When the original Xbox released in 2001 there were two games that most considered must buys when purchasing the system. One was a fighting game while the other was a first person shooter. Microsoft has made sure that one of those games has continued to this day in one form or another, and that game is Halo: Combat Evolved, which back then was a brand new FPS game on a home console system. When Halo: Combat Evolved was released alongside the Xbox during the Microsoft’s first attempt to launch a home console, it showed the world that FPS games were not only visually appealing on a console, but it also showed that FPS games were more than playable using a console controller. For me, Halo: Combat Evolved was the definitive FPS that got me playing the genre as I had never been that big of a fan and I did not game on a PC, and I know that I am not alone in this regards. Well it has been 10 years since the Halo: Combat Evolved was released, and Microsoft has thrown a party so to speak by offering up gamers in this current generation of gaming a present, and that present is Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.
Reviewing Halo Anniversary was somewhat tough for me. I have very fond memories of playing the original title 10 years ago as the game’s portrayal of a time far, far into the future played out to perfection. The experience that was Halo was amazing to say the least. Since then Halo’s story has continued, the experience has been refined, and there are offshoot stories that have developed in the Halo universe, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach to be exact. So how was this review tough for me you ask? Well, I was playing a game that was phenomenal 10 years ago, but since then a lot has changed and trying to review a 10 year old game in today’s market is not as fair as one would think given how gaming has indeed transformed since then.
For those who never played the original Halo, the story is simple. Set in the future, mankind is in need of a hero to battle an alien race known as the Covenant. Enter Master Chief, who is the last cybernetic super-soldier from a group of genetically engineered specialist marines known as the Spartans. He is awoken from his cryogenic sleep to assist his fellow marines in battle, and so the story of Halo begins. Along for the ride is an AI construct named Cortana who is not only Master Chief’s tactical advisor, but she holds a much bigger role throughout the whole Halo series, starting with Combat Evolved.
One of the biggest draws for the original Halo was how the story was told, and that feeling carries over to Halo Anniversary. Right from the get-go you are drawn in to this strange world where a single super soldier plays such an important role in humanities future. 10 years ago this was an amazing experience, and overall it is still a great experience, if not a little dated. Halo Anniversary is the exact same game that you played a decade ago. So don’t expect any drastic changes. Everything from Enemy AI placement to attack tactics are the same given that the programming for such has not been altered one bit. Everything that has to do with the actual gameplay (e.g. NOT the visuals) is exactly the same.
One thing that has carried over, which I knew could not be avoided, is that amongst the great story there exists some very repetitive gameplay experiences now and then. Most notably is the amount of repetitive areas, confusing directions, and a lot of back tracking. I remember experiencing many bouts of confusion during my original play through 10 years ago, as the game did not fully lead me where to go. This is still true today, as the campaign has not changed at all. You’ll find many points where you are not 100% percent sure on which direction you should venture, specifically within some of the indoor levels. Add to this that some of the game has you back tracking through areas that you’ve already made your way through once before, while other areas look far too similar to one other. These drawbacks are from a game that was made 10 years ago, and something that you don’t find prevalent in many of today’s FPS games, so in some ways you may understand why this is the case. That being said, you will notice it and this is a fact that you cannot get away from.
Control of all the on-screen action carries over from the original Halo, and overall this is not a bad thing. Master Chief moves across the screen gracefully given that this is an FPS game that, when released, mastered control using a console controller. 10 years ago it showed that an FPS game did not have to use a mouse and keyboard to be accurate and enjoyable and this is still the same today. If anything some will find that the gunplay can be a bit “floaty” given that over the years developers have been able to fine tune their programming of such, but most should have no problem adjusting to this feeling over a short period of time.
If there is one thing that I really want to comment on, and it is something that drove me nuts in the original Halo, and still drives me nuts in Halo Anniversary, it is control of the Warthog. Anyone who has played the original will know what I am talking about, as the vehicle controls for the Warthog are wonky and it is definitely not a smooth experience. Well it is the same in Halo Anniversary. You can adapt to this that is for sure, but don’t expect to control the Warthog as easily or effectively as you did in any of the other Halo games. This is a minor gripe indeed, but it is gripe nonetheless as it will affect certain parts of the game, especially the final level.
Halo Anniversary brings a few new things to the table. The biggest and most notable is the inclusion of Kinect support. Now, I know that you are wondering how the heck they utilize the Kinect sensor for gameplay in a 10 year old game. Well, it is simple actually as the game utilizes the microphone in the Kinect sensor to try to enhance gameplay. By shouting commands you will enable certain actions, such as “Reload” to reload your weapon, or “Grenade” to throw a grenade while in battle. These commands take the place of actual button presses. You can also use the Kinect sensor to assist in your efforts to analyze objects that you enter into a Halo library for your perusal. If I have any complaint in this area it is that yelling to throw a grenade or reload my weapon was not as ‘snappy’ as pressing a button, as there was a bit of lag between my yelling and the actual action taking place, and in a game where you are fighting against hordes of enemies, it is important to have the game respond to your input, button or not, as quick as possible.
