As I’ve said with one such remake, MGS2, each is taking a slightly different approach to renovating an old game. Of all those approaches, though, I like Halo Anniversary’s the best.
Why? Because the problem with HD remakes is that many of them force “improvements” on the player. The thing is, not everybody wants improvements! Some want to play the game exactly as it was before, and if you have to play with new lighting and new textures and a new soundtrack, then it’s not the same old game, is it?
It’s like Star Wars: people wouldn’t care about meddling changes made to the movies if they were simply given the option of switching between the new version and the original.
That’s just what Halo Anniversary does, though, and after seeing it in action yesterday at the Tokyo Game Show, I came away very impressed.
I got to watch a playthrough of the game’s very first level, Pillar of Autumn, in which Master Chief is awoken from a long sleep to try and save a ship that’s being overrun by the alien Covenant. It’s one of the more memorable stages from the ten-year-old game, and seeing it look almost brand new – with new characters, new lighting, new everything – was shocking.
I didn’t really like it. I mean, it looked nice, but there were so many changes that it just didn’t look the same any more. The best comparison I can think of is Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake: it’s the same movie, but because of that it’s only made clearer it’s not the same movie.
Luckily, then, the game includes the much-vaunted ability to switch, on the fly, between this “new” version and the actual original game, warts and all. Aside from a slight bump in clarity given the original models are now running in HD, it literally is the original code from Halo on the Xbox.
Hearing just how this actually works, though, was as impressive as seeing it in action. Whichever graphical style you select, the game is running on a single set of code. That of the original Xbox version. To achieve the “new” effects, the game is simultaneously running new graphics code side-by-side with the original, and when the player switches between them, they’re simply moving their “lens” from one to the other.
The transition is so seamless that when engaging it, after a short fade, because the game under the graphics is the same code the animation frames freeze perfectly, and everything – bullets, limbs, the works – resumes exactly where it was before you make the switch.
About the only area this freedom of choice doesn’t extend is the soundtrack, which has been remastered and, in terms of the haunting original score, completely re-recorded, with no option of hearing it as it was in 2001.
Halo Anniversary is due out in November on Xbox 360.