You’ve done it all before. Chasing the Covenant around the Halo. Throwing sticky plasma grenades. Bouncing over sand dunes in the Warthog. You’ve done this before. This exact thing.
You rushed to escape the Pillar of Autumn. Infiltrated the Truth and Reconciliation. Escaped from Truth and Reconciliation (twice) and the re-infiltrated Pillar of Autmn. You traversed acres of identical corridors, unlocked Halo’s secrets and then recoiled in horror as the game switched from “action” to “survival horror” at mid-point.
You’ve been here and you’ve done this. Right down to the frenetic vehicle escape at the very end. So why does it all feel brand new?
What you will (re)discover when you play Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary is the joy of playing a perfectly polished and painstakingly designed shooter imbued with just the right amounts of self-seriousness and whimsy. The Covenant grunts will make you laugh as you pummel them into blue paste. Your weapons (although you can only carry two of them – a gift Halo gave the world) are satisfying and awesome. When you hit something, you know it. When you are in danger, you know that too, thanks to your motion detector (another first) and the bleeping of your shield. Your movement through the world feels fluid and precise. Every control functions perfectly. Every aspect of the game has been tested and tweaked and tested again so that, when you grab the controls, you needn’t worry about fighting the game – you can just fight your enemy. This is what sucked millions of players into the Halo universe and simultaneously transformed online gaming from the hardcore, members-only competitive shooting of the Doom era to the no-holds-barred, party pool atmosphere in which we play today.
For better or worse, Halo is the progenitor of everything you know about videogames in the 21st Century, and Halo CE Anniversary is a living, breathing testament to that. This is the game that rewrote the rules of shooter design. This game, right here, is the game that changed the way videogames were made and played forever, spawned a franchise of game sequels, expanded universe novels, graphic novels and (some day) a feature film. This is the game that made Xbox a household name and proved that a perfect marriage of narrative, technology and game design was possible. This is the game every other game has wanted to be for 10 years, and thanks to the reconstruction efforts, it looks and sounds better than ever.
For its 10th anniversary, the seminal modern shooter has been treated to a massive graphical and effects overhaul and been given a few back-end tweaks – and that’s it. The original physics engine remains intact. The models and levels remain the same. Nothing added, nothing taken away and suddenly Halo CE stands toe-to-toe with any game released this year – or any year. Give this game to someone who’s never heard of Halo (if you can find one) and he’d never know it was 10 years old. That, in itself, is an impressive feat.
What you will also discover when you play Halo CE Anniversary (whether it’s your first or tenth time) is that every sequel, for all of their strengths, has suffered from the absence of the Halo CE‘s main character: the Halo itself. This game wasn’t called “Master Chief,” it was called “Halo” and with good reason. It’s not about Master Chief John Spartan 117, or the rambunctious AI Cortana or the heroic Captain Keyes. It’s about the fabulous and mysterious ring structure and the secrets locked within. The game begins with the discovery of the structure and ends with its destruction. The story is, like the ring itself, a perfect circle and although the final scripted words are “We’re just getting started,” you could leave off with this one entry and not feel as if you’d missed a thing. Fitting, then, that the previous entry in the series, Halo Reach, was in fact the prequel to this game, as if all roads lead back to Halo CE. You could, if you choose, play Halo CE Anniversary as a sequel to Reach and it would hardly feel out of step.
In addition to all that made Halo CE great, Halo CE Anniversary comes packed with a bundle of bonus multiplayer maps you can download to your Xbox 360’s HD for use with Halo Reach. Also, you can switch the game’s settings to play either the original music, or the newly re-mastered and enhanced symphony soundtrack. And if you want to see how far graphics have come in the past ten years, you can press the Select button at any time to switch between the Anniversary edition and the original edition graphics. Doing so is guaranteed to blow your mind at least once.
Multiplayer is its own treat. While riding on the backend of Reach‘s multiplayer component, Anniversary packs a few of its own surprises into the mix such as a handful of the original game’s maps (Beaver Creek, being one of my all-time favorites) as well as the iconic “Magnum” pistol that proved to be the bane of so many gamers’ online careers. The action is as frenetic as always and quintessentially Halo, while the matchmaking, in the few brief hours I banged on it, proved robust.
All of that said, it’s hard to know where to draw the line between remaining faithful to the original experience and not offering gamers anything new. The graphical and musical overhauls are phenomenal, but for true-blue Halo fans, they may not be enough to justify the expense, even at the “bargain” price of $40. It will be interesting to see if the same nostalgia that has driven four sequels to the top of the sales charts can also drive an updated edition of the original.
Bottom Line: If you played and enjoyed Halo Combat Evolved or one of its sequels, then you will find plenty to enjoy with this edition. If you haven’t played Halo CE, there’s no better time. Few other games with as many miles under their belts look and feel this good. A fresh coat of paint is all this game needed to remind the world how Bungie brought shooters out of the stone age.
Recommendation: A must-have for Halo fans, in spite of the lack of any significantly new content. Knowing how it ends, after all, hasn’t ruined a Halo game yet. Newcomers will be in for a rare treat: discovering the game that changed everything for the first time, without having to forgive dated graphics. Buy it.[rating=4.5]
This review is based on the 360 version of the game.