Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary hands-on preview

No dual-wielding. No Bubble Shield. No Jetpacks or spike grenades or Arbiter. Combat Evolved Anniversary is hardly the Halo for the Xbox 360 generation. As longtime gamers, we've grown out of its antiquated ways. Young bucks won't want to deal with its dated design. 343 Industries didn't bother to fix anything wrong with the original Xbox masterpiece. Instead, it's as faithful to Halo CE as possible. Never mind nostalgia. Never mind new graphics. Never mind the elitist, old-hat Halo haters. This game is as important as it's ever been because it refuses to stray from itself.

The most immediately apparent feature for the celebratory Anniversary release, which launches a decade after the original Halo astonished us, is its redone graphics. For a while, the Halo CEX (X, as in ten, as in years, as in... oh, you get it) visuals just looked like another Halo game. It didn't sink in how much effort the 343i team poured into the art overhaul until we pressed the back button -- the new game fades away and washes away the newness, revealing the original game running underneath it. We thought, "there is no way any of us were dumb enough to think, at any time, that Halo: CE looked good, right?" This speaks volumes about the game, really. Seeing what was next to what it's become is jarring – the enormous level of added detail to the world gives it an entirely new life.

A murky forest with a fugly fog filter from 2001 becomes a wet, clear, colorful area that pops with more personality than we thought we'd ever see from Halo CE. The grooves carved into the walls of a structure seem far more believable than the bland, flat gray lining of its original interior. Even the old art, which defined the vibrant palette of the Halo franchise, is disgusting and dark compared to the spiffy new look.

That color managed to pop when we were wearing 3D glasses, which typically dampen or darken whatever we're looking at. The 3D effect itself is subtle enough not to annoy, and interesting enough to elicit a few oohs and ahhs along the way. The edges of objects look a little rougher than the typical 2D, but it's hard to deny, even at its worst, that HCEX is one of the best-looking, well-handled HD remakes we've seen yet. It's convincingly new. HCEX evades age with aggression, and its gameplay keeps pace.

We wound up turned around and not knowing where to go a couple times. The enemy encounters were a tad easy and straightforward. The AI is all over the place. The assault rifles bullets spread too far and the pistol is a superpowered slaughtering machine. It’s hard to climb certain hills. Somehow, though, and maybe it's just the nostalgia blinders, these flaws felt right. It's hard to understand why something so blatantly unlike what we've grown accustomed to works so well. We suspect the overload of me-too blockbuster shooters has just drained our souls dry at this point. Stepping away from the overwhelming amount of online multiplayer shooters to something far simpler is more refreshing than expected. That, and that this is the game that shaped a generation and would become the envelope-pushing beast we all know it to be.

We can only discuss a Halo CE remake for so long before we wind up just talking 2001, but this is exactly what 343's aiming for. This is as faithful a redux as we've ever seen, sometimes sacrificing quality in favor of perfectly, genuinely recreating something that doesn't hold up at all. Skull modifiers (the usual stuff we've come to expect) throw curveballs at players to ratchet up the difficulty, though, if you really feel the urge to throw a wrench in its gears.

Purists can have it their way, newcomers can bridge the decade-long gap. Given how well Halo holds up as a cheap Games on Demand download, anything 343 can do to make that exact experience better is just gravy. This is easily, unquestionably, obviously Halo CE at its best -- and it has online multiplayer. Man, finally.

Aug 26, 2011



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  • Muffin_Man2 - August 31, 2011 4:07 a.m.

    @EwoksTasteLikeChicken How can you not like the Reach multiplayer and how was it an attempted copy of CoD? It's worth a small ammount because it's easy as s**t to make, they're using the Reach engine and pre-made maps with some small tweaks. It's not hard to make, but it's still an epic game.
  • needles - August 29, 2011 11:31 a.m.

    DO THEY THINK WE'RE STUPID OR SOMETHING? You expect me to pay $40 (or whatever it costs) for a game I beat the $hit out of about 10 years ago? Bunjee can suck my ballsack. COD is much better. I would pay the money to play COD 4 after 10 years though, but not this. Do they honestly expect us to swallow this tripe? Jesus H Christ! Oh,btw, the reCAPTCHA is now using Hebrew symbols to login now.
  • EvidentDead - August 27, 2011 5:54 a.m.

  • Defguru7777 - August 26, 2011 7:58 p.m.

    Wow, you really can see the difference in the switch between classic and modern modes. Super-psyched about this.
  • D0CCON - August 26, 2011 4:42 p.m.

    I'd mainly get it for the Halo 1 Reach maps (of which there are less than there were when the original game came out). Besides that, I can pretty much play this whenever I want since they don't seem to be changing anything at all (the graphics aren't good, but I don't mind them).
  • Money - August 26, 2011 4:32 p.m.

    Ugggghhhhh, not fuging Reach online that was terrible. Also looks meh, went back to play Halo:CE a month or so ago and the campaign wasn't as good as I remember(apart from the Libray on Legendary, thats flawless). The split-screen multiplayer in it was great though and they screwed it up by adding buyable armour and user friendly maps and look the reticle moves when you shoot. Shouldn't have re-booted it, probably a 6.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - August 26, 2011 5:32 p.m.

    I really wish the multiplayer wasn't running on the Reach engine. I for one didn't like the armor abilities or classes in Reach, I felt Bungie tried to make it too much like Battlefield or Call of Duty. Even though they might have jacked up Anniversary's multiplayer, this is probably still worth it since it's only $40. The reticle was moving because the guy was walking. Also, how can you say it looks meh? Sure it doesn't have Battlefield 2 graphics, but it looks so much better compared to the original version. Even though Reach wasn't my favorite it still had great multiplayer. Don't be a PS3 fanboy.
  • hanktherapper - August 26, 2011 4:24 p.m.

    Looking forward to this release. I still find the game as fun today as it was 10-years-ago.
  • Blasto - August 26, 2011 3:29 p.m.

    Look great! Just wish it didn't come out at such a busy time.