They say the number 13 can be unlucky. Heck, you rarely, if ever, see the number 13 on elevators. Why am I mentioning this you ask? Well, it’s been 13 years since the original Xbox hit store shelves and an unproven franchise, called Halo: Combat Evolved, launched with it. This 1-2 punch found its way into millions of homes and Halo became a gamer’s game. For me personally, Halo is what got me into first person shooters, as I had never played them on PC. I had always been a console gamer, and I know others who are in the same boat. Gamers playing Halo in cooperative single player lost many nights and even more nights were lost as Xbox gamers hosted or participated in Halo multiplayer LAN parties.
Since that time Halo has become a huge franchise, not only for its gameplay, but its story as well. To date there have been four games that have starred the super soldier, Master Chief. And to celebrate this fact, as well as highlight Halo 2’s 10th anniversary, 343 Industries and Microsoft have released the most comprehensive package that I have ever experienced for any game, Halo: The Master Chief Collection. There is so much content in this game that heads will explode. Given the size and scope of what is included, I am going to break this review up into three main sections: Campaign (Single Player and Cooperative), Multiplayer, and Extras. This will no doubt be one of the biggest reviews, content wise, that I’ve ever written.
Campaign (Single Player and Cooperative)
There is no need to go over the narrative that has taken place over all the Halo games. All you need to know, if you don’t already, is that you play as Spartan 117, Master Chief, one of the last super soldiers of his kind. He is teamed up with Cortana, his AI that guides and assists him on his journeys. Humanity is in the fight for its life with the Covenant, an alien race that follows some very strange beliefs and worships some very legendary “Gods”. These aliens want to eradicate all other races. There are a few twists and turns during the four games, as well as the introduction of a plague like alien form, as well as a race that are seen as protectors of an ancient life form. You’ll learn a lot about humanity, aliens, and Master Chief and Cortana’s unique relationship too. It may sound convoluted now, but as you play all the Halo games these details work themselves out and you’ll learn so much over the 4 games you’ll appreciate the very simple synopsis I have given.
For The Master Chief Collection Halo 2 was given the “anniversary” treatment and is the main focus of the games in regards to the Single Player or Cooperative experience. With that in mind I will be focusing on this game in the Campaign mode section of this review, but I can’t forget the other games. In regards to Halo: CE Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4, you get that traditional Halo experience. What I really enjoyed when playing all four games is that you can see the evolution of the franchise, from graphics and sound to the all-important gameplay. It’s an amazing journey to see the changes and improvements made with each iteration released.
Visually speaking, Halo CE Anniversary was the first game to get an anniversary treatment. On the Xbox 360 the improved visuals and sound were great and the gameplay remained true to the original Xbox version. Halo 3 was the first game of the series on the Xbox 360 and Halo 4 was the swan song for Master Chief on the Xbox 360. I have to say that even with the horsepower and lighting and rendering improvements that are provided by the Xbox One, Halo 3 was not a hit for me in this area. Sure, it looked ok, but showed some age. Halo 4 on the other hand has seemed to stand the test of time. The visuals are solid and they look really decent, given there are some minor enhancements via the Xbox One. Overall these three titles are solid in the gameplay department and that is what counts. Each subsequent game added their own features as the series progressed making each game better.
Halo 2 Anniversary is the marquee title for The Master Chief Collection. Heck, even in their press material Microsoft notes this. It’s been 10 years since the release of Halo 2 so it has gotten the full ‘anniversary’ makeover from visuals to sound. The story of Halo 2 takes place pretty much right after the events of Halo: CE. You’ll cross paths with the Covenant, the Flood and meet some of the Convenant’s leaders. You also set foot back on Earth too. New to the series was the introduction of a 2nd playable character, the Arbiter, a Covenant Elite, as well as the ability to dual wield of weapons. If there is one thing that still stands out, it is the sudden ending of Halo 2. Fans will know what I am talking about, and for those new to the world of Halo, this game was one that was somewhat controversial given that Bungie, the makers of the first three Halos and many of the “side games,” stated that their vision versus the time allotted resulted in a game that had to have aspects cut out of it, and that this is one of the reasons for the cliffhanger ending.
Visually I am amazed with what co-developer Sabre Interactive has done for Halo 2 Anniversary. They have put some very impressive work into updating it into a game that looks close to today’s standards. Having the ability to go back and forth between the original game’s graphics and the anniversary graphics really hits home what they’ve managed to do. I remember playing Halo 2 when it was released and thinking it was great looking, but when I switched back and forth between the visuals of today and 10 years ago, it’s almost frightening what I, along with so many others, considered great. Lighting, shadowing, textures and special effects now have today’s standards, and all the weapons, characters and environments have been reworked for a more modern feel. Trust me, once you experience you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.
