Format: Xbox 360
Developer: 343 Industries
In one way, Halo’s anniversary edition is a love letter to fans of the decade old game. A carefully constructed visual update that leaves intact all the underlying nuances and foibles; it’s a chance to experience one of the defining games of the last generation anew. In another way, it’s a statement of intent on the part of 343 Studios, a demonstration that, as the new digital shepherds of the Halo mythology, they understand where the series has come from, whilst still having the confidence to put their own stamp on the package.
For gamers more used to the loud-quiet-loud pacing of modern FPS games, Halo will be a jarring change. It’s an organic, almost tactical shooter. Every battle is important and heart-pounding, and every alien you come across is more than capable of killing you. As Master Chief, you’re the epitome of a super solider, taciturn and ensconced in outrageous amounts of armour, but still essentially vulnerable. You’ll need to use your brain to survive on the titular ring world.
The Covenant and the Flood, so fresh and exciting when they were first unleashed, have now become parts of the visual language of gaming. Despite this familiarity they’ve lost none of their ingenuity or ferocity. The weapons remain similarly ferocious, from the bone rattling refrain of the assault rifle and pocketable stopping power of the pistol, to the exotic laser, light and projectile shows of the Covenant’s alien arsenal.
Even the ground you walk on has become hallowed over the last decade, an expansive vista of colours and climates. What was an ingenious move on Bungie’s part – to place the game largely in the great outdoors – has since become a feature of the Halo brand. The game is resplendent in its HD hues; the greens, yellows and blues of beaches and forests contrasting with the purples and greys of alien structures to create a unique and believable world, even if it is one not quite as detailed as the modern day’s elite.
The multiplayer component on offer is based on Halo: Reach’s, and features eight recreated maps and a new ‘Firefight’ location. It’s clearly not the focus of the game, more of an add-on, and with a download code you can export the whole thing into Reach, letting you play everything there. A four-player split screen option would have been nice, but it’s no surprise that it’s missing. In fact, by modern standards, multiplayer is an area where the game falls down, but campaign was the heart of Halo (until its Xbox Live powered sequel), and so it remains here.
Halo: Combat Evolved is still a beautifully designed, expertly paced piece of action gaming. What 343 have done with this update is to create much-needed breathing room before they take on Halo 4. As a title in its own right, it puts many modern FPS games to shame, even if it times certain set pieces feel their age and upon occasion the graphical face-lift cracks ever so slightly. Still, it serves as proof that Microsoft have placed their flagship franchise in capable hands and, as a final remark on a piece of gaming history, it’s nigh on essential.