Posted on 14th Nov 2011 at 2:00 PM UTC

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review

Ringing the changes

You'll remember Halo best for those massive sandbox levels where you were free to explore and fight however you pleased. The Halo in your head was filled with open ground and Warthog rides and battles on open fields beneath bright blue skies. Except it wasn't, was it? Think hard, now.

There are only three truly open maps in 343's pixel-perfect HD remake of Combat Evolved, same as it ever was. The game begins in narrow corridors aboard the Pillar of Autumn but immediately opens up on level two - Halo - where you'll race around some of the biggest spaces in the game and take on objectives in any order you please.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Screenshot
Truth and Reconciliation sends you back into narrow corridors for a tour around a Covenant ship before you're let loose in two massive open spaces - Silent Cartographer and Assault on the Control Room.

This is Halo the way you remember it - drive a vehicle or don't, stand and fight or run and hide, rescue your allies or leave them to die, attack from the left or the right, kill everyone or sneak on by. When Bungie made Halo 3 they made almost every space as wide as Assault's - though none as open as Cartographer - because it's those moments and choices that defined Halo and made it great.

Those moments haven't aged a day. Ten years after Halo first hit shelves and its sandbox combat has still never been done better. The biggest surprise when you play Combat Evolved again is just how well the sandbox still holds up. The AI enemies seek out useful cover, react intelligently to your more elaborate setups, and vary their offence as you vary yours.

Very little changed between Combat Evolved and Reach - enemies got a little smarter and spaces got a little wider, but the sandbox combat in this decade-old Halo still feels modern and different.

But there's a reason sandbox shooters are rare; why Halo 3, ODST, and Reach stand almost alone on 360, the half-good Crysis and Crysis 2 aside. Because making open sandbox levels is hard. And the rest of Combat Evolved is testament to this, built as it is upon the kind of ancient room/corridor shootery developers haven't tried to sell in years - and that's a problem when Halo Anniversary is sitting on shelves beside a decade's worth of progress.

Halo's weakest levels were weak pieces of design even back in 2001. Ten years on, they're antiques, and 343 have very deliberately done little to improve or fix anything that came before.

There's grass now, reflections, better water, new lighting and better particle effects. Somehow Halo Anniversary's HD mode looks exactly how Halo always looked in your head. The blanks you filled in with your own imagination have been patched up with perfect art design from the teams at 343 and Saber.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Screenshot
But it's the animations and lip synching, not the AI, that gives the game away. Still running in the old engine, those beautiful 2011 models expose every flaw in their 2001 animations.

Most HD remakes get a spit-shine that's on par with a remastered Hollywood classic, but Halo's makeover is more akin to the Star Wars Special Editions from the mid nineties. This is Halo the way it would have been if the original creators had the power and money to realise the Halo universe the way it existed in their heads, except in Halo's Special Edition, Han still shoots first.

Combat Evolved handles as it always did, running off the same classic engine with a second engine running on top to pump out the new visuals. The same trick jumps still work and the same AI glitches are still exploitable. The same rubbery physics power every explosion and the same handling makes the Warthog loose and floaty.

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17 comments so far...

  1. bennyt on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Seriously? an 8.0?


    Good review. However, those 'bad bits' you pointed out do not bother me at all. For me, CE is the best Halo SP out there and it's just going to bring memories coming back to me when i pick up my copy tomorrow.
    A great sp, coop and story and of course fire-fight which i am very eager to try out.

    'Come the 15th Nov, work won't matter any more'

    Xmas has come early :D

    Btw, Sgt. Johnson in the opening level looks awesome, very Mr. T

  2. ilovenewtech on 14 Nov '11 said:

    I want this more than awesome cake!!!!! :o :o :o :o :o :D :D :D :D :D

  3. MrPirtniw on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Thanks to Shopto ive had this game since Saturday so here's my thoughts...

    The kinect features for me have been a mixed bag- I love the 'analyse and scan' options though they'll only be interesting to anyone who appreciates the halo universe . Like me! But for the most part are pretty pointless. Why say reload and flashlight when you can just tap a button? Also I've been sat playing the game and not said a word and then suddenly the Chief decides to throw a grenade or the game pauses randomly... Hasn't happened often but I nearly blew myself up...
    Kinect isn't am incentive to buy Halo anniversary nor is halo anniversary an incentive to buy kinect but seeing as I now own both it's just an extra bit of optional fun.
    The game looks stunning. Flitting back between the two modes shows just how dreary and dark the old game was. Anniversary now looks waaaay more epic and detail has been stuffed everywhere- for me it made the game even more immersive.
    The combat is a lot more difficult than I remember. Perhaps I've gotten used to the reach's armour abilities but i was getting owned on heroic- and the checkpoints seem to be a lot less frequent but once I managed to readapt it's as smooth and explosive as ever with some devious AI. The marines are still just cannon fodder though.
    Only on Assault on the Control Room so far so I haven't had to endure the library yet... Though I never remember finding it that bad despite some obvious cut and paste chunks of level- guess I'll look forward to that then. Anywho, as it stands it's still an awesome game which has really stood the test of time.

    Also: the old assault rifle is an absolute BEAST. That is all.

