Game review

Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary – review

Xbox 360; £39.99; cert 16+; Microsoft

4 out of 5 4
Halo Combat Evolved
Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary ... hail to the Chief. Again

2011 is becoming the games industry's Year of the Remake. First came GoldenEye, and now the game that kicked off the Halo legend and put the original Xbox on the map.

Buy it from

  1. XBox 360
  1. Halo: Combat Evolved - Anniversary
  2. Microsoft

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.

Halo Combat Evolved

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

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30 comments, displaying oldest first

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  • Killerbee

    14 November 2011 12:00PM

    Cynical cash-ins though they may be, I'm mostly in favour of the majority of these HD remakes. The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus collection in particular is magnificent...

    Although Halo certainly deserves its place, it's a shame Microsoft couldn't have offered this and its Xbox sequel for your £30 in the way most of these sorts of collections have previously done. This price for just one old game just seems a little on the steep side.

    Also, it'd be nice if Microsoft offered up the remastered texture pack for owners of the PC version of the original game. Hint, hint...?

  • BillyBrush

    14 November 2011 12:01PM

    27.70 at Amazon :O)

    I think it had a good basic design of putting you in a large area with a few enemies, and letting the AI and the player dictate the pacing....some parts of it will be quite slow paced compared to the military type shooters of today, but that's one of halo's biggest strengths i think, it's organic rather than overly scripted like 90% of the other big series out there.

  • jaykelly

    14 November 2011 12:14PM

    I bought my original Xbox for this, but was slightly worried when an HD remake was announced. Would it stand the test of time? Would it be too "Reach-y"? However, everything I've seen in the last few months has allayed my fears. It will certainly be purchased, but probably not until the new year.

    I assume that good sales will result in Halo 2 being remastered?

  • Born2beSlicker

    14 November 2011 12:23PM

    Goldeneye wasn't the first (or only) remake this year. Halo CE Anniv' also isn't powered graphically in the Halo Reach engine.

    Besides from that though, pretty good review.

  • Briggsy

    14 November 2011 12:24PM

    And yes, we really did lug our Xboxes around in those days ...

    What? You could pick up your Xbox? Do you also participate in 'World's Strongest Man' competitions?

  • timacheson

    14 November 2011 12:24PM

    Halo CE (Halo 1) was the first modern video game I played, and the game that triggered my interest in gaming and the interactive entertainment industry. It's a masterpiece.

    Halo 3 remains one of the best games ever made. It's the pinnacle of the genre. Anyone who enjoys video games MUST try Halo 3.

  • Valten78

    14 November 2011 12:29PM

    I much as I love the original Halo (In fact I would say that I love all the Halo games apart from ODST) I must admit to being a tad cynical about this. The upcoming Metal Gear Solid HD remake for example is 3 games in the series for £40, which is quite frankly a bargain, especially as it’s the first chance for X-Box owners to play them. But just releasing one game for almost the same price as it was 10 years ago strikes me as a tad stingy. If it was a remake of both Halo 1&2 in the same set for £40 I would probably think differently.

    The original game works fine on the x-box 360 and can be picked up in any branch of CEX for a few pounds, so it’s not like any younger gamers curious about the series’ origins wouldn’t have been able to play the game without the remake.

  • ChaosTeaCup

    14 November 2011 12:44PM

    While I agree to an extent with the posters claiming we could get more for our money, it's worth pointing out that unlike a lot of the other HD remakes we're seeing, the visuals for this game were completely rebuilt, polygons and all, unlike the other HD remakes which are, for the most part, just bumping up the texture resolutions. If the MGS trilogy was to boast a complete graphics overhaul in the same manner as this, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be seeing it released as a triple pack. This is more than a re-skin.

    Also, Valten, I don't see what was so wrong with ODST? The most underrated in the series, for me. There's one part of that game where you emerge from a flashback and there's an incredible piece of - what I can only describe as - luxurios saxophony that stirred me more than perhaps any other piece of music has in any other game. A true with me forever moment in gaming.

