Game Review Hub: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
Genre: First person shooter
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: 343 Industries, Saber Interactive, Certain Affinity
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Estimated length: 10 hours+
Rating: 4 out of 5
With Bungie moving on after the release of Halo: Reach, Microsoft handed control of the Halo franchise over to 343 Industries. Prior to that shift, 343 Industries was established to oversee the larger Halo franchise, including the books, comics and toys, and they also developed the Halo waypoint application, which lets players track their achievement progress through all of the Halo games. Before 343 started developing their new trilogy of Halo games, they decided to step back and revisit the origins of the series. The result is an enhanced remake of Halo: Combat Evolved, which features improved graphics, online multiplayer and even some additional story content.
While the campaign in Halo: Anniversary is the same as the original, it is clear that 343 put a tremendous amount of work into the remake. To start, the new game is running on an entirely new engine, which gives the game and the controls a much more modern feel. The graphics don't seem like a huge improvement, until you press back and revert the game back to the Xbox quality visuals. Once you get a real comparison it is clear that you are practically playing a different game. Not only are character models vastly improved, but ambient lighting is better and the texture quality and the environments are much more detailed. There are points in the game where you would not even recognize the original level after playing it with the updated graphics. The weapons seem to be something that 343 was particularly interested in, and they have been changed to a larger extent than anything else, all to fantastic effect. Particularly the needler and the shotgun. Not only did they add their own flourish to the look of the weapons, but the sounds that they make when shot have been changed to give them a louder and more violent effect.
Halo CE was a game that was about one thing; amazing combat. That is maintained in its re-release, however 343 seemed to want to update the game for a modern game audience. The game has achievements, which the original did not have, which are a cool addition and add some incentive to replay levels to complete challenges. They also added skulls, which are featured in most newer halo games. Skulls are collectable items in each level, which once unlocked and activated, can add interesting features to you game. For example, the Mythic skull give all opponents double health, or the Bandana skull which gives you unlimited ammo and grenades. With about a dozen such effects, the skulls can give you a great reason to replay the game after you beat it, either for the challenge, or just the fun of it.
The most interesting addition that 343 made to the campaign is the terminals which can be found in every level. When you find a terminal you will be treated to a short video which fills in some of the backstory of the Halo games. They are told from the point of view of 343 guilty spark and involve his actions before his first encounter with Maser Chief. Much of these videos tie in to the novels, which made them particularly interesting to me, having read the novels. However I don't know how much value they will have to someone who only plays the games.
When the original Halo was released there was no online multiplayer. The closest thing you could get to that experience was to play split screen co-op. Now in Halo anniversary there is full online multiplayer, and online co-op. Being a huge fan of co-op play, this was one of the more exciting features for me coming into this game. Unfortunately I ran into plenty of problems with the co-op. First of all, this game does not seem to auto-save your progress. It does checkpoint if you die, but if you turn the game off without exiting to the main menu, it does not even save your chapter progress, and me and my co-op buddy were forced to play the first 3 levels over again because of this. That would not be a big deal, if not for the fact that we then experienced a series to crashes that prevented us from finishing the third level. One instance had me continuing to play like normal while my partner stared at the sky and could not move. Another had my screen crash but I was still able to move my character around the world. While these things mostly happened on the third level, we did experience a similar problem later in the game. The result of all of this was a great co-op experience that was ruined by technical difficulties.
Now Halo Anniversary also includes traditional online multiplayer. This is actually played on the same engine as Halo: Reach and as a result it feels very similar. The cool part is that it includes a few remade maps from Halo and Halo 2. I did not play any multiplayer in those games, so the nostalgia was lost on me, but if you did then you will probably appreciate those maps. There is also a firefight mode which can be played on small sections of the original Halo campaign, which proved to be a pretty cool experience.
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Halo Anniversary is a pretty cool way to get your Halo fix while you wait for the next main entry in the series. If you never played Halo but are into some of the newer games in the series, then this game is a must play to get you caught up. After all, Halo: Combat Evolved is what jumped off the series and made it what it is today. If you played Halo then there isn't much new content to see, and the little that is there will not mean much to people who did not delve into the expanded universe. However it is worth playing to serve as a reminder of how far we have come, and refresh your memory on the Halo storyline. There are also plenty of multiplayer features, and while the co-op is buggy, the competitive multiplayer was lots of fun and kept me coming back for quite a while. Hopefully 343 was able to work out some of the kinks on this game, and I look forward to seeing what they do with their first original entry in the series.