Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary: The Kotaku Review

Despite only visiting it once in my adolescent years, I've never forgotten the Cradle of Aviation Museum in the suburb of Garden City. Row after row of majestic aircraft stood next to each other, shiny but defunct evidence of the pivotal role that Long Island played in the science and practice of aeronautics in the 20th Century. Even throughout the guided tour, there was a stately kind of quiet, an air of reverence that hung throughout the space. Playing through Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary reminds me of walking through the Cradle of Aviation Museum.

That place isn't a world-renown venue like the Museum of Natural History or the Guggenheim, but rather it's one of those mid-tier shrines dedicated to a particular phenomenon. Stretching out the metaphor a little more, it's almost like looking at carefully restored masterpiece painting -- craning your eyes upwards at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, perhaps -- after preservation work's been done. There's a new vividness to be found in something you might've known intimately before.

Make no mistake: Anniversary is an impressive achievement from 343 Industries -- the Microsoft division that will steer the course of Halo in the post-Bungie era -- and dev studio Saber Interactive. With the Classic Mode option to go back to the game's original graphics with the press of a button, you're essentially getting two flavours of the same experience running simultaneously, one on top of another. Otherwise, Anniversary doesn't make Combat Evolved feel different. Well, that's not entirely true. In terms of visuals, it brings Bungie's mega-success in line with other AAA games of today. Half the fun of playing is going back and forth and comparing how things looked then and now. Neither of these were in the original Combat Evolved. Achievements are also threaded into the game, as are Terminals, video stations hidden throughout the world that expand the series' mythos -- and seed foreshadowing for Halo 4. None of the tantalising narrative hints towards the series' future actually make the experience of playing Halo all over that divergent than the original experience was. Yes, you get all kinds of teases and hints about what might be happening when you get to play as Master Chief again. But you already need to be super-invested in the lore to make sense of these snippets. You'll also find Skulls, the power-ups that reward you with special abilities in both campaign and multiplayer, throughout the game.

In terms of gameplay, going through the campaign's levels feels a little quaint. One realises that Halo's understated majesty may have simply been a matter of technological convenience in 2001. This time, all that space comes across as a reverential design choice now. Some things don't need to change, though, like the still-impressive enemy AI. The strafing and charging of the Elites, the rolling and dodging of the Hunters, the fearsome power of the Brutes… they all combine to keep you constantly on your toes throughout the campaign.

Classic Mode essentially bakes in a nostalgia mechanic into a game that's already well-loved.

The Kinect features are mere novelty, letting you, among other things, switch to Classic Mode and back, throw grenades or enter an alternate viewing mode with spoken commands. Once in analyse mode, the Scan function picks out and adds certain elements to a database for later perusal. There's noticeable lag between certain voice commands and the execution, and for all the shouting you'll do at the screen, none of it adds terribly much.

Aside from the visuals and Kinect functions, the other big region of change is in multiplayer. Some of the classic maps from the original Halo get the same kind of visual retooling as the campaign does, running inside the engine of 2010's Halo: Reach, Bungie's goodbye to the universe they created. A new Firefight map - Installation 04 - takes after one of the second level's Forerunner structures, while favourites like Beaver Creek and Hang ‘Em High are re-imagined. You can use those maps with last year's Reach disc, too. The cross-compatibility feels a little awkward but is likely there to try to please everyone at once.

We still don't know what kind of Halo game 343 will make and no amount of replaying the first Halo is going to tell us.

CEA makes crystal-clear why people pledge loyalty Halo, and why others hate it as well. It's not going to change how you feel about the franchise. The achievement here is mostly technical. Classic Mode essentially bakes in a nostalgia mechanic into a game that's already well-loved. But, when I compare Anniversary to Reach, I come away with more admiration for Bungie's last dance with Master Chief. Reach walked that tricky line of channel their fanbase's nostalgia while changing certain elements to add variety to the campaign. In the name of respecting their forerunners, 343 Industries plays it super-safe here.

This game isn't Skyward Sword, which re-imagines and re-tools the foundational elements of the Legend of Zelda games and adds in some customisation for the first time. Nor is it Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which adds under-the-hood improvements and more characters to brawl with.

All the things you love about the first Halo -- the scale of the world, the strategic cunning you'll need to wield in certain battles and the endearing quirks of certain weapons -- are still there. The most positive way I can look at Anniversary is as the summing up of an era. From the initial release of Combat Evolved to the powerful exit with Reach, the Halo games made by Bungie created and codified the expectations a whole generation of gamers have about what they get from first-person shooters and online multiplayer.