  4. BG88 on 14 Nov '11 said:

    will be getting this tomorrow, looking forward to playing it again, when Xbox come out i took the p**s out of it, i was a PS fan boy I was 13 years old. Then i played Halo and I needed a xbox so I saved up hard to get my xbox as quick as I could to own this game, me and friends had hours and hours of fun playing this co-op and split screen , I no longer talk to any of them friends from school but im shur some of them are thinking back to them times and will be picking this up.

    Without Halo I probably would of never bought a Xbox, and I bet theres a lot like me, Respect to Halo .

  5. dicky1993 on 14 Nov '11 said:

    hmmm you guys are real harsh sometimes i thought you were supposed to review the fact it's a hd update, not criticize what can't be changed sounds like 2001 review,

    oh and throughout your whole review halo music has been playing in my head :D

  6. Moorpheus on 14 Nov '11 said:

    hmmm you guys are real harsh sometimes i thought you were supposed to review the fact it's a hd update, not criticize what can't be changed sounds like 2001 review,

    oh and throughout your whole review halo music has been playing in my head :D

    That's what I thought should have been done. Halo 1 isn't new :? - anyway, criticism of Two Betrayals is, in my book, blasphemy and therefore this review is disregarded :D

    Anyway - like MrPirtniw I've had the game since Saturday and apart from the skulls being a bit too easy to find, I'm loving the game! :D

    Can't wait to blast through Assault on the Control Room!

  7. MrPirtniw on 14 Nov '11 said:

    hmmm you guys are real harsh sometimes i thought you were supposed to review the fact it's a hd update, not criticize what can't be changed sounds like 2001 review,

    oh and throughout your whole review halo music has been playing in my head :D

    just add a point if you loved the original game. 8's a great score but personally, Halo is a superior game to just about any modern console fps- despite being a decade old.

    And the remastered music is fantastic too btw. :D

  8. Rhumor on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Had the game come early got mine on saturday and i have to say its really awesome as i never played the first halo. i have a kinect and the features work pretty well Roll on halo 4 :D

  9. SkyBlueJukeBox on 14 Nov '11 said:

    "GRENAAAAAAAADDDDEEEE" in HD makes this a must for me. :)

  10. Black Mantis on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Had the game since Saturday, but I've only had enough time to finish the 1st level. Going by that, this game will take me ages to complete, as I probably spent the same amount of time switching views, as I did shooting Covenant!

    Awesome fan service by 343/Sabre and I hope they remake Halo 2 as well. :D

  11. starsail on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Top 5 games of all time:

    Mario 64 - N64
    Halo - Xbox
    Final Fantasy 7 - Playstation
    Thunder Force 4 - Mega Drive
    Sonic 2/Super Mario World - Mega Drive/SNES (ok thats 6 but I could never decide on which was greater)

    What's the poinr here? That's how highly me (an apparent Sony fanboy regards Halo CE. It still outshines modern FPS games with its broad levels, awesome shooting mechanics and superior unrivalled co-op in the main campaign. Many modern FPS struggle to reach (no pun intended) the heights set by Halo CE (for non-online gamers like me, this is a big message to all devs entering their FPS creations, this is how you do it).

    The HD remake of this makes me want get an Xbox 360 :(

  12. starsail on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Grammar! Sorry, using an Xperia Play and the virtual keys are tiny!

  13. kollosson on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Halo CE was and remains the greatest FPS ever made, the corridoor levels that you mention as a negative are nothing of the sort, some of the best gameplay is to be had in those levels and was my main problem with halo 3 which had a huge lack of interior levels. I think what it shows above all else is how we have not really moved forward at all other than graphics. Halo's AI is based on line of site, how many shooters out there now have enemies that start shooting as soon as you get within a certain distance, in Halo CE i had some of the best stealth gameplay i've ever had. Play the game on normal and your a super soldier, running and gunning down the ememy in an incredible romp but switch to legendary and its a completely different game, one where you have to use tactics and plan your attack or even evade conflicts if possible. Halo Anniversary is the same game but with a gorgeous makeover, the interiors looking particularly stunning and for me is an essential purchase, this is what an FPS is all about, absolutely epic. Considering this game recieved a ten out of ten when released then nothing short of that can possibly be awarded now, infact i'd give it an 11.
    Awesome, epic, incredible, if you never played this game before i envy you because you are in for a fantastic experience,
    simply stunning.

  14. Ror1984 on 14 Nov '11 said:

    Bit harsh on the more linear levels there, CVG - they were only 'bad' when compared to Halo's best levels. They were still pretty good, and The Flood worked well as a twist in the narrative... just not quite so well from a gameplay perspective.

    Like others here, I received my copy from ShopTo on Saturday and got stuck right in. And subsequently got slaughtered not far into the level 'Halo' on Heroic. I last played CE on Heroic about a year ago and didn't struggle until I hit The Library. They've definitely upped the difficulty somehow.

    It does look glorious though, and the Terminals are excellent (loved the one with Spark trying to talk to the Covenant AI!). Oh and Grunt Funeral is brilliant!! :D

  15. silent moose on 15 Nov '11 said:

    "Some of the best levels in shooter history"

    definitely not copy and paste anyone

  16. Sleepaphobic on 16 Nov '11 said:

    Halo has good level design and is the best fps of all time. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA thanks for the laughs guys.

  17. MrPirtniw on 17 Nov '11 said:

    Halo has good level design and is the best fps of all time. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA thanks for the laughs guys.

    Are you that easily amused or is it just your condition? Aww, bless 'im. He tries so hard! :wink: