STAFF REVIEW of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Xbox 360)

Monday, November 28, 2011.
by Adam Dileva

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Box art If Halo didn?t become the massive success that it did back in 2001, it?s no secret that there?s a very slim chance that the Xbox would even be around today. Luckily, Bungie showed the world what a first person shooter on a console could strive to be and the rest is history. I?m an absolutely huge Halo fan; I probably have more Halo merchandise than one person should. I can?t believe it?s been a decade since I bought my Xbox and was introduced to Halo. I do miss my duke controller after all this time though.

Halo helped shape the kind of gamer than I?ve become today. Halo was the first (and I think only as far as I can remember) game that I?d ever coordinate with 15 other friends to get together for a lan party. We would set a place and everyone would bring their TV (this was before LCD TVs, so we had to lug our hefty TVs around), Xbox, Halo, controllers, and a ton of pizza. This is how you played together with friends back in the day before Xbox Live and sixteen player Halo lans with my friends are some of the fondest gaming memories I still have to this day.

Now that Bungie is off doing new non-Halo related games, 343 Industries is now taking the helm for all Halo projects going forward. Their first order of business was bringing fans the Anniversary edition of Halo Combat Evolved for the ten year anniversary. Master Chief returns a decade later to suck us back into the lore of Halo and hopefully find some new fans of the series along the way. If you?re a Halo purist, don?t fret, Anniversary is essentially the same experience you remember playing all those years ago. The core of the game is intact and unchanged, but new visuals, audio, and more, make Anniversary look like it belongs in modern times. You?ll be impressed to see how drastically cleaner and high-def Master Chief and the new environments look. And yes, the overpowered ionic pistol makes its long awaited return.

The story of Halo is unchanged and maintains its history and lore. You know how the story began, you know how it ends, but it still manages to capture my attention after all these years, regardless of how many times I?ve beaten the campaign. I won?t go into the story too much, as by now if you?ve played Halo, you know it, and if you haven?t, I don?t want to spoil it. Master Chief awakens from a cryo-chamber shortly after the fall of Reach. They crash onto a mysterious ring world inhabited by the Covenant, the alien race that humanity is battling against. Master Chief uncovers a disaster in the making with the introduction of the Flood, aliens that can end all of humanity if it isn?t stopped. One way to stop it, is by using Halo, but that would end all sentient life in the universe.

Throughout the campaign, I kept getting deja-vu and a constant overwhelming nostalgia feeling. It was welcomed and it kept putting a smile on my face as I proclaim ?Oh yea, I remember that!?. Ten years ago, you could play through the story with a friend locally on the same screen, now that Xbox Live is here, each player gets their own screen and you don?t have to share a room any longer. It?s still only two player co-op and you can only play with people on your friends list, there?s no random matchmaking unfortunately, for those times you don?t want to fight the Flood alone.

So let?s start with what?s new in Anniversary. Most notably and the first thing you?re going to take notice of is the updated and sharp visuals. I?m not just talking an up-scaled resolution, but all models and textures have been recreated and boosted to high definition. Colors seem more vibrant, there?s much more detail everywhere, more foliage on the ground, and even some new lighting will help guide you in some of the maze-like levels. Some levels seem drastically different in remastered mode, not that the game itself was changed, but in dark areas, it?s actually bright now. In the swamp level you can actually see more than 10 feet in front of you because of the new lighting and draw d, surface textures, environments, and more have all been drastically updated, and at times it can almost look like a completely different game than you remember. That?s where the beauty of switching between classic and remastered mode come into play. By tapping the back button, you can switch between the actual 2001 graphics, and the updated graphics of today. It takes about three seconds of black screen loading to happen, but you?ll be amazed at the substantial differences. This is achieved by having both the classic and modern sets of code running at the same time (which is why I?m assuming there?s the slight delay while switching). You?ll be constantly surprised at how the game looked back then and what your memory actually thought it looked like. I?m constantly switching back and forth just to see the differences and always come away amazed, not only at how good they got it to look today, but how good that looked for only ten years ago. Take note though, whatever ?version? you?re playing when a cutscene triggers, the cutscene will play in that mode; there?s no switching while watching unfortunately.

Next are the games audio enhancements. I could tell a slight difference between some of the different gun sounds, voices and such, but the real improvements can be heard when the soundtrack kicks in. The music somehow sounds cleaner and some tracks have been remastered and sound absolutely stunning. It was great hearing the rock version of the Halo theme kick in when I?m obliterating a pack of Covenant.

There are some new secrets hidden within the world you remember though. Terminals can be found hidden in each level, though only if you are playing in remastered mode (they simply aren?t there if you?re in classic) that when found, will play a new short cutscene to give you some more insight into the lore of Halo, narrated and revolving around Guilty Spark himself. There?s even the inclusion now of hidden skulls in the levels that can alter gameplay in interesting ways, just like it did in the game?s successors.

