Imagine waking up in a parallel universe. You barely feel the difference but something isn’t quite right. The broad strokes are the same. Your parents are here. Your friends are here. Your old house remains standing. The structure is the same, but the details -- something is a little off.
The details send your head spinning. Motion sickness. Your old bedroom has been transformed into a study. Your parents look older. Somehow they look smaller. Somehow everything looks smaller.
That’s sort of what it feels like to come home after years living abroad.
That’s also what it feels like to play Halo 2 in the Halo: Master Chief Collection. More specifically, that’s what it’s like to play Lockout on Halo 2 in the Master Chief Collection
I can’t think of a video-game space I know more implicitly and intricately than Lockout in Halo 2. I could draw Lockout, from memory, on a napkin. Easily. A pristinely designed multiplayer map in Halo 2, Lockout was one of those legendary video game ‘places’. It’s de_dust for consoles. A treasure trove of shortcuts, jumps and strats, Lockout was always a map that rewarded knowledge. It was a map that allowed players to come from different angles. If you knew the right routes, and knew the right spots, you could always surprise novice players.
Lockout was a masterpiece.
Correction: Lockout is a masterpiece.
In the Halo: Master Chief Collection, Lockout is one of a handful of old maps being remade using the new engine. Remade for a second time after featuring as DLC in Halo 3, Lockout is being rebuilt again -- I assume -- because it holds a special place in the heart of almost every Halo fan on the planet, particularly those with a multiplayer bent.
But weirdly enough, the first remade version of Lockout didn’t quite click with me, or other players for that matter. It didn’t quite work with Halo 3’s modified mechanics, and didn’t play as large a role in the existing competitive scene either, which was a shame since it was such a stalwart for Halo 2.
And the Master Chief Collection remake? I have to admit that I’m not too excited about that either. I can’t help but feel as though it’ll have the same problems the first remake had.
The original, most Halo fans will agree, is still best.
The point I’m leading towards is this: on Friday afternoon I was given an advance copy of the Halo: Master Chief Collection for download. On Friday night I began downloading the ponderously large file that was the game and left it running overnight. On Saturday morning I woke and it was downloaded. An hour later I decided to play. At that point all that was available (until a patch arrives) were the single player missions for the first three games and the accompanying multiplayer maps. I could explore those maps, but I couldn’t actually play an online match there.
So on that Saturday morning, with an entire franchise of content at my fingertips, I did what came natural: I wandered over to Halo 2 multiplayer. I created a custom match, I selected ‘Lockout’ and I wandered in alone, not to shoot guns, but to explore.
To clarify, this was not the new ‘remade’ Lockout. This was the original. The Master Chief Collection is giving players six fully remade ‘retro’ maps, but it’s also leaving the originals in there. So, if you want, you can play maps like Lockout, in their original form, just as it was when Halo 2 was released in 2004.
And that’s exactly what I did.
It felt a lot like being in a parallel universe, which is another way of saying this: playing the original Lockout in Halo: The Master Chief Collection felt like coming home, with all the connotations that come with it.
The first thing I noticed: the strangeness of 60 frames per second, how weird it felt for Lockout to look sharp at full 1080p. It’s a good thing, undoubtedly, but the discord was initially overwhelming. It refused to jive with my existing memories of the place. Almost sub-consciously I frowned at the dissonance, before breaking into an actual visible smile. This is the place where I used to live, once upon a time. It felt a bit smaller than I remembered.
The floodgates opened. I was almost victim to a nostalgia induced heart-attack. I darted around the map with my old man reflexes. Moving from room to room as though visiting a house I once lived in decades ago. Ah, the sniper tower. The BR tower. The glass. I tried some of the more complex jump tricks and failed miserable, falling to my death. I’m not the player I used to be. My son sat next to me the whole time. He’s 22 months old. I first played Lockout 10 years ago.
When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was announced, I assumed it was designed as an entry point for a new generation, and that’s undoubtedly part of the pitch. But, playing Lockout, it occurred to me that this weird collection of memories was built just for people like me. It’s for old people. Relatively old people. It’s for people who grew up with Halo. It’s an outlet for a different experience. I wandered around Lockout alone. I had a Battle Rifle in my hand but I had nothing to shoot at. I just wanted to be here, to indulge in this moment and its inherent strangeness. My son sitting next to me watching, confused. “This is where your daddy used to play. A long time ago, in a parallel universe."
Video games are so weird.