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- Halo: Combat Evolved - Anniversary
At first glance, taking old (if classic) titles and giving them makeovers that bring the full force of modern console technology sounds like an exercise that occupies a point somewhere between pointless and cynical. But once you sit down to play them, doubts rapidly evaporate.
There's no doubt that Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary is a labour of love. Microsoft has gone out of its way to be faithful to the Xbox original: it contains the same levels, plot and enemies – operated by the same artificial intelligence, so that they behave identically.
But this time around, it's viewed through the filter of the graphics engine from Halo Reach, so while it feels exactly the same as the first game, it looks an awful lot more magnificent. And, just to emphasise that it's all about adding a new visual gloss to the precise experience that Halo Combat Evolved provided, you can hit the back button at any time (except during cut-scenes) and revert to the original graphics.
Which is utterly fascinating – a bit like like archaeology on your console. Outdoor environments, in particular, benefit from the Reach engine – in their original state, they look textureless and considerably bleaker, with great slabs of greys and browns, and a fog, instead of detail, in the far distance.
There's a technological cherry on top of this graphical icing, too: the game runs in stereoscopic 3D, if you have the means of displaying it.
Microsoft would no doubt argue that a whole generation of gamers, although devoted to the Halo franchise, never played the original game, being too young to own an Xbox. If that describes you, Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary should offer a pleasant surprise.
It starts with Master Chief emerging from cryogenic storage on the spaceship Pillar of Autumn, under attack by the Covenant as it hovers over the mysteriously encircled planet Halo. Everyone crash-lands on the surface, and Master Chief's initial mission is to rally the survivors and rescue Captain Keyes from the Covenant spaceship where he is being held.
It may have looked a bit dodgy by modern standards, but you're instantly struck by how Halo emerged with its glorious gameplay fully formed. You couldn't ask for more feel from the control system, and its distinctive weaponry and vehicles wisely remained untampered-with throughout the franchise's evolution.
There's even a genuinely surprising twist when you encounter the Flood for the first time, annoying though they may be. And Halo Combat Evolved's single-player game is much meatier than has become the modern norm.
That, of course, is due to the fact that when it was released, broadband was more of a pipedream than a reality, as was Xbox Live. But it did have a multiplayer side, achievable by connecting up Xboxes with network cables. And yes, we really did lug our Xboxes around in those days (along with TVs).
Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that Halo's multiplayer proves to be so good: Microsoft was already involved in PC games, and developer Bungie was keen to woo PC gamers – which meant the multiplayer side of the game had to be spot-on.
But it really is a joy playing Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary via Xbox Live – what you get, essentially, is Halo Reach's multiplayer, complete with the switchable load-outs involving jetpacks and so on and, of course, its graphics, enacted on the first Halo's maps. Which, it transpires, are magnificent and varied.
It would be idiotic to assert that Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary is an essential purchase: it's a curiosity, aimed at the first-person shooter cognoscenti and Halo completists. But if, for whatever reason, you missed it first time around, prepare to be impressed.
It's a mighty fine game – for my money, the best in the Halo franchise – that deserves to accumulate a cult following. Microsoft should be applauded for having the balls (and the money) to exhume it in such a magnificent manner.
• Game reviewed on Xbox 360