Halo: The Master Chief Collection
We’re not ready to post our full review online yet for Halo: The Master Chief Collection, but I did want to share some of my impressions of replaying Halo’s campaigns and what surprised me about revisiting the journey.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
I am one of the biggest Halo fans in the office, but I skipped Anniversary in 2011 after being severely disappointed in the multiplayer offering. I enjoy the Halo campaigns, but my personal incentive for playing has always been multiplayer first.
In this age, even with the new visuals, Halo may look outdated, but its large scale still feels intact. Landing on Halo for the first time still feels grand and impressive, and being able to switch to the old visuals is a welcome addition. In the original release, switching to the old version meant enduring a short but noticeable fade to black. The switch is instant now and the game is better for it.
Every Halo is an offender when it comes to backtracking and getting lost, but the original Halo is the worst. I still find myself unsure of where to go in the levels that took place inside of buildings, but the outdoor sequences are still a blast.
Halo 2: Anniversary
Halo 2 received the most attention in this collection, and as a result, it ends up being the best looking game – even over the recently released Halo 4. The new visuals look great, though in some cases it does make the world look cleaner and less stricken by war. Overall, however, the game looks much, much better to the point that switching to the old version is sometimes laughably bad.
This is especially true when it comes to switching between the new and old cutscenes (something you curiously can’t do in Halo). Every cutscene was recreated by prolific animation studio Blur, and these scenes alone are almost worth the price of admission. Every person that walked by my desk that was able to witness one of these scenes also made a comment about how good it looked, and would erupt into laughter when I switched to the old visuals. It’s not that Halo 2 necessarily looks bad; the game has aged better than most original Xbox games. It’s just that the new visuals and cutscenes look so damn good.
I knew the visuals would be an impressive change for the game, and was looking forward to hearing the new sound, but I was unprepared for how much it changes the experience. The new music and sound effects are fantastic. The human weapons in particular sound far more imposing and dangerous in an awesome way. Some may cry foul at taking Halo 2’s original scores and changing them slightly, but I am thankful for the update. The music is mixed louder and just sound generally fuller. Switching back to the old music makes me wonder how I even heard it compared to the new score.
In terms of gameplay, Halo 2 suffers from the same imperfections as Halo. Often it’s unclear where to go, and as much as I appreciate the character of the Arbiter and his perspective on the conflict, his levels simply aren’t as interesting or fun as Master Chief’s.
I went into the opportunity to replay this game assuming that Halo 2’s campaign would remain my favorite as it is the one I have the most nostalgia for. After replaying the games however, Halo 3 takes the crown. The pacing is much faster than the first two, quickly moving you from battle to battle, and I rarely felt lost. The Brutes are also weakened slightly, making them feel less like furry bullet sponges and more like worthy adversaries, and the grenade timers are shorter, which makes blowing up stuff more rewarding.
The lighting is also slightly better and it runs at 60 FPS, making it a much smoother experience. There is some minor pop-up throughout, but not enough to detract from the enjoyment. Playing through all of Bungie’s games, including Halo 3, is also a grim reminder that up until Destiny earlier this year, I am not convinced the artists knew how to make a human face. Helmets and aliens look great, but human faces look strange and blocky.
There is a lot Halo 4 does well in terms of recreating the Halo experience from the perspective of a different developer, but that alternate perspective is hard to ignore. Halo 4 feels different from the rest of the group, but it’s certainly not a bad thing.
Halo 4 comes in second after Halo 2’s upgraded visuals in the looks department, and the 60 FPS makes it a much smoother experience. Like Halo 3, it doesn’t totally change how you play the game, but it does make it seem like up until now you’ve only been playing Halo 4 on the recommended settings instead of the maximum settings.
I applaud 343 Industries for not taking too much artistic license when it comes to re-releasing these games. Each of the campaigns preserved the way I remember them, warts and all (but much higher resolution warts), which is exactly how I want it. There were many things that I remembered incorrectly, and things that were better and worse than I remembered them, and part of the fun of replaying the games is revisiting your original impressions and expectations.
We’ll have a full review for Halo: The Master Chief Collection online soon, but for now I can assure you that the campaigns are how you remember them, which is more often better than it is worse.