Another new feature for Halo Anniversary is Terminals. These are hidden areas that when accessed provide a back drop to the universe of Halo. Unlike the terminals that were used in Halo 3, which were text based, Halo Anniversary’s terminals provide short animated clips. The final new feature that fans will discover is the inclusion of hidden skulls that, when they are found and eventually activated, change the core gameplay. Skulls were introduced to fans of the franchise in Halo 2 and they change the game by doing such things as deactivating your radar, doubling your consumption of ammo, increasing the damage resistance of your enemy, or disabling your auto-aim to name a few.
For those playing the campaign, there is nice selection of options to play cooperatively with a friend. You can play the campaign with another person via split-screen, system link, or over Xbox LIVE. I remember playing the majority of the campaign with an old friend of mine during a snowstorm we had in our area in 2001. We planted ourselves down on the couch and had a great time playing split screen, which was the only way coop was enabled. Well the cooperative aspects of the game are still fun and something I think a lot of people should appreciate. Being able to play cooperatively one of three ways provides even more replay value to the game.
If there is one thing that Halo: Combat Evolved fans should remember, it is the long days and nights of multiplayer madness. When Halo Anniversary was first revealed I was somewhat excited as I reminisced about the days of LAN parties with good friends playing the original levels. Well, with Halo Anniversary things are quite changed, and in many ways they have made the multiplayer much different instead of allowing you just take a trip down memory lane.
Halo Anniversary’s online adversarial multiplayer gameplay is actually built using the Halo: Reach engine. So those of you who have been playing Halo: Reach online for the past year or so will feel right at home. There are six multiplayer maps from the Halo universe, and these maps, which have been deemed to be fan faves, have received not only visual upgrades, but also gameplay upgrades such as new paths, new barriers, and access to new areas. To see such classics as Beaver Creek or High Noon, but with gameplay changes and upgraded visuals using the Halo: Reach engine, was pretty cool, but it was not without a cost. Although the multiplayer has been brought into the current generation of FPS games, it is not a remake or throwback at all to the original Halo multiplayer. You will not have that same feeling you did when playing at a LAN party, given the online component plays so differently. The use of the Halo: Reach engine now allows for different melee attacks as well as different power-ups/attributes that were not available 10 years ago, and these provide a very different feel.
Given that the online game is now geared for those playing Reach, newbies to the world of Halo online will be at an extreme disadvantage when heading onto Xbox LIVE as Reach veterans will be running amok. Halo: Reach fans who do not want to buy Halo Anniversary will have the option to buy a Map Pack with the six Halo Anniversary maps (seven if you add the one for Firefight mode), so they won’t need to have Halo Anniversary to play the maps at all. So look out all you Halo online rookies, as you will stand to get your ass handed to you until you get accustomed to all the online features and modes that are already available in Reach. Online Halo Anniversary is definitely not a throwback or tribute to the original Halo Multilplayer at all, as it is a re-invisioning of it.
Visually I have to say that Saber Interactive did a great job of upgrading the visuals. Most HD remakes of older game titles (e.g. Splinter Cell Collection or ICO/Shadow of Colussus remake – both on PS3) take the original visuals and just add HD goodness to it, smoothing out lines or textures, and sharpening up some of the finer details. In Halo Anniversary, the original game gets a brand new coat of paint so to speak as Saber Interactive uses a new visual graphics engine and slaps it right on top of the original game. Interestingly enough, you can switch between the original graphics and the new graphics with the press of a button. By doing so you can see a distinct difference in everything from the backgrounds, the textures, the enemies, and even the vehicles you drive. There is an incredible amount of detail, lighting and special effects going on this time around. Sure, it may not be on par with titles like Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, or some of the other high profile games released this year, but given they put such a fresh coat of paint by using a new graphics engine is testament to what they did to make this anniversary edition so much more, visually speaking, then just an HD upgrade. The game truly benefits and looks good, and that is what counts.
The sound in Halo Anniversary is also very solid. Throughout the Halo franchise the music that has been created has always been top notch. No matter which Halo you play the music is incredible as it pulls you into the game and always manages to enhance the emotional experience. Halo: Combat Evolved was the first in the series, and as I heard the music again I am reminded why I was so attracted to the symphonic melodies in the first place. They are just as good as I remembered when playing for the first time. The soundtrack has been remastered this time around, and it actually sounds somewhat better this time around as the music has even more punch to it. In regards to the sound effects, they are pretty “Haloesque” and they manage to sound just like you’d expect. From Master Chief’s original Battle Rifle, the Covenant’s Needler, to the various explosions and chatter from friendly and enemy forces alike, it is all there and encoded in Dolby Digital Surround Sound for all to enjoy. Overall I don’t think anyone who plays Halo Anniversary will be disappointed given the source material is faithfully recreated while managing to enhance some key aspects of it.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a true tribute to the franchise that started 10 years ago when the original Xbox was released. The game stays true to its roots in gameplay and AI, but the visual facelift that it has been given makes it more then just an HD upgrade, as the new visuals are so much better and add to an already solid game. Microsoft also made sure to bring the multiplayer into the modern world as well, as the Halo Reach engine allows for so much more. That being said, I think purists of the original Halo multiplayer may find issue with this, but in the end it comes down to a matter of taste, and most should enjoy it. At $40.00 Halo Anniversary is a worthy purchase for both fans of the franchise and newbies alike. So, go ahead, pick up this game and see what really started it all for Microsoft and the world of console gaming.