Another area that was drastically improved was the sound and cutscenes too. 343 Industries took some time to re-record the classic music at Skywalker ranch, using various choirs and orchestras to achieve some amazing sound. Stevie Vai was also brought back to add some new music to the game, which is quite a testament as he provided some great guitar riffs in the original Halo 2. 343 Industries also recorded new weapon and sound effects too, from the machine gun and battle rifle, the Covenant plasma gun and needler, to the surfaces that Master Chief walks one or the sounds of the environments he explores, it’s all very noticable. And as with the visuals, when you go back to the original version on the fly you’ll notice right away how different things sound and you’ll appreciate what you are listening to.
The cutscenes in Halo 2 have also been remastered. This was taken on by Blur Studios and they use pre-rendered CGI. All I can say is that they are BEAUTIFUL (yes, I put that in caps people). The quality is jaw dropping and it adds to the overall experience. In all there are 56 minutes of new cutscenes, and man do they ever make a difference. The quality that was put into these scenes really gives me some hope of one day doing a full CGI Halo movie. Hell, take the first book ever written in the Halo lore and tell the story of how Master Chief came to be. I think it would be a perfect fit for Blur Studios. You can go back and watch the original cutscenes, but after doing it once, you’ll no longer want to do it, as the remastered cutscenes are so beautiful.
Finally, when playing the campaign (single player or cooperatively) in Halo 2 you can search the levels for hidden terminals. These terminals allow you get more “backstory” of the Halo Universe and the characters you encounter in the game. Such things as the relationship of the Prophets and Elites, how a race of aliens came to be the Grunts of the Covenant to how the war started between the Brutes and Elites. The visuals for these story telling moments are more of a graphic art style and are not CGI. They are meant to be this way to provide their own original touch. As a side note, they were done in Vancouver, BC too…go Canada go.
For those diehard FPS fans that play on console, there are four different control schemes that you can choose from. Interestingly enough they have a control scheme that very much mirrors that of the original Xbox Controllers, from the “Duke” to the “Controller S”. Both of these controllers did not have bumpers at the time, just triggers. You can assign the control scheme to carry over to all games, including multiplayer, so this saves you from having to go into the menu all the time. I found that one scheme worked for me and using it across ALL modes and campaigns was a welcome addition for sure.
*Editors Note: We noticed more people playing online leading up to games launch, especially the day before, and we played more games with no issues. We believe this was enough to warrant our final cumulative score. Should there be problems on launch day we will update accordingly*
Multiplayer has always been a staple of Halo games, and for The Master Chief Collection its back, and not just with a bang, but a BIG BADA BOOM. Having had the chance to play some early multiplayer with other journalists and 343 industries prior to launch, I was amazed with just how well the gameplay held up from the original Halo days all the way through to Halo 4. We’ve held off on this review to make sure things were holding up as more people get the game, and things continued to run smoothly as of writing this section. There was no lag at this point and all the game modes were live and playable.
Right off the hop you should know that The Master Chief Collection ships with over 100 multiplayer maps. All the maps from the original Halo right through to Halo 4 are included. As a bonus console gamers will also get to play Halo maps that were exclusive to PC gamers as well. To say that there are a lot of maps to play on is an understatement. Each map holds true to its original versions as well, as the game code remains unchanged. Maps from the original Halo: CE and Halo 2 have been worked on ever so slightly to accommodate widescreen HDTV’s, as these games were generally played on 4:3 TVs at the time, but that is the only change. The “originalness,” of each game, if you can call it that, really hit home as I was playing a rockets match on Damnation from Halo: CE. When I died and my character crumpled over and his body clipped into the geometry of the wall, and I immediately remember this ‘graphic limitation’ happening when I played Halo: CE multiplayer games with friends during so many LAN parties. The fact that it brought back memories of exactly that was quite indicative of how this complication holds up.
All the multiplayer maps run at 1080p/60fps, and boy does it feel smooth. I noticed it right away. The progress in visuals from Halo: CE to Halo 4 is a treat too, but ALL the maps hold up well gameplay wise and they are fun. Six multiplayer maps from Halo 2 get the anniversary treatment, and boy do they look good. There are 2 small, 2 medium, and 2 big maps. They are Lockdown (Lockout), Warlord (Warlock), Zenith (Ascension), Shrine (Sanctuary), Stonetown, (Zanzibar) and Bloodline (Coagulation). They feel so familiar but yet they have some added features to make them fresh. Fans will appreciate these maps as they are wonderfully updated and are a treat to play. Oh, you may want to look around each map as well for a hidden collectible on each one.
In regards to all the modes available for online play, there are far too many to list. When I had the chance to play during the review process and finally got a chance to see everything that was available, my jaw literally hit the floor as all the modes that have ever existed seem to be included here. From oddball, king of the hill, vehicle races, slayer, big team battle, infection, team slayer, rockets, swat, and so many other types, as well as variants of each, the number of game types is mind boggling. There are also game specific playlists as well as cross-game playlists. This allows you to play a game type locked to play only on the Halo game in the collection it is from or you can play game types from all the Halo games in the collection to be on any Halo map available. Custom games are also back and this is where the game type possibilities become infinite given you are in control of the ruleset of each match. A lot of fun can be had here given you can change any rule to suit the ‘crowd’ your gaming with.
