll like the revenue enough to do the same thing to Halo 2. I'm so excited for this game as well, don't get me wrong.
  • CrashmanX - October 24, 2011 8:02 p.m.

    If it's not coming to PC, it's not getting my money.
  • UberNoob - October 24, 2011 8:14 p.m.

    I'm sort of disappointed at that too. M first FPS video game was Combat Evolved on PC. Sucks there's no plans for it on PC :\
  • UberNoob - October 24, 2011 8:15 p.m.

  • Gilligan - October 25, 2011 11:23 a.m.

    Do you have a 360?
  • UberNoob - October 25, 2011 1:31 p.m.

    I do, but I wanted it on PC since it just feels right! Oh well...
  • Gilligan - October 28, 2011 11:23 a.m.

    Fair enough :P Never played a Halo:CE or Halo 2 on PC, would be interesting to try it though.....
  • UberNoob - October 28, 2011 1 p.m.

    I played CE and 2 on PC. The main reason being I did not own an Xbox 360 at the time. It's worth trying, especially considering how cheap they are ATM. I still think Halo is a bit more enjoyable on consoles for some reason.
  • Baron164 - October 24, 2011 7:47 p.m.

    I'm looking forward to this remake, especially the online coop. Hopefully if this is successfull they can give Halo 2 the same treatment. I might actually play 2 if it had online coop :-)

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