The most intriguing new addition would have to be support for Kinect. No, you aren?t going to be running around your living room pretending to fire a gun; it?s actually just voice controls for a number of different things. Shouting ?grenade?, ?reload?, or ?flashlight? in game will do those commands instead of pressing the corresponding button. Sadly though it?s not all that practical, as there?s a delay of voice to action. Saying ?analyze? will make your visor look like it did in ODST (almost like night vision), and new weapons, enemies, and vehicles can be scanned to fill your library index to learn more about the scanned items. Note, you need Kinect to use this feature, and you can?t do it with just a controller, but there?s no attached achievements to it, nor will you learn any new secrets, it?s simply for the OCD that want to scan all 45 items in the world. Interestingly, you can even say ?brighter? and ?dimmer? to change your settings on the fly, even contrast and enabling 3D mode should you have the TV for it (as a side note, I don?t have a 3D TV, but from what I?ve read, most people say the 3D mode for Anniversary works very well and isn?t intrusive). Be warned co-op players of a Kinect owner, you will get sick of them shouting ?analyze? and ?scan? often.

Ah, classic Halo multiplayer, many nights have I stayed up saying ?one more game? repeatedly. Before Xbox Live, players figured out a way to play online with each other that involved downloading a program and tunneling through your computer. It was primitive, but it worked, though I always preferred to have the big Halo lans at a friend?s place. Now, while the campaign has gone relatively untouched (outdated mechanics and all), sadly the same can?t be said for multiplayer. Those looking to relive those memories of all night Halo lans might be disappointed to know that this isn?t the same multiplayer you played a decade ago. Sadly, you can?t play multiplayer in classic visuals though which was a little bit of a letdown.

There are only six maps included on disc, and they are taken from Halo CE, Halo CE PC, and Halo 2. To be fair, the majority of the original maps have already been remade for Halo 2, 3, and Reach, but in Anniversary you?ll have access to High Noon (Hang ?Em High), Breakneck (Headlong), Penance (Damnation), Ridgeline (Timberland), Solitary (Prisoner), and of course Battle Canyon (Beaver Creek). The maps have been slightly altered, like with teleporters or new tunnels but will give you the same general feel that you remember them from.

There are new matchmaking playlists that gives access to Squad, Big Team Battle, Free For All, Classic, and even Firefight (new Firefight map called Installation 04). The multiplayer is using the Reach engine, but playing these classic modes won?t allow for the armor abilities and other drastic changes. You?ll have essentially the same multiplayer from years ago, complete with pistol, but something just seems different about it, though I can?t pinpoint what exactly it is. There?s a code when you open Anniversary that will even allow you to import the maps into Reach (and thus play with armor abilities) if you?d rather go that route as well. Considering the map pack separate is 1200 Microsoft Points, Anniversary selling at $40 isn?t such a bad deal, as you?ll get the remastered campaign.

Anniversary is by no means perfect; there?s still texture pop in, disorientating and laggy warping when another player gets to a checkpoint, and minor things like the cryo-chamber Master Chief comes out of at the beginning of the game; the cutscene shows one tube, when the game begins in co-op, there?s suddenly two. I don?t know if all of these issues are because the old code is running underneath or not, but they do stand out.

After ten years, the game has held up surprisingly well. It?s been awhile since I?ve played a game that doesn?t hold my hand every step of the way and I got lost quite a few times not knowing where to go, but that was some of the charm as well. You can tell that every facet has been done with love and care by 343. They could have simply bumped up the resolution and called it an HD remix, but a lot of work has gone into this package. We original Halo fans thank you. I really hope that other HD re-releases take note; this is how HD versions should be done, as it stays true to the source material, but also brings something new.

Certain mechanics will feel outdated and archaic, but that?s because they are. A game like this from ten years ago feels completely different from a game of today. I kept catching myself wondering why I couldn?t pick up the sword, change weapons with marines, and remembering when Hunters weren?t too big of a threat. These facets and more have changed over the years in each game, and bias aside, I can?t fault the game for its mechanics and design choices, as this is a decade old game. I?m more weighing the score on its updated merits.

If the multiplayer was a true remake, I?d probably stick with it longer and score it slightly higher, because Halo lans is what made Halo for many people. Anniversary does a fantastic job at retelling a story by staying true to its legacy and also being an overhauled experience that many of us have probably forgotten over the years. If you were too young when Halo was released, or never played it for some reason, pick it up and you can see how the phenomenon all began. I?m eagerly awaiting a Halo 2 Anniversary now, make it so 343.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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