Forge is also included in The Master Chief Collection. For those few who have no idea, it is a level creation mode that allows you to create your own multiplayer map or modify new or existing geometry. You are the artist and you have the chance to improve or create from scratch whatever your mind desires. I tinkered a bit in this area, and what I learned was that I am no map creating guru, so with that in mind, I’ll leave that to those that have some creativity and inspiration to do some magic. For those who will take this on, the only maps that don’t work with Forge are Halo 2’s “classic” maps.
I can go on even more and expand on customization, the inclusion of leaderboards, and saved files, but I think I have touched on many multilplayer features that gamers will find important, and I am running out of room. So with that in mind, let’s continue on.
This collection is full of so many extra features you’ll have lots more to do then just play the games. The most notable is the fact that you have access to the Halo 5 Multiplayer Beta. This is scheduled to go live on December 29th of this year. It will be the first time that gamers will be able to see the new visual engine for the next chapter of the Halo series, as well as experience what is being touted as Halo’s new “arena” competitive multiplayer experience. This beta will last for three weeks and there is no doubt that Halo fans and multiplayer junkies alike will be ready to take this one when it goes live.
Microsoft and 343 Industries have created the Halo Channel in preparation for the release of The Master Chief Collection. Here you will be able to access many of the extras found in the game.
The first big extra is the inclusion of the Halo Nightfall Series. This series is meant to bridge the gap between the events of Halo 4 and the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. It’s a miniseries that introduces Agent Locke, who will make his game debut in Guardians too. The miniseries will start on November 11th and run for 5 weeks. This series was not live during the review period and we cannot say anything about it at this point. Regardless, it is something to look forward too as it is being created via collaboration with Ridley Scott’s own production studio. Having this series set up some story for the events in Halo 5 adds even more reason to watch it.
Through this channel you can watch all the hidden Halo Terminal videos as well as all the new cutscenes from Halo 2 Anniversary. Watching the Terminal Videos is something that I definitely encourage as the amount of information it gives to the back-story of the Halo Universe is immense. Those fans that know much of the lore will enjoy the videos just for the production value, whereas newbies to the world of Halo will get a great education and understand even more of what they are playing. As for watching the cutscenes, how can you not watch them again given the work and quality that went into them. I plan to keep watching them and showing them off to friends and family.
The Master Chief Collection will also be adding the Spartan Ops DLC missions that were found in Halo 4. These events take place 6 months after the end of Halo 4’s campaign. The missions tell the story of Catherine Halsey and how she plays a key role in finding the “librarian” who was key in Halo 4’s storyline. There are some twists and turns to be found in these missions. There are 10 pieces of DLC they are set to be released this December.
Another great set of extras, and one which is really applicable to the customization of your online character, is the amount of emblems/armours/levels and abilities that you can use. In a world where you’ll be facing thousands upon thousands of Halo fans in multiplayer, you have the ability to make your character your own. Going through the amount of items to make my online personal unique was somewhat overwhelming, as there is so much. This again is just another key to how much they have provided people who pick up this collection.
We can’t forget the skulls either. These skulls make all the individual campaigns quite unique and most act as multipliers during a score mode while others might be for show. From having party favours explode out of a grunt when you hit’em with a headshot, enemies not flinching when shot, enemies with increased health or having your shields recharge only after you melee an enemy, these are only a few examples. These can be activated when starting a campaign game of your choice. So pick your skulls and get into battle and see if you can survive the new experience with these skulls turned on.
What I find amazing about the features I have discussed is that they are ALL open right from the get-go (except those time sensitive ones). This allows anyone who picks up The Master Chief Collection to do things their way, and not have to progress from the original Halo: CE all the way through to the end of Halo 4. You can pick and choose what to do in the campaign in whatever manner or order you want and you are not restricted in what to do. This feature alone makes all the content and extras accessible right away and does not restrict you in any manner.
So, after exhausting myself writing this behemoth of a review, I have to say that Halo: The Master Chief Collection has stolen my gaming heart. The amount of trips down memory lane I encountered during my single player and multiplayer experience were many. Fans of the series will no doubt feel that this is the ultimate tribute to Master Chief and his adventures so far while those who have yet to experience the Halo franchise will enjoy all it has to offer, but in one simple package. The added benefit of the Xbox One hardware also makes it better, with improved visuals in campaign and new Halo 2 Anniversary maps, as well as the control options. Add to this that the amount of extras are long and lasting, and you have a total package that makes for quite a high benchmark for all developers/publishers to meet when considering releasing a collection of a game series.
***This game was reviewed on the Xbox One with a code provided by the publisher***