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Halo: The Master Chief Collection - Review
It's been fourteen years now, since Halo: Combat Evolved was released. The Xbox may have not come out on top during the sixth generation of consoles, but its all-important shooter series would be one of the most influential console games ever made.
In many respects, the original game's design can still be felt today. Rechargeable health, friendly A.I. combatants, two weapon limitations, can all be traced back to the original instalment of Halo. The Master Chief Collection might be (mostly) a savvy ploy by Microsoft's marketing division, but it also plays out like a history lesson.
Bundled together on one disc are all four major Halo installments, with Bungie's original trilogy sitting alongside 343 Industries' latest effort. The sheer amount of gameplay on offer is likely to entice many, and while none of it is new, there's been a concerted effort for this to be a somewhat definitive collection.
Halo: Combat Evolved shows up in its anniversary form, boasting all the overhauled textures and lighting, along with the original game, being available at the touch of a button. Combat Evolved, in many ways, still remains the best Halo by virtue of its simplicity. The opening half of the campaign is pitched perfectly, with the vast open sprawls of "Halo" and "The Silent Cartographer" being two of the best levels that Bungie ever designed.
Even the shootouts still feel fresh, arguably more so, given they avoid a lot of the bombast and special effects we're used to nowadays. The tight, tactical to-and-fro of taking down an Elite before mopping up the Grunts is still remarkably satisfying.
It's a shame then, that the game's latter half almost feels like a completely different game. Charging down identikit corridor after identikit corridor, it's as if the developers had used up all their best ideas in the first half. The introduction of The Flood (spoilers...I guess?) doesn't help matters all that much either. Whilst the first encounter is a fun twist, with Bungie doing a good job evoking the mood of Alien, gameplay-wise The Flood manage to be far less interesting, running towards you only to get blasted in the face.
Halo 2 meanwhile, is perhaps the most interesting part of this collection, considering it's now also received the anniversary treatment, with some new, admittedly gorgeous, cutscenes to boot. Halo 2 is Bungie at their broadest, with the game's size and scope being much greater than in the other two games. Switching control between the Arbiter and Master Chief likewise, makes for a different change of pace, with each character, for the most part, having access to different weapons on their respective levels.
Halo 2 also saw the introduction of the dual-wielding system, which, when you think about it, was something of a no-brainer when one of the best things you could do in the original Halo was let off a shot with the plasma pistol, down an enemy's shield, and then switch to the regular handgun to finish the job. It's well balanced too, with the additional firepower coming at the cost of your melee attack and the ability to throw grenades.
Of course, whilst Halo 2 overall, improves on the original game's formula, in many respects it sticks too close to it. Even the game's story, hardly the strongest aspect of the series, sticks rigorously to the original's plot, to the point where the game feels more like a rerun of the Combat Evolved than a true sequel. Even key gameplay beats crop up at the same time, with The Flood making their inevitable return at the halfway mark once again.
At one point in the game's overly-complicated tale, Cortana says, "It's not a new plan, but we'll know it'll work", and you can't help but think she's talking about the game.
Halo 3 meanwhile, feels more like a proper sequel to the original game. Its scope is pared down, the story knows not to get in the way as much, and, given the events of the previous game, there's now a new enemy to fight. The Brutes initially seem like a basic Elite substitute, and they are, to a certain extent. The addition of a new enemy allows Bungie to craft a third set of weapons and vehicles, with the Brute's crude, jerry-rigged arsenal contrasting fairly well with the no-nonsense military equipment, and the sleek alieness of the Covenant weaponry.
The addition of more complex vehicle segments is a welcome addition. The battles against the Covenant's spider-like mechs being a particular highlight. The added power courtesy of the Xbox 360 is all over Halo 3 and Bungie make good use of it for the most part, creating interesting environments to duke it out on, rather than settling for flashy, but tactically dull, corridor shootouts.
It's a shame then, that the usual problems begin to rear their heads. Some levels seem like rehashes of older ones, as if Bungie didn't quite know how to expand on the trademark formula, at least in terms of the single player campaign. Like a persistent virus that won't go away, The Flood make a comeback once again, and whilst things are better this time around, with the all-consuming aliens being given a few different enemy types, and the ability to infect NPCs in real-time, they still come across as the weakest link in Halo's chain.
Halo 3 also marks the end of the Bungie-affiliated games in the collection, and, as impressive as they are, you can't ever shake the feeling that they got away with making the same game three times over. It's more pronounced here than it ever was during their original release, even more so should you choose to play the games back-to-back, but overall Bungie never seemed to escape from the original game's immense shadow.
Halo 4 would seem to be a fresh start, with a new team and (presumably) a new trilogy in the works. It's something of a mystery why Halo 4 was never held back in order for it to be a launch title for the Xbox One, but it manages to look a little better here than it did upon its original release two years ago, with an improved resolution and better frame rate.
Campaign-wise Halo 4 finally does a few things differently. The Flood are jettisoned entirely, being replaced by the biomechanical Forerunners; Transformer-like aliens with strange, floaty guns and the ability to jump along walls or teleport.
It's a nice change after the previous three games, but in some respects, 343 Industries' alterations aren't always welcome. This is a much more linear game than before. Gone are the wide-open spaces that allowed you to flank enemies or set up your plan of attack. As if conceding to the original game's design, Halo 4 will occasionally have a random "alternate path" that will allow you to get the jump on a few opponents. It's a dumbed down approach to level design, and Halo 4's campaign is worse off for it.
If all that wasn't enough, there's also the entire gamut of Halo's multiplayer history. Games can be set up from any of the classic multiplayer modes, ranging from the original game, all the way up to Halo 4. There's also the overhauled Halo 2 multiplayer added to all of this.
Provided you're a multiplayer junkie, this is about as good as it gets; the amount of sheer gameplay on offer is impressive. It's a shame that the matchmaking, at the time of reviewing, seems somewhat cumbersome. It can take quite a while to get into a game, and, whilst Halo's multiplayer is good, it hasn't all aged that well, with the series' obsession with long-range gun fights making for tedious progress if you're a newbie.
It might be rude to complain, but it is a mystery why Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach weren't also added into this collection, along with Halo Wars. Despite billing itself as the definitive collection of Halo titles, it still seems as if Microsoft might well release a similar collection later down the line and actually include the entire series.
Still, provided you're a fan of shooting things up as a green space marine, this is by no means just a lazy cash grab, and sets things up nicely for the release of Halo 5.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection was released on November 11th, exclusively for the Xbox One.
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