Halo: Combat Evolved totally revolutionized the first person shooter genre when it was released as a launch title for the original Xbox. It’s combination of tight controls, deep narrative, accomplished visuals and addictive multiplayer made Halo the game that everyone had to play. Exactly 10 years later Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary is here. A high definition remake of the original, Halo Anniversary looks to be the ultimate love letter to halo fans.
Whereas most HD remakes seem content on up scaling up a few textures and changing the screen ratio, 343 Industries has given Halo CE a complete graphical overhaul. The gameplay is run through the original game engine while the graphics are powered by an altered version of the Halo: Reach engine. This means that, for better or worse, the game plays exactly as it did 10 years ago.
Halo: Combat Evolved was undoubtedly a revolutionary game in its time. It showed the world that first person shooters could thrive on consoles and spawned countless numbers of imitators and copycats. Ten years later, though, the chief is beginning to show his age. Halo: Combat Evolved is still great fun to play, but a number of technical problems and sometimes sloppy game design still remain untouched. These problems were easily overlooked when Halo was first released but the industry has moved on since then and a fresh lick of paint can’t hide the games cracks.
The frame rate regularly stutters, the audio sometimes plays out of sync or glitches, the AI gets stuck in the environment, invisible walls scatter the landscape and textures take to long to load in. None of these problems are enough to ruin the overall experience by themselves but they ensure that you constantly aware that you are playing a now out of date game.
The biggest issue though is how repetitive the game becomes. Areas are regularly duplicated throughout levels meaning that you will see the same rooms over and over again. You will also spend a considerable amount of time backtracking and revisiting areas that you have already seen multiple times. And the now infamous campaign mission named “The Library” is as painful to play today as it was 10 years ago. It is particularly repetitive, although the updated graphics add lights to floor that aid your navigation.
The new HD graphics add a wealth of new detail while faithfully maintaining the original art style. The graphics won’t blow you away but the added detail really helps to brighten up previously bland interior spaces. The improvements can sometimes be dramatic but because Halo was one of the best looking games in it’s day and Halo Anniversary isn’t quite up to the standards of other modern shooters the difference can sometimes seem negligible. With just one press of a button you can almost instantly switch back and forth between the classic and re-mastered view. This is a completely addictive feature and perfect for long time halo players that are after some nostalgia. Just be careful you’re in a safe area before you start switching.
It’s not just the graphics that have been updated. The audio has received similar treatment with many of the sound effects being re-dubbed and a fully re-recorded soundtrack. Thankfully though all of the voice acting has been maintained form the original.
The campaign is also playable cooperatively with up to two players either split-screen or online over Xbox live. Co-op was an important part of the original halo and the addition of online Co-op makes it easier than ever to experience the campaign with a friend.
A handful of extras and small additions also help to flesh out the overall experience. Skulls hidden throughout the campaign can be discovered for achievements and to add game changing mechanics to the campaign. When activated some of these skulls can be used to make the game more difficult while some add fun changes to the gameplay. Terminals also hidden throughout the campaign contain short animated films that tell the story of 343 Guilty Spark as well as hinting towards the possible narrative of Halo 4.
The campaign is also fully playable in stereoscopic 3D and contains some arguably gimmicky Kinect functionality. While shouting grenade and reload at the screen seems like an almost laughable addition you will need a Kinect sensor in order to access the in game Library.
The campaign will serve as a great nostalgia trip for halo fans but is unlikely to convert anyone without a previous love of the franchise. But the campaign is only one part of the anniversary package, once you have saved the galaxy from the flood you can get online and shoot some Spartans.
Halo CE: Anniversary ditches the original Halo’s multiplayer and instead uses the already established Halo Reach multiplayer. There are 6 maps in total, each taken from previous halo games. They can either be played directly from the Halo Anniversary disk or from your Halo: Reach disk by downloading the maps using code that comes free with the game.
Each map has two different variants; one that attempts to stay as true to the original as possible and another that contains some alterations that are designed to improve the way the map is played. The layouts of these maps will feel familiar to fans of past halo games although the new art style and unique halo Reach mechanics makes them feel fresh.
New anniversary gametypes make matches play more similar to the first Halo, and help to ensure that the multiplayer feels like more than just a map pack but it is ultimately still just Reach’s multiplayer. So while playing with little bloom, no armour abilities and an overpower pistol will be welcomed by the hardcore audience, if you don’t already like Reach then Anniversary will do little to convert you. Playing the original Halo multiplayer online on a console would have been nice but implementing the multiplayer into Halo: Reach makes a lot of sense and results in a perfect balance of old and new.
The final multiplayer offering is a new Firefight mission. The map Instillation 04 is based on a section of the singleplayer campaign. It is different from past firefight maps as you can fight with AI controller ODST’s by your side. Apart from this it is a pretty standard firefight mission but its relatively large size and dominant defendable structure make it one of the best firefight maps in Reach to date.
Everything in the multiplayer will eventually become available to download for everyone that already owns Halo: Reach, and costing only 12,000 Microsoft Points if you have no interest in the campaign then it might be wise to wait a little longer for the new maps.
Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary is a complete package and puts other HD remakes to shame. The campaign isn’t quite as perfect as people may remember but the gameplay has overall aged well and will be a joy for any Halo fan. The multiplayer is still just Halo: Reach, which some people might find disappointing but the new anniversary gametypes and selection of some the best fighting spaces from past halo games makes the multiplayer irresistible to long time halo players. It won’t make many new Halo fans but is an absolute treat to anyone who already loves the franchise.