  • doswillrule

    14 November 2011 01:11PM

    ODST was enjoyable but forgettable. The main selling point for me was the multiplayer disc, which allowed me to get a few bob back for my copy of Halo 3 on eBay.

    The campaign in that (3) was a massive let down after the epic battles promised in trailers; the voice acting was ropey (Keyes' new VA was awful), the Keith David voiced Arbiter was consigned to a bit-part role and the set pieces were anti-climactic. It's a sad truth that the single player modes got worse as the multiplayer improved through the series.

    As for this game? I'll pick it up when it hits the £20 mark. I'm fairly content with the original.

  • Valten78

    14 November 2011 02:15PM

    I’m not saying I particularly disliked ODST, it just didn’t feel as epic as the other games in the series. I’ve still got it, but it’s the only game in the series I haven’t played through multiple times.

    If I had to put the Halo Series in order I would place them as follows.

    1) Halo: Combat Evolved
    2) Halo: Reach
    3) Halo 2
    4) Halo 3
    5) Halo: ODST

    I would easily grant the other games in the series 5 stars a piece. ODST would get about 3.5.

  • Killerbee

    14 November 2011 02:39PM

    This is more than a re-skin.

    Please forgive me if I missed something, but isn't this exactly what it is? The exact same game, right down to the level design, AI, balancing and controls, all the same, just tarted up a bit to look pretty?

    If you want a remake that's worth full price, then the best and most obvious example I can think of is the Twin Snakes Gamecube remake of the orignal Metal Gear Solid. That took the basic story and structure and layered the MGS2 controls, perspectives and graphics on top to make as close to a whole new game as you're likely to get.

  • Kezabien2

    14 November 2011 03:04PM

    My favourites in this series would have to be (in order):

    1) Halo 1
    2) Halo Reach
    3) Halo 3
    4) Halo 2
    5) Halo ODST

    I never played Halo Wars and I didn't like ODST at all, but the series as a whole is pretty amazing.

    I'm also all for these HD remakes. As said before, ICO and SOTC were excellent on PS3, as is the Splinter Cell Collection and I can't wait for the Silent Hill and Devil May Cry ones, so I'm well up for playing this Halo remaster (chief).

  • Andc

    14 November 2011 03:31PM

    Very much looking forward to this.

  • OldSkool

    14 November 2011 03:37PM

    When I finished Reach last year I revisted the original CE downloaded from XBL (the full cirlce thing works out quite well)

    I hope it's not just the textures they improved. Some of the level design was pretty irritating (those endlessly repetitive rooms fighting the flood seemed to go on forever and very nearly ruined the whole experience first time round).

    On a positive note, this story has prompted me to dig out my orginal copy of The Fall of Reach, by Eric Nylund.

  • chubster2010

    14 November 2011 03:41PM

    I'm definitely going to get this at some point....Halo: CE will always have a special place in my heart - and its the best in the series. £30 does seem a little on the steep side though...

  • simon83

    14 November 2011 04:46PM

    I'm interested in this, but it's way down the list with all the great games coming out. I want to play just to see how pressing the 'back' button changes things. I also used to play this in multiplayer on the PC and XBOX and loved the maps.

  • St00

    14 November 2011 06:16PM

    Will definitely be purchased, just not at full price.

  • sjholland87

    15 November 2011 12:58AM

    the Keith David voiced Arbiter was consigned to a bit-part role

    That was something I could never understand. The Arbiter levels where the best part of Halo 2 for me as nobody was expecting to play as him... And it worked.

    I don't think I can ever get over Bungie doing what they did to him in Halo 3

  • ZipZapRap

    15 November 2011 01:54AM

    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.

    I did not know that. Sounds great!
    Is the switch instanaeous, or do you have to wait for the textures to load in?

  • Phenalot

    15 November 2011 03:03AM

    you actually would need more money than sense to buy this at anywhere remotely near 40 quid I reckon.

  • silentbazz

    15 November 2011 08:46AM

    Quite looking forward to this..
    As a former Playstation 2 owner.. I never had an XBox, so my first experience of anything Master Chief related was Halo 3 on the 360..
    Be nice to see where it all began..

