Review: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
By: Sean Mitchell
“This ring isn't a cudgel, you barbarian, it's something else.” - Cortana
Ten years ago, Halo: Combat Evolved was released for Microsoft’s XBOX, and it launched the explosion of multiplayer first person shooters on consoles. Other shooters were available on consoles before Halo, yet none of them were able to achieve the colossal impact that Halo left on the genre and the industry. The game was the reason to own an XBOX, and it set the standard for console FPS controls-- so much so that some games refered to that control scheme as “Chief”. Nobody can objectively deny the impact Halo has had, and with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary we can see how much that combat has evolved in the past ten years.
The campaign of the original Halo is considered by many to be the best in the series. Anniversary provides that original campaign experience with minimal tweaks and additions that should be welcomed by even some of the more hardcore purists. Levels now contain game-modifier skulls (a modern Halo standard), and terminals that initiate cutscenes that help to flesh out the story within the Halo Universe. Game story cutscenes have been tweaked slightly without any dramatic changes. For those who want to experience the original game without all the fancy new-fangled bells and whistles, the entire game can be played with the classic graphical setting-- sans terminals and skulls.
Graphically, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a shining example of what an HD-remake is supposed to accomplish. Don’t expect to see the same graphics upscaled for HD with higher resolution textures, no, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary gives the game a whole new look, while leaving the gameplay and level design completely intact. A simple press of the back button initiates an on-the-fly switch from the updated graphics to the classic graphics, and the effect is very impressive. There’s something to be said for the work that was put in to bring the atmosphere up to current Halo standards. Are the graphics on par with Halo: Reach? No. Are they completely acceptable and better than other HD remakes? Absolutely.
One of the features that received immense amounts of flak when it was announced is Kinect support. Of course all of the hate was unwarranted and unfounded, because there’s a grand total of ZERO gesture controls, and the Kinect integration is actually surprisingly smart. Players can perform certain in-game actions like throwing a grenade or reloading with voice commands, which is as silly as it sounds, but that’s not the smart part. Game settings like brightness and subtitles can be adjusted without needing to pause the game. It may not seem like a big deal, but being able to adjust settings without interrupting gameplay is something that should become standard if a console supports voice commands. In addition, the game features a library mode, which allows you to scan in-game items and characters. These items get added to the Library (the menu selection, not the level), where the item is described in detail. It’s a neat, non-essential feature, that adds some more information for those interested.
In the multiplayer realm, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary adds online co-op, something that should come as no surprise considering it’s been available since Halo 3. While campaign co-op was available via split-screen in the original Halo: Combat Evolved, being able to play with a friend online is definitely a welcome addition. Players can still change their graphical settings at will without affecting their co-op partner. It’s advisable to turn off the Kinect voice setting during co-op sessions, since most people like to talk to each other as they play. While funny, it can be a bit frustrating to say, “Look out for that plasma grenade!”, causing a grenade to be thrown directly into the back of your co-op partner’s head.
Unfortunately, the adversarial multiplayer didn’t receive the same treatment the campaign did. Rather than splitting Halo’s online community by keeping the games separate, Combat Evolved Anniversary’s multiplayer takes shape in a Halo: Reach map pack. Halo: Reach isn’t required to play the Anniversary playlist, but the game comes with a code to download the map pack for use with the Reach disc. While the Anniversary playlist does feature game modes that modify the game to play more like the original Halo’s multiplayer, it just doesn’t seem quite right. The Reach weapons, although modified to react more like the originals, just don’t provide the same experience that made the original multiplayer so great. Rather than feeling like you’re playing a graphically updated Halo: Combat Evolved multiplayer experience, you feel like you’re playing Halo: Reach, and something doesn’t seem quite right. It’s not bad, far from it, it’s actually quite nice to play these classic maps again, but the change in the feel of the multiplayer is bound to draw the ire of fans who prefer either Halo: CE or Halo: Reach. It’s just something in-between.
The Anniversary playlist also features a firefight map which adds AI allies, which are as useless as they sound. The map itself is a very good firefight map, but many times you’ll find your AI partners dead rather than alive and fighting. That’s not so much of a problem, considering Firefight is about co-operating with friends, but why are the AI allies included when they’re utterly useless? Perhaps it’s better to just enjoy the map for what it is.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a worthwhile purchase for fans of the original, or those who never got to experience the original game. The campaign is still fun today, even though some design aspects are dated. The multiplayer is fun, but even though the multiplayer is Halo: Reach, it still splits the online player base, as Anniversary is kept within its own playlist. Anniversary serves as a reminder of the series roots, and makes it much more obvious how much the series has evolved in the past ten years. 343 Industries has shown that they truly care for the series, and want to do the series justice. Whether they’ll be able to do that with Halo 4, a game that doesn’t already exist, remains to be seen, but their involvement with Halo so far shows promise for the future.
4 Stars out of 5