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'Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary' review (Xbox 360)

| By Matthew Reynolds | Add comment
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

© Microsoft Games


Also available on: N/A
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: First-person shooter

Halo: Combat Evolved gave Microsoft's new console exactly what it needed to make a dent on the console market ten years ago. It took the PC-centric first-person shooter genre and made it work sublimely on a console, instantly seeing it labelled as a classic - and it is still regarded as such today.

Instead of going down the extensive full remake or straightforward HD up-scaling routes, this Anniversary edition smartly slaps a coat of paint on the old game and keeps it as it is - warts and all - showing that the seminal title still holds up remarkably well today.

It's these new visuals that are the stand-out component of the package, swiftly dragging a dog-eared title onto a modern-day console with some stellar results. At times, the difference is staggering, and the opening Pillar of Autumn stage represents this best, with bland, grey corridors given heaps of character and detail, pitch-black air ducts now fleshed out with thoughtful lighting, and those trademark space vistas given an extra sparkle.

Since it's essentially running the original game under the hood, you can swap back and forth between old and new with a press of the Back button, making a rather fascinating insight into how far we've come visually in ten short years.

While it takes a few moments to flick between (mid-battle this leaves you in limbo, as everything keeps going as the screen fades to black) and visuals unfortunately cannot be changed mid-cutscene, you'll often find yourself constantly swapping back and forth to see the extent of the changes throughout the entire campaign and marvelling at the differences.

But perhaps even more surprising is how well the combat holds up today. It's a testament to Bungie that so many of the game's elements - its sandbox combat with its open-ended outcomes, its excellent array of weapons and always challenging and varied cast of Covenant foes - are a pleasure to face even now, and in many ways, have hardly changed when compared to the latest Halo instalments.

Not only that, but it features some of the franchise's best locations and moment-to-moment gameplay - often against masses of foes in overwhelming expanses - which later Halo games have since failed to surpass.

At the same time, there are elements that do come across as outdated. Despite its open-ended nature, combat features far too many instant-kill situations with heaps of trial and error attached to them, and irregular checkpoints make these moments particularly testing.

The campaign's overall pacing isn't quite as notable as you may remember, either; the opening stages regularly see you hunker down in a particular spot to fend off enemy waves before progressing to the next area, while the later stages shamelessly repeat earlier levels under the guise of new weather effects, enemy types or by playing out in a reverse order. And while a particular mid-game reveal is still as haunting and terrifying as it was back then, the subsequent stage is still just as infuriating to play through, too.


Regardless of its foibles, you do you feel the decision to leave the campaign untouched is the right one. That's also not to say 343 Industries hasn't tinkered with it; collectable Skulls are now hidden away to add game modifiers for future replays, while Terminals are dropped in more prominent locations to provide more of a background to story events, and even hint at Halo 4's plot.

There's also no discounting the worth of Achievements, either, adding some tough challenges that veterans will soak up, from time-intensive runs through the toughest stages to stretching your legs and not using a Warthog on the iconic 'Halo' stage.

Elsewhere, Kinect support - which was unavailable to test at the time of review - adds some very supplementary elements. Grenades and switching between visual styles can now be commanded with voice commands instead of a quick button press, while there's an exclusive Analyse mode. Not unlike Metroid Prime, you use a special visor to pick out elements of the world and add them to a menu codex.

However, 343 Industries has stressed that none of this is essential to full completion of the game, and that all information will be available online as well as in-game, making it a very optional feature.

Finally, a multiplayer component sees a handful of classic maps from the original Halo PC release and even Halo 2 remade in the Halo: Reach engine for matchmaking and Firefight. Not only are all of them playable on the disc using your existing online profile, but a download code in the box allows you to continue using them with your Halo: Reach disc.

It's a smart way of reintroducing players back into the game, and if you haven't returned in some time, it's something you'll be glad you did. With modern-day military shooters dominating the landscape, Halo's multiplayer is a more tactical affair, and despite a steeper learning curve, offers level of satisfaction that few other online shooters can.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is nothing short of an excellent revival, retaining everything that made the original so special and adding enough new elements in all the right places.

It reaches highs that some Halo recent entries still haven't reached, and due to some unfortunate pacing, some of its biggest lows, too. All in all, its timeless combat ensures that old fans can soundly enjoy it once again, while newcomers can fully appreciate why it's always been so highly regarded.

> Read our Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary interview with 343 Industries

4 Star Rating

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