I have a startling confession to make: I have never played a Halo game. It may be because secretly my family and friends are all Sony employees, or it may simply be that I did not have the means to play it back in the day. For a while I even disliked the Halo games just because they were popular (I was a hipster and I didn’t even know it). With those foolish thoughts behind me, I decided I wanted to experience what I was missing out on instead of jumping on the bandwagon. Then I learned that Halo: Combat Evolved was made for the original Xbox and PC. I’m the type of gamer that likes to start a series from the beginning, and I’m also a gamer that can’t afford a good PC gaming rig, so I was torn. Until now.
343 Industries and Microsoft bring us Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary to honor the fans for ten years of dedication. This is also their chance to get people like me, who have never played as Master Chief, to see how it all began. I’m happy to be catered to.
This is a review through the eyes of a Halo newbie. Be gentle.
Halo: Combat Evolved holds the title of one of the most important games of all time and practically defined what it means to have a console flagship franchise. It revolutionized first-person shooter games in terms of story and gameplay. It proved back in the day that first-person shooter games do have a place on consoles, despite the nay-saying from some PC elitists. For a game to be given such high regard, it should hold up over time right?
For those of you who are not familiar with the story, the game surrounds the conflict of Master Chief and his fellow Marines against the force known as the Covenant. Master Chief is a super-soldier genetically enhanced for optimum combat effectiveness, and it’s his job (therefore, yours) to defend humanity against these aliens. Your ship is attacked and it lands on Halo, a ring-shaped space station with quite the mystery behind it. You learn more about the space station and your fight against the Covenant as you and Cortana, an A.I. with a small attitude, dig deeper into Halo’s lore.
Immediately when I had control of Master Chief and was given a weapon, the sheer power from the rifle felt satisfying. The gameplay itself is easy to grasp and quite enjoyable. I was worried I’d have a difficult time adjusting, but I had no problems with the mechanics, except for the small times I forgot my standard rifle could not zoom in (yet my pistol could). Regardless, I felt like a true powerhouse blowing through the enemies, strong enough to take on waves of the Covenant on my own because I’m goddamn Master Chief. The soundtrack of the game helped intensify the gameplay as well, something I find a few of today’s games still can’t do well.
One of the features that Halo Anniversary gloats about is the option to switch between the original look of the game and the new engine’s revamped version. It’s easy to switch over; it’s just a click of the back button or a voice command through the Kinect functionality. The difference between the two versions is significant, the HD graphics are much more detailed and pleasing to the eye. Throughout my playthrough I consistently switched back and forth to see just how much they improved the environment and the characters. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
The maps themselves are rather large, and it’s easy to get lost when most of the surroundings look the same. It doesn’t hold your hand much (old school style), as there isn’t exactly a map with designated checkpoints to reference. Cortana will help you only after you’ve shown her you’re lost, that is, after you’re walking around aimlessly or going in the wrong direction. Some of the areas I needed to travel to were in small corridors I easily missed the first time. Overall, the levels are the basic run-and-gun all the way through, especially once you make it to the middle of the game. Sometimes it seems to drag on for too long, but since the gameplay is fun, you can excuse it.
When it comes to the narrative itself, there wasn’t much going on at the beginning. I was starting to become disinterested in the story until I reached a terminal, cut-scenes with background knowledge on the Halo story, narrated by 343 Guilty Spark (Wheatley’s first cousin twice removed). Terminals are a new addition to the original Halo but are something fans first started seeing in Halo 3. A lot of the information presented by the terminals can be a bit confusing to a newcomer like myself, so you may need to look up some terms to understand what’s being explained. The game’s story truly picked up in the middle, and I began to see why everyone raved about it. It was nice that I could still enjoy a ten-year-old story, which shows just how well it was made.
Another addition to the game is the availability of skulls, originally from Halo 2 as I’ve been told. Skulls can change how you play the game, making it more challenging or easier, depending on what skull you choose to activate (after you find them of course). The skulls range from having infinite ammo to disabling your motion tracker, and there’s even one that enables confetti to shoot from an enemy’s head if you land a headshot.
Like I mentioned earlier, Kinect functionality is enabled in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. You can use Kinect for analyzing items, navigating through the menu to switch between classic or remastered mode, pausing terminal cutscenes, and even gameplay mechanics like throwing a grenade. However, the command executions are not exactly quick, so for combat they’re not the best choice. Either your Kinect didn’t pick up your command amidst the firefight, or it deployed the attack a few seconds too late. Thus, the Kinect implementation is a mixed bag.
In terms of online capability, you can now play Halo: Combat Evolved with a co-op partner online. It adds to replayability if you’re looking to enjoy the experience with a buddy and/or get some achievements (up to 1,000 gamer points). If you have friends over, you can also play co-op locally.
Now on to the multiplayer. Because this was my first time trying out the Halo multiplayer, I can’t give much insight into the way things function differently with the Halo: Reach engine. What I can say is that it’s fun, although I’m still trying to adjust. There are a lot of customizable options to play with for your armor, which can feel a bit overwhelming to a first-timer. You can look forward to a new Firefight map titled “Installation 04” and classic standard multiplayer maps from the original Halo and Halo 2.
Some of these maps are Solitary (Prisoner), Battle Canyon (Beaver Creak), and High Noon (Hang ‘Em High). These maps have additions and variations to them that I’m sure Halo veterans will enjoy. For Firefight, there are AI soldiers available to assist those who don’t have the necessary amount of players to proceed. Pistols are apparently a big thing too, with them now available in multiplayer. They’re as overpowered as the pistol in the original game so it’s easier to take out your charging enemies.
If you don’t feel like buying the full Anniversary experience, the map packs will be available for 1200 Microsoft Points. The game also comes with a code to download the map packs on to your console so you can still play them in Halo: Reach.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. I was happy to finally experience what everyone else loved so long ago. I can now move on to the subsequent Halo games to find out more behind the Covenant, the Forerunners, Reach, and Master Chief. This Anniversary package is not just for hardcore fans of the series; it can find a place in a newbie’s heart if you give it a chance. This package has something for everyone, fans and newcomers alike.
- The HD graphics update the game to today’s standards.
- Classic and redone map packs to enjoy in multiplayer.
- Achievements and online co-op available to play the game again and again.
- If you loved the original, you’ll love this trip down memory lane.
- You can get lost easily if you’re not familiar with the maps.
- The vehicles don’t operate as smoothly as the rest of the game.
- You may encounter some glitches, but there are only a few.
Esmeralda received a review copy from Microsoft.