Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Hands-On - Re-Mastering Master Chief
Written Monday, October 24, 2011 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Have you played Halo: Combat Evolved recently? I have. It’s damn ugly, showing every single one of its ten years of age. Stilted animations, clunky polygonal character models and almost non-existent textures all add up to a visual experience that’s far, far worse than I remember. Thank God then for 343 Industries, who are dragging Halo: CE into the modern day with Anniversary. Their efforts put the likes of Capcom and Konami to shame. This is no poorly-executed HD up-res. Instead, it’s videogame conservation at its very best, simultaneously preserving an old classic while bringing it to a whole new audience.
Indeed it’s the newcomers who are in for the biggest treat. Halo: Anniversary is set to offer an exciting opportunity to see where it all began, while also dishing out a strong single-player campaign and a fully-featured multiplayer component. Put simply, Anniversary transcends the limitations most remakes are lumbered with. It’s difficult to overstate the effect of the enhanced visuals. I’m a firm believer that gameplay rules over all else and I’ll slap you in the face with a copy of VVVVV if you argue otherwise. But rebuilding Halo CE in a new engine brings the game to life. This is no more obvious than the opening of the game. Where the Pillar of Autumn was once a tube of dull grey steel, it now boasts nicely lit corridors swirling with emergency lights and a bridge that gazes out into the starry mists of space, not just a dull black void. It’s lovely, a world away from the sterile ship of yore.
All of this has a profound effect on the action. As the ship comes under attack, with small contained explosions ripping through doors and decimating rooms, the drama of the occasion shines through. Bungie’s stage management remains intact, but the set dressing is vastly improved. At the risk of hammering home the point, the rejigged graphics also have a big impact on your arrival to Halo itself. It’s now as gob-smacking as it always should always have been. While the wide green vistas are by now familiar, the way the ring world loops out and up into the ether is genuinely impressive. Especially at night, when it twinkles with life. You feel like you’ve been transported to a truly alien world. And, of course, if you think all that is guff, you can always switch to the original visuals with a click of the back button.
The remastering doesn’t end there. The game also benefits from a full audio refit. Again, the effect is profound. Where the assault rifle once gently farted out bullets, they now roar from its muzzle. Similarly, the pistol – always a highlight – now has a meaty, booming cadence to match its punchy power. Plus, there’s a completely re-recorded soundtrack, mastered at Skywalker Studios. Halo CE: Anniversary aims to strike the perfect balance between reverence and rejuvenation. Indeed, 343 Industries have added features to the game itself too, in order to provide everything Halo fans expect from a current-gen Master Chief adventure. Of course there’s achievements, but there’s also a range of 3D modes, a campaign playable in co-op and skulls allowing you to tailor the action however you see fit.
Perhaps of greater note, however, are the terminals. Introduced in Halo 3 as a way of offering a little more depth to the story, they were an interesting addition. But they were also incredibly cryptic, text-based and really only enlightening after a bit of research. In Anniversary, however, 343 are making terminals a bit more user friendly and a whole lot more compelling. So now, when you stumble across a terminal (difficulty levels will position them in different places), you’ll be treated to an animated short at around 2 minutes long. Narrated by Guilty Spark, they fill players in with the series’ backstory, while also providing a few hints at the direction that Halo 4 may take. An intriguing addition. Then there’s Kinect. This being the game that almost single-handedly secured the success of the Xbox, it’s unsurprising that in the remake Microsoft should seek to include their next great hope, Kinect functionality. Thankfully, it’s been implemented in an elegant fashion.
Say “analyse” with your reticule aimed at a foe or a point of interest in the environment and you’ll be transported to Anniversary’s Library feature. By populating the library you can access full text information detailing the object in question, while also viewing a rotatable 3D model of it on-screen. It’s a cool little feature, one that players invested in the lore and inhabitants of Halo will no doubt be fascinated by. It is, however, a feature available exclusively for Kinect owners. Other than that, however, the actual core of the game remains largely untouched. There are a few more directional hints to help you through Halo’s trademark open areas (which could get a little confusing in the original), but they are few and unobtrusive. The level design is identical. Beyond the campaign there’s also fully-featured suite of competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes, with a decent chunk of new, old and remastered maps built in the Reach engine. Indeed, many of the maps – taken from Combat Evolved and Halo 2 - come in their original forms as well as Reach engine optimised versions.
I tried out High Noon, the rejigged version of Hang ‘em High from Combat Evolved. Medium-sized and asymmetrical, if my memory serves correctly then this version of the map is a little more spacious. You can also take full advantage of the multi-tiered verticality thanks to the presence of jetpacks, meaning you’re not always as vulnerable from above. We all ended up running around at the bottom of the map in a wonderfully chaotic squall of bullets and pistol-whipping. My headphones crackled with victorious laughter and distraught swearing. It’s quintessentially Halo, then. Towards the end of our session I also got to give the new Firefight map a spin. Called Installation 04, the environment is taken from early in the main campaign and features a forerunner beam emitter on the side of a cliff. As ever, dropships appear intermittently in the sky to deliver increasingly tough waves of Covenant nasties, but there’s also a few UNSC marines milling about the place too. They lay down fire on enemies, but seem largely innefectual. Well, not as effectual as you and all your mates piled into a Warthog and squashing dozens of grunts anyway. Still, a nice addition.
It’s impossible to pick fault with what we’ve seen of Halo Anniversary so far. 343 Industries look to be an incredibly safe pair of hands. Reverential to what made the game so compelling a decade ago, they’ve been unafraid of tinkering and augmenting the formula. If only every studio was afforded the time and money needed to remake their treasured classics like this. Other publishers take note: This is how it should be done.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary will be touching down worldwide on November 15th, 2011.