Content Evolved – An old war horse returns
Many a time has the validity of the Halo franchise as a modern shooter been called into question. It’s dated gameplay, seemingly slow paced mechanics and lack of staple features of other shooters tend to push in back in the pack in terms of popularity. Yet one cannot determine it’s claim as one of the forefathers of AAA shooters. It paved the way for blockbuster hits like Call of Duty and Battlefield when shooters were a sparse and struggling concept on consoles. The Halo Master Chief Collection is a love letter to that legacy.
Let’s rewind back to 2011. Bungie had recently left Microsoft ownership and passed on the mantle of responsibility for all things Halo to 343 Industries. Created solely to handle the Halo franchise, 343i set their sights on crafting an Anniversary edition of the original Halo game to bring it the classic back to life with a new coat of paint for new and returning fans. 343i in conjunction with Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity re-crafted the original game in the matter of a year, and the game received positive reviews. Unbeknownst to the public, once this remaster released to the public, 343i began working on a remaster of Halo 2 beside the then upcoming Halo 4.
Bringing us back to the present, once Microsoft had released the Xbox One, 343i decided to then turn the unreleased Halo 2 Anniversary project into a collection of all four released numerical titles to bring them to the new platform. An ambitious project to say the least. But 343i seems to have pulled it off… with a few hitches.
So let’s recap here if you’ve been living under a rock: The Halo franchise follows the exploits of a super soldier/space marine in the future known shortly by his rank of Master Chief. The series sees our hero, accompanied by his sarcastic yet somehow strangely sexy AI companion Cortana, face off against various foes in a struggle to save humanity, and ultimately all life from annihilation. The titular Halo is the setting for the original game, a ring shaped space station built by ancient hands that turns out to be a super weapon for eliminating an almost equivalent threat: a zombie-like sentient organism bent on consuming all sentient life everywhere. As if THAT weren’t enough, the later games hint at and introduce ever escalating threats from beyond the rim of the galaxy. So needless to say, there is a LOT of story, back story and action to go around in the series. And you can relive the entirety of Master Chief’s story on this one disc. On your new Xbox One.
As mentioned before, included are Halo 1-4. You won’t find Halo Reach or Halo 3:ODST here as they do not star the titular Chief. The copy of Halo 1 included is a buffed up version of the same game 343i shipped in 2011. Instead of running at the 730 the 360 limited everything to, the game now runs at 1080p at 60fps. Excluded are a few gimmicky things that shipped on the 360 version such as the kinect scanning of items, voice commands etc. The game plays beautifully as ever and even retains the graphic switcheroo that made the game a piece of living history originally. At the press of the “menu” button, you can switch between the original xbox graphics (still at 1080 60fps) and back in the space of a breath. With the muscle the new console has compared to last gen, the switch is seamless and sometimes staggering. In some places the game really can show you the difference 10 years can make.
Next in line is the real gem of the collection: Halo 2 Anniversary Edition. In essence here 343i did for Halo 2 the same as Halo 1. Shiny new coat of paint on the same exact engine with the same geometry, engine and AI. In most respects this is essentially an homage to one of the most impactful console shooters in existence. The new coat of paint does wonders for the game, and only rarely does the engine/gameplay prove a bit frustrating and show the games age. Some of the design choices are a bit… questionable, but the game holds up very well in its new clothes. A few areas are a tad too dark etc in order to show off the new lighting effects applied to the game, but switching back to the old graphics or focusing on luring enemies out of the dark countermands those small issues. The new cutscenes, specifically full CGI movies substituted for the old in-engine sequences are gorgeous, if not a little jarring. We’re talking gorgeous. The disconnect almost reminded me of some older Final Fantasy games with the extreme difference in graphical fidelity/style from gameplay to cutscene. I can’t complain overall too much about the Halo 2 anniversary seeing as even after 10 years, the game is still fun and can really get the adrenaline going as you blaze through the campaign.
And here we hit the sad low note of the entire collection: Halo 3. As far as all the games in the collection go, Halo 3 is the most dated graphically (not including the elder graphical engines included in the two anniversary games) and it feels a little out of sorts on the new console running at 60 fps. The textures and draw and sound just doesn’t quite hold up to the other 3 titles. The game still retains its tight gameplay and feel, but it will definitely live in the shadows of the other titles here.
Arriving finally at Halo 4, we reach the graphical cream of the crop. From the get-go this game looks and feels like it was built from the ground up for next gen consoles. This came as no surprise to me as this game REALLY pushed what the 360 could do when it came out. Textures and models like nice and smooth, the gameplay is as smooth as you could desire it. I literally have no complaints beyond what follows as general issues with the campaigns.
Overall the single player experience is a blast. Sometimes it feels a bit slow or old level design can prove a tad frustrating, but overall it more than makes up for that in its simplicity and ability to jump between all 4 games with the matter of a menu. That being said, there are some bugs on launch. Some people are seeing the frame rate dipping below 60fps when the engine is pushed a little too hard. I only personally saw this during the Halo 4 campaign when entering vast open spaces. NOTE: This has not been reported to affect multiplayer at all, it seems to be a probably with the way the campaign engines run. 343i has come out and said that they are attempting to resolve this issue with an upcoming title update and patches.
Moving onto the multiplayer, the crown jewel of the Halo franchise. It’s missing. Or at least it is for a lot of people at launch. Sadly 343i is having issues with their dedicated servers communicating with Xbox servers and most people are left with the inability to find matches or it takes much, much too long to connect to one. The real sad part is, despite the connection bugs and the servers goofing up teams and disconnecting people etc, the multiplayer is as much as a blast as it’s EVER been. The matches run beautifully and it’s nice to finally be able to play PvP Halo at 60fps (not counting overlocked Halo 1 and 2 pc versions). Every map from 1-4 is brought back to bear, all running in their original engines, untouched from their glory days. The only addition of any content here is the 6 Halo 2 Anniversary maps: updates of six of the most popular maps from the dawn of Xbox Live during the era of Halo 2. Each of these glistens with a new coat of paint as well as the addition of interactive elements that manage to go against the grain of some of the problem spots of the original maps. At it’s core the Halo 2 Anniversary multiplayer retains the same balance and features of it’s original counterpart sitting next to it on the disc, albeit with the addition of those interactive elements and updated HUD. Sitting next to the Anniversary multiplayer is it’s brand new respective forge, which includes a few skyboxes and a crossbreed of the Halo Reach and Halo 4 forge modes, giving players the ability to craft their own huge maps from scratch.
Now if I could just get into a match, I’d be having the time of my life playing tons of Halo PvP.
Overall, 343i has pulled off quite the achievement cramming all four of these games onto one disc, under one menu. Any Halo fan or collector would be remiss to pick this up to be able to relive the past decade of fantastic titles together on the new console. Despite some bugs and server issues (Which 343i is still currently working on and has already made some good headway into resolve) I’d highly recommend the collection to Halo fans new and diehard.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox One (reviewed) ; Publisher: Miscrosoft Studios; Developer: 343 Industries; Players: 1-16 (online); Released: November 11, 2014; Genre: First Person Shooter; MSRP: $59.99
This review is based on a retail copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection purchased by Hey Poor Player.