10 years, two
sequels, two spinoffs, one prequel and countless companion media later, it’s
remarkable how many gamers still say that the original Halo is their favorite
entry in the entire franchise. Is that opinion based on objective quality or
subjective nostalgia? With this anniversary edition of the classic console
shooter, we have an opportunity to both relive… and reevaluate.
though, let’s set one thing straight. This is more than a special edition and
much, much more than an HD upgrade. Unlike recent re-releases of Ico, God of
War, Resident Evil, Sly Cooper, Splinter Cell, Beyond Good & Evil and
Prince of Persia, the visuals in Halo: Combat Evolved haven’t merely been
cleaned and sharpened to appear presentable on a modern television monitor.
They’re completely, breathtakingly new – the difference between getting your
car washed and getting your car pimped by an MTV reality show. The structure of
each scene and each area is intact, but the artists have not been at all shy in
adding their own style and flourish. This is basically how the game would look
if it were created for the first time this year.
included a few comparison examples below, but with the Xbox 360 controller’s
back button, you can marvel at 2001 vs 2011 whenever and wherever in the game you
choose. Though the switch is a little too sluggish, and can’t be used during
cutscenes, it does provide an endlessly entertaining “wow” factor.
The main menu. The Halo ring, once a dull gray sidewalk on one side, is now
mesmerizingly shiny and intricate. Space, once a flat matte, is now filled with
unique stars, galaxies and asteroids.
Master Chief awakes from cryogenic slumber. Notice how 2001’s generic,
copy-and-paste polygon people have been replaced by distinct characters with
distinct outfits and distinct facial features. Also, the amount of light, color
and atmosphere in each indoor environment has increased dramatically.
Outside, the depth – as well as the detail to that depth – is astounding when
compared to what we found acceptable a decade ago. You believe you’re in a real
3D world, not a giant windowless room with fake sky painted on the walls and ceiling.
Even darkness looks better!
Flipping back and forth will also yield several new Easter eggs, of both a
humorously random and lovingly fan devoted nature. If you’re enough of a Halo
enthusiast to play this Anniversary edition, the developers at 343 Industries
clearly want to reward you as much and as often as possible. To that end, they’ve
also hidden a game-altering skull and backstory-revealing (possibly Halo 4
teasing) terminal in every mission. This is a love letter from them to you.
But how does the gameplay hold up? You may be surprised…
Evolved looks drastically different in the 2011 Anniversary edition, but plays
exactly as it did in 2001 – that’s because, beneath the gorgeous new skin, the
skeleton of the game is unaltered. Every level is structured the same way,
every weapon functions the same way, every vehicles handles the same way and
every enemy behaves the same way. While the developers at 343 didn’t hold back whatsoever
when updating the visual design, they must have decided that Bungie’s original
gameplay design was too sacred to touch – it is pure and preserved here. This
is a remastering, not a remake.
In many ways,
that was the right choice. Combat Evolved is still one of the better shooters
of the past decade, with a diversity of action and freedom of movement that put
even modern competition (including recent Halos) to shame. For each tight
linear corridor, there’s a massive and wide open canyon in which you can jump,
fly, commandeer a tank or take over an alien turret. For each generic military
gun that works just as you’d expect, there’s a colorful and bizarre invention
like the Needler or Plasma Grenade that transforms the flow of combat
completely. A single mission can take you from a bright sandbox beach to a
claustrophobic underground base, then back again, with no loading. A single
mission can start you on a cliff with stealth and sniper rifles, then leave you
in a spaceship with neon blue and fluorescent green energy beams bouncing
wildly in all directions. It’s easy to see why Halo was so revolutionary and so
embraced upon release… and it’s easy to understand why fans would be upset if
this core was changed.
not, however, it’s impossible to play the first Halo ten years later without
experiencing quite a lot of unexpected tedium and frustration. Remember the
infamous, mind- and thumb-numbingly repetitive Library level? What you won’t
realize until now is how many other
sections of Halo: Combat Evolved are just like that. Remember the less
forgiving, more hardcore health bar, which didn’t regenerate completely without
med kits? What you won’t recall until now is how often that, combined with a
maddening system of save points, causes you to die at extremely undeserving
moments. Remember those overpowering, over punishing Hunters? What won't drive you crazy until now is how many times those things show up, again and again and again until the fear factor is gone and only the annoyance factor remains.
Also gone are many abilities we now take for granted, like hijacking vehicles and zooming in with certain weapons. We’re not
suggesting that these abilities should be added, or that the flaws described above should be
fixed. Only that you will notice
them. Only that they will irritate you.
Only that the game hasn’t aged
perfectly. Very well, but not perfectly.
Some may be
disappointed by the multiplayer in Anniversary as well, though we weren’t. Yes,
updates of all 13 original maps would have been nice, but a mix of six Halo 1
and Halo 2 maps (each with classic and Reach-style variants), plus a new
Firefight map, plus the addition of Xbox Live co-op to the campaign, is more
than enough for a value-priced package like this.
Regardless of any complaints or criticisms above, we’d still wholeheartedly recommend Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary to any diehard fan of the franchise, and with just minor reservations to everyone else.
Halo 2 Anniversary in 2014? Can’t wait.