Before the folks at 343 Industries can prove to us they are a worthy successor to the Halo development throne, they must first show us that they respect the franchise's roots.
This has been accomplished by dying those roots to make them a little less grey.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has just hit store shelves, featuring the adventure that started it all remastered in glorious high-definition. With the flick of a button players can switch between the game as it originally appeared 10 years ago on the original Xbox and the sleeker, sexier updated look. I liken it to putting a black wig on grandpa; he looks a little bit better, but still can't program the VCR -- and we don't even use the VCR anymore. Why is he trying to program that?
And that tangential aside is exactly why we need some official game reviewers up in here to tell us what's what. How does Master Chief look in his wig?
After finishing the campaign of last year's Halo saga prequel Halo: Reach, I was psyched for a remake of the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Though no plans had been announced by Microsoft the fact that the campaign concluded literally as CE began made a revisit to Master Chief's debut seem all but inevitable. This past June my wish was granted when Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was announced, scheduled to coincidence with the 10 year anniversary of the original.
Sadly, my dream of playing through CE's story with all the improvements of its subsequent sequels wasn't realised. Under Anniversary's hood sits Combat Evolved in all its dated glory. While pressing a button switches between the original ‘classic' graphics and revamped ‘remastered' graphics, the campaign plays identically to the 2001 Xbox launch game.
As far as remakes go Halo CE's campaign takes a conservative approach, allowing players to revisit the original experience from 10 years ago, but deploys an impressive technical feat: At any time (except during cinematic cut-scenes), players can press the back button to swap between the original visuals and a snazzier, updated HD look. The switch itself is masked through a fade-in/fade-out -- sort of like a long blink -- but it's crazy to compare and see how primitive and charming Halo looked like just 10 years ago. The visual overhaul adds a ton of depth and detail to a game released before high-def standards. The environments themselves look good, but there are times where the tech stumbles; either by stuttering when you're making a sharp turn in a vehicle or, worse, whenever an enemy corpse clips through the environment -- an event signaled by a repetitive tapping noise that sounds like you've just walked by a hidden Covenant stenographer.
It may have looked a bit dodgy by modern standards, but you're instantly struck by how Halo emerged with its glorious gameplay fully formed. You couldn't ask for more feel from the control system, and its distinctive weaponry and vehicles wisely remained untampered-with throughout the franchise's evolution.
There's even a genuinely surprising twist when you encounter the Flood for the first time, annoying though they may be. And Halo Combat Evolved's single-player game is much meatier than has become the modern norm.
That, of course, is due to the fact that when it was released, broadband was more of a pipedream than a reality, as was Xbox Live. But it did have a multiplayer side, achievable by connecting up Xboxes with network cables. And yes, we really did lug our Xboxes around in those days (along with TVs).
Anniversary shoehorns in two flavours of Kinect support. In-game, voice recognition reacts to almost two dozen words, including "reload" and "grenade." Moreover, an Extras menu lets you access a Library mode, unlockable only with Kinect, where you'll examine 3D models of items and adversaries you've scanned in the game. You can also use voice commands to review the terminal cinematics you've found. We commend the effort the devs put into Kinect support, but ultimately, it's an unnecessary addition.
It's also a fairly difficult game. I think this generation's shooters have numbed my FPS campaign skills because Halo is a lot more difficult than I remember it being. At one point in chapter three I must have died 10 times in the same area, a checkpoint structure that's far less generous than games of the past five years making each death a bitter pill to swallow. The number of enemies on-screen at one time is less than the 360 Halo games, but the challenge is still significant.
The new co-op campaign support does make things easier, but as usual with this kind of thing, whether or not playing as a duo improves the experience is entirely down to your partner. Playing in the same room with a friend via split-screen or system link is the best way to go as you're properly able to celebrate your successes and argue your failures in a manner impossible online.
With a story good enough for a full length novel, audio and visual elements as detailed as any you've ever seen and excellent pacing, Halo is the reason for Xbox and vice versa. 343 studios have done an excellent job paying tribute to the original game and its fans. Do you remember the first time you played or witnessed Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001? Well it's time to relive those memories once again and this time you can do it over Xbox Live with all your friends. If you have never played Halo: CE before or just want to Pistol 3-Shot your friends once again, Halo: CE Anniversary is a must buy for all Xbox 360 owners, especially those that are fans of Master Chief in any way.
I held it in my hands last night, and then I set it back down; I shall remain pure.