Chief returns to save Xbox. Again
War. War never changes. Except when it does. But also stays the same. But is also better. Look, what I’m trying to say is that I’ve just played a session of Team Slayer in Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and it’s really bloody marvellous. Battling it out in a classic 4v4 set-up (the same configuration that Halo 5’s online is being optimised for), on Halo 2 map Sanctuary (the rocky one with the little three-floored tower in the middle) was one of the most simply enjoyable experiences I’ve had in games in quite a while. I realise that probably sounds like faint praise, but it really, really isn’t.
You see every new big game these days has a hook. Maybe it’s destruction. Maybe it’s gore or creative time-bending. Maybe it’s an innovative narrative. But Halo 2 multiplayer, thanks to its peerless design, immaculate balance, and sheer, flawless sense of joy in movement, needs none of that. Ten years old, the pure feel of playing it is still all it needs to make me instantly forget all the other shiny, new-gen attention-seekers in the room.
Not that that is all it has, of course. Tuned up for the Xbox One, it sings like it never has before, Scratch that. It purrs. Running at 60 frames per second, at full 1080p, the sense of technical escalation feeding into the smooth tactility of the experience--even from the visually stellar Halo 4--is intoxicating. It’s all just so sleek, smooth and slippery that it’s hard not to be taken aback for the first few minutes of play. It feels like liquid Halo, and for a series that thrives so fundamentally on the satisfying, floating momentum of its play, that’s no small compliment.
But ultimately, this stuff isn’t what you’ll take away. Because as beautifully glossy, solid, and tactile as new visual upgrade is, what it’s all really about is still those ‘Halo moments’. The perfectly tracked salvo of fire into a leaping enemy, punctuated with the knockout elbow as he floats down into range. The sneaky, cat-and-mouse duel around the rocky outcrop, that keeps your shield fuller than your opponent’s just long enough to blindside him with the final shot. The wide, flanking run that lets your hurl a grenade down a side-corridor, as your prey are distracted by your team’s more obvious, direct assault. They’re all still there. Whatever the finely-honed polish, they’re still what this game is really made of. Halo 2 multiplayer. It remains the most glorious killing spree. It’s just better now.