Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
November 15, 2011
Rarely does a game come along that is so well-executed that it defines an entire genre for years to come. In November of 2001, however, Bungie created just that; the original Halo was well-received by the gaming community, and for good reason. It combined science fiction and first-person shooting together very well, and also made first-person games easily playable on consoles. Its success spawned numerous sequels and prequels in various forms, be it novels, more games, or even movies. For the game’s tenth anniversary, however, 343 Industries has chosen to return to where the series began.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is, at its core, a rehash. It is the original Halo game, but with updated visuals and music (If you choose, that is), and a replaced multiplayer component. Does the classic Halo experience still hold up ten years later, or is it better left in the past?
Halo takes place in the very distant future. Humanity is at war with a religious alien species known simply as the Covenant. Recently, the Covenant seized control of the planet Reach, almost completely obliterating human presence there. One ship survived, however; the Pillar of Autumn, commanded by captain Jacob Keyes, managed to slip past Covenant forces and go deep into space. There, they discover a ringworld referred to as Halo. With Covenant forces attacking them, Keyes orders that the Master Chief, an augmented supersoldier, help defend the Pillar of Autumn. However, the ship is overrun, and the Master Chief must escape to the surface of Halo, where he must survive against Covenant forces, and uncover the greatest threat to all sentient life.
Compared to more recent video games, even in the Halo series, the original Halo‘s story is a bit generic. For its time it helped to pave the way for better storytelling in the first-person shooter genre, but now, it’s hard not to notice the lack of character development, and things that sort of just come out of nowhere with no explanation. While some of the game’s more random elements are explained in the later installments in some way, it’s hard not to notice how the elements themselves seem to have been put together simply for the heck of it.
As standard as the story is, the game’s updated visuals help to bring the Halo universe to life. As you progress through the game, you’ll venture through canyons, swamps, and various structures that each have their own unique feel. Fitting colors and lighting definitely amplify the immersion, while Covenant troops look detailed and menacing. As good as the graphics look, however, it’s clear that the team was working with the original game’s base coding; many models, particularly those of humans, look noticeably less smooth than others, and many textures in the game aren’t quite as detailed as what you’d see in a brand new game from recent times. For what it’s worth, however, the team did an excellent job of working with what they had planned, and the art style lends itself to the new visuals.
Similarly to the graphics, the music in the game has received a sort of overhaul. While players can still listen to the original game’s soundtrack if they wish, the game defaults to newly recorded songs performed by the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra. In all honesty, I prefer the new soundtrack over the original, as the live performances feel more atmospheric when needed, and more prominent when useful. However, Martin O’Donnell’s original soundtrack is still worth listening to, which just goes to show how well-composed the individual tracks are.
The good graphics and great music don’t mean anything if the gameplay isn’t any fun, however. While skulls and terminals have been added to the game for additional replay value, everything else about the gameplay hasn’t changed one bit, which can be seen either as a good or bad thing. You’ll do the same sneaking and shooting as you did ten years ago – as well as in every Halo game since then – and the individual levels are still objective-based. While I personally find the classic Halo gameplay to still be fun, it’s far from original by now. Much of the game feels outdated in some way, be it in terms of story, or the game’s artificial intelligence. For example, teammates tend to continuously shoot at dead bodies, and enemies either run into your line of fire or simply stand still and accept their death by lead. Luckily, you can still play the game with a friend, which helps make the game a bit more fun, albeit at the cost of losing some of its atmosphere. Additionally, Xbox Live support has been added, although you can only play with one other person, and online games tend to be laggy even on good connections. Overall, diehard fans will likely enjoy the gameplay, but everyone else, don’t be surprised if some things seem really outdated.
Just like the main game, the multiplayer portion is based on a pre-existing game, but it fares better, in my opinion. While campaign co-op is less than ideal when playing online, the game includes several multiplayer maps running on the Halo: Reach engine. This means that any character progression you’ve made in Reach will also be represented in Anniversary‘s maps, and vice-versa; in fact, the game ships with a code to import the maps for direct use with Halo: Reach. The new Anniversary playlists are great throwbacks to the old days of Halo multiplayer, but still manage to hold up to the test of time; Anniversary Slayer on Beaver Creek is a ton of fun. If you’re a fan of Big Team Battle, then it doesn’t get much better than Ridgeline and High Noon. The new Firefight map, Installation 04, is by far my favorite map for the game mode due to its design and feel. All in all, the multiplayer component is very fun, and helps extend not only Halo Anniversary‘s life, but Halo: Reach‘s as well.
Over the last ten years, the Halo franchise has evolved from what was meant to be a mere console-seller to one of gaming’s largest and most revered series. However, the fact that the game was one of the earlier hits in the console first-person shooter genre shows, as many details about the game remain outdated, even with enhanced audio and visuals. However, there is still fun to be had with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, be it through the campaign, or the Reach-powered multiplayer. While Halo fans will be the ones who get the most out of this package, it’s still a recommended play for any fan of first-person games or science fiction experiences.
New soundtrack is great.
New graphics look good.
Ability to change graphics and music is neat.
Multiplayer breathes new life into Halo Reach.
Visuals could have received additional detail.
The game feels outdated overall.