  • scipio16

    15 November 2011 10:16AM

    And yes, we really did lug our Xboxes around in those days (along with TVs).

    We used to hold Halo parties at our flat in Brixton when I was in my early twenties. We had an XBox and two big TVs and three friends used to bring round their XBoxes. One guy brought a projector TV, and another poor sod carried a 25 inch TV on the tube.

    For the first time I bought 40 meters of ethernet cabling, my flatmate nicked a router from work (I had never seen a router before, I had dial-up internet) and I bought 70 cans of lager.

    The first game we ever played on LAN multiplayer - capture the flag on Blood Gulch, single flags. 16 of us. We had eight guys crounching in our bunker, huddled round the two TVs in the living room. Suddenly there's a roar of "Let's fucking get 'em!" from upstairs and we see a tank and two fully loaded warhogs appear on the horizon. Huge amounts of gunfire, blood all over the screen and beer all over the floor.

    Epic. Those were the days.

  • kingmaker

    16 November 2011 08:39AM

    I never got the fascination with Halo.

  • AlbinoBob

    16 November 2011 09:21AM

    When Halo CE came out i was still in school and 1; wasn't allowed a xbox because i was doing my A levels and 2; wasn't strong enough to carry the console home from the shop anyway. Saturday night LAN parties when my mate Dan's parents went away for the weekend to try and rekindle their failing marriage sound very similar to Scipio's Brixton nights. Multipacks of cheap Belgian beer, lots of blue rizla, 4 CRT tv's and hours of Blood Gultch CTF helped coin the now massively over-used term 'EPIC KILL!!!' Plus the brilliant, stupidly over powered hand gun with scope (ridiculous but brilliant at the same time) provided hours of school bragging rights.

    Good times. I'll be buying this, completing it and trading it straight back in again.

  • VariousThings

    16 November 2011 11:44AM

    The original game works fine on the x-box 360 and can be picked up in any branch of CEX for a few pounds

    It's fine for the most part, but in my experience, the original disc played via a 360's backwards compatibility has a little bit more slowdown than when you play it on an original Xbox console.

    Also, the version you'll find in CEX is the PAL version, which unlike the sequels suffered from a poor PAL conversion: if you play it with the Xbox or Xbox 360 dashboard set to 50Hz, the framerate won't be as smooth as the NTSC or PC versions, and certain aspects of the gameplay will be slower. (It's not quite as bad as the 17% speed reduction seen in most SNES/MD/N64-era games, though.) And if you play it with the dashboard set to 60Hz, it'll the same speed but with an annoying juddering effect as the game periodically doubles-up frames.

    So Anniversary will be the first chance for non-importers like me to play the first Halo game at its proper speed!

  • VariousThings

    16 November 2011 11:48AM

    The Arbiter levels where the best part of Halo 2 for me as nobody was expecting to play as him... And it worked.

    The biggest problems with the Arbiter levels were the lack of human weapons, the difficulty of distinguishing friendly Grunts and Elites from the enemy Heretics, and the fact that the Arbiter missions were the levels in which the highest proportion of the game's Flood encounters took place.

  • VariousThings

    16 November 2011 11:54AM

    Re: Back-button graphics-switching:

    I did not know that. Sounds great!
    Is the switch instanaeous, or do you have to wait for the textures to load in?

    The screen fades to black and the game pauses for a moment, then it fades in again with the other mode's graphics. Judging by the videos I've watched, it takes a couple of seconds - a little bit longer than the Old/New toggle in the SE versions of the Monkey Island games.

  • baffledchump

    16 November 2011 01:01PM

    It's a shame that 'the best game of the franchise' can only be awarded four stars because it's only a remake. Bit of a problem there methinks.

    This is only 'the best in the franchise', if I follow your logic, because it's a direct copy of the real best in the franchise, only with up to date graphics and online capability. That's totally absurd. You can't dismiss four other games which designers spent years creating and developing in favour of a pimped out version of the first game.

    The first Halo was probably the best of the franchise. This remake shouldn't even really be ranked alongside the other games; it's simply a modernization of the original. You even make the point yourself - the to/fro graphic switched emphasises the fact that this is not a new game.

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