Getting Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is like replacing a well-worn book that's frayed from being read too much. There's a place for that. But, frustratingly, what you don't get is a real sense of where 343 might take Master Chief and Cortana in the future. We still don't know what kind of Halo game 343 will make and no amount of replaying the first Halo is going to tell us. Those planes in the Cradle of Aviation had their time in the sky and they're honored for that. But, every kid who ever wandered underneath those wings wanted to go faster and higher than what came before them. I imagine the same must be true of Halo players, who, it seems, need to wait a little longer

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Comments

    Halo is one of my secret shames, a series I've never played in any capacity. This looks like a mighty good place to start.

      I'm not the least bit ashamed about it! That aside I do want to see what the fuss is about and will pick it up on the cheap at some point ;)

    and people are already complaining about the game. Seriously, some people were annoyed that it contained nothing new...

      I was more annoyed what it didn't contain in the remade version :( Poor Marathon logos :(

    Sorry to be "that guy", but hunters don't roll. Or dodge. And there are no brutes in Halo:CE... Not to mention the plethora of typos (I'll assume they were all accidental)... Bit short on time for proofreading this week?

      I think he's getting some of the names confused. When refering to Hunters rolling and dodging he's probably actually talking about Jackals and when he talks about Brutes he's probably meaning Hunters.

        I dont think Evan is a true HC Halo fan :P But i do wonder if he played Halo a decade ago :/

    I have to say, playing Halo CE Ani has been a great play so far :) the addition of Terminals and achievements and Skulls have made it a fun and more addictive that the previous Halo.

    I do find my self now and then hitting the back button to reminisce in the differences in Halo CE classic to the new remastered edition. Like Money Island, Halo has been well remastered and is worth the play through :)

    Mainly looking at the back dropps of the Halo Ring :D and driving the hog around on the "Halo' mission i found my self flicking back and forth alot :) It was a shame to hear about the lack of classic MP for halo, but its understandable... Personally i would have loved to play Halo CE graphics on classic BloodGulch :)

    I personally think 343 will do a good job with Halo 4... But only time will tell and if they rush it or not...

      I agree, the graphics switchback is such a great idea. Its actually really cool just walking around and changing things back and forth..

    "...the fearsome power of the Brutes..."

    Going to have to pick you up on that one. There were/are no Brutes in Halo:CE or Anniversary.

      Not to mention that they weren't really that impressive since they didn't have shields. A lot more fun, yes, but not so impressive.

    Haven't played it yet, but I've seen the bit of the 343 Guilty Spark level with the traumatised marine that shoots you. Anyone else notice the distinct lack of blood on the walls in the new graphics? Someone must've tidied up in the last 10 years... Certainly makes the marine seem a little out-of-place, and somewhat ruins the atmosphere there. In the original it was like walking into a slaughter-room, in the new it's just another room.

    Anyone else played Halo when it first came out and hated it? There are what, 4-5 of the same enemies constantly and constant level repetition.

      Cuz when your playing MW there is such a variety of bad guys :/

      I somewhat agree with the level repetition BUT the game is very linear... So what do you expect? you go to point B from point A and then activate Item C which starts everything blowing up. The only way out is run back to point A.

      And some levels (Like the Maw) place you back where the game started as intended...

        Well MW is a different kind of game and are attempting something much different.

        The problem with the levels isn't so much about getting back to point A, it's that the same rooms are repeated constantly between point A and B.

    I started playing it last night and it's quite enjoyable - it's definately a 10 year old game but I still had fun with the first few levels.

    The multiplayer maps are good too. It's quite jarring to jump back into Reach though, the movement speed has increased quite a bit over the years.

    Can't wait to get my copy and playthrough it with the girlfriend (we've played through Reach and ODST and 3 but not the original 2). Thoroughly excited to experience the original again with updated graphics!

    " the fearsome power of the Brutes…"

    Huh?

    The Chief wasn't playable in Reach, either. :|

      I would describe myself as only a casual Halo fan/player but I was catching all kinds of mistakes like this as well. :-P

      I bought this game last week but it's been sitting hidden in my closet ever since. It's a Christmas present for my Dad as he's the much bigger Halo fan/player... but I gotta admit, I can't wait to bust it out and have a go at it.

    I found the graphics disappointing. I expected it to look like Reach. Instead it looked like Duke Nukem Forever.

    With every Halo title that comes out, once I complete it on legendary I then go back to the start with Halo CE and play all titles all the way through again. I'm not sure what I will do when Halo 4 comes out. After completing it do I go back and start with Reach or with CE?

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