It's hard to fathom that it was 10 whole years ago that Halo debuted alongside the original Xbox. It was 10 years ago where first person shooters on the console, LAN play and vehicular combat took a leap forward. It was 10 years ago where Microsoft's prized gaming franchise began.
A decade later, with Bungie out of the picture and 343 Industries handling the series going forward, can Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a remastered HD remake of the game that started it all still hold the charm of the original, and does it work for gamers new and old to the franchise? Read our review to find out.
The original Halo is something special and 343 Industries, along with Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity, keep the remake true to the original, for better or worse. The single-player campaign, which like the original can be played with a co-op partner, is nearly identical to the original, but remastered with better graphics and sound. The new textures, water and particle effects are for the most part up to current-gen standards and the background/sky effects and weapons are gorgeous.
While we can appreciate leaving the source material as is, some functions would have benefited from a bit of an upgrade and a lot of the graphical hiccups during area loads and in cut scenes still remain. Prepare yourself for frequent, but minor framerate issues.
One of the key selling points of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is the ability to flip back at anytime to the game's original graphics. It only takes a second or two to flip back and forth and it works, but the old graphics don't actually look or feel like the original Halo. The textures and lighting just seem off. It's a neat feature but one I doubt players would ever use it after trying it out.
Other features players won't be taking advantage of are the tacked on Kinect functionality, undoubtedly forced in by Microsoft Game Studios in an attempt to get more "hardcore" titles advertising Kinect. The Kinect features do nothing to improve gameplay here and in fact, hinder the player who chooses to take advantage of the added functions in-game. The Kinect controls are relegated to simple voice commands for actions like tossing a grenade by saying "grenade" or switching between "classic" and "remastered" graphics. The functions are mostly counter-productive and it's unwise to use it over pressing a button on the controller for an instant response. 343 seemingly knows this and the feature isn't advertised on the package - it even requires a download to enable.
The only neat feature Kinect adds - and again, Kinect is totally unnecessary for this - is the ability to analyze objects in the game. Scanning them adds them to the library where players can read more info about them while viewing a 3D model of that creature, vehicle or weapon, controlling the menu through motion controls. It only works for Kinect users so it's a cheap gimmick. All of this could be done better with the standard Xbox 360 controller.
Arguably the most impressive upgrade with the Halo remake is the sound and score. Most of the sound outside of the voice acting has been re-recorded with everything else remastered for 5.1 audio and it sounds amazing. Even more impressive is the score where Skywalker Symphony Orchestra was called upon to help remake the original soundtrack. There are a lot of modern variants of the classic Halo themes and it plays very well - we hope a lot of that returns with Halo 4 next year.
Does the campaign hold up? Yes and no. Halo still does a lot of things right. The combat, weapons and vehicles to the enemies and set pieces are all excellent but there's an intense amount of repetition in the drawn-out levels which inolve players traversing identical indoor environments over and over and over again, while forcing them to go back-and-forth through outdoor environments. It's that design that doesn't hold up today if it were a new release.
Since we believe this game will only appeal to players who are already hardcore fans of the Halo series, that's alright and we didn't expect 343 Industries to go changing the actual structure of the game. What they did do that's very cool is add Terminals scattered across that game that, when activated, initiate a cinematic, artistic sequence that offers more backstory to the game and series. That will strike a chord for fans of the series and is one of the best parts of the Anniversary edition.
While 343 Industries delivered on the campaign front, they didn't quite on the multiplayer offerings. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary comes with only six maps and is therefore, a lesser package than the original game, especially since the maps are designed specifically for Reach using its engine and do not play like the original Halo. The new Firefight map is great and the maps included are some of the better Reach maps available, but fan-favorite map Blood Gulch was ignored which is a failure in our minds.
From a remake, we expected all of the original maps and perhaps even the option to play classic multiplayer but with added online functionality, although we do understand how that would fragment the online player base. Still, six maps doesn't cut it. The most hours of gameplay will come from the multiplayer so six maps, comparable to what standard DLC entails, doesn't feel right and makes Anniversary less of a standalone package.
The game serves the nostalgia of veteran Halo players, but Halo Anniversary likely won't be a hit with newcomers, especially during this busy fall season. Active Halo: Reach players will however, enjoy the six maps but may be better served purchasing just the map pack DLC rather than paying the $40 for the full package.
In the end, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary exists as a reminder to fans during this busy video game release season that Halo is still here, is still important and is coming back big time next year. It's an effort to annualize the series between major installments, but it doesn't stand up to the major triple-A releases this fall.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is now available for the Xbox 360.
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