Game: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
Developer: 343 Industries/Saber Interactive/Certain Affinity Inc.
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox 360 only
Back in 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved hit the shelves, defined the Sci-fi shooter and at the time, set the bar for other First Person Shooters to follow. With its intense combat, scarily clever A.I. system and with a deep and rich storyline, Halo: Combat Evolved will go down in history as one of the best and most popular games to kick start the new millennium in the gaming world. Now we are in 2011 and FPS games have changed dramatically and even though the Halo series is still going strong with the upcoming Halo 4, the tides have turned as the likes of Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 have taken this genre by storm, leaving Halo a little bit behind for some.
But does this really matter in the grand scheme of things? Yes the modern FPS is extremely well designed across the board, but do they have any really good gripping storylines that don’t finish after a short campaign mode? 343 Industries have blown the dust off the original Halo: Combat Evolved and given a new coat of polish and added to it in many ways. Many fans have been awaiting this remake for a while now and now it is finally here, will fans fall in love with the old boy all over again? Can it teach the new kids a lesson on how it’s done?
STORY: Many of you will more than likely know the story to Halo, but for those of you with fuzzy memories or who have never played the original, here is a brief recap. The events take place after Halo: Reach and the UNSC Pillar of Autumn has exited slip-space and is on the run from the Covenant, (a mixture of alien races hell bent on destroying the human race who also enjoy digging up relics from other long dead alien races) they find themselves at a mysterious ring-shaped space station/planet, named “Halo”. Whilst scanning this new wonder of the stars, the Covenant show up and attack, forcing the Pillar of Autumn to crash land onto the surface of Halo.
Soon the Covenant will find the survivors of the wreckage and kill them all but they have an ace up their sleeve, for on board is a genetically augmented super soldier; a Spartan known as Master Chief. The last of his kind as many were wiped out on the planet Reach, the Master Chief (who is aided by an extremely intelligent A.I. known as Cortana) is well renowned by his fellow humans as a fierce warrior and capable of the seemingly impossible. But can he save the survivors, fight off the Covenant and find out what this strange new world has in store for them all. Is it just a wondrous new type of planet, or is it for more devious purposes?
The story for Halo: Combat Evolved is at its original best. The pulse pounding action and cut-scenes are spaced brilliantly and the progression of the story is timed to perfection. They haven’t fiddled with the original plot at all and the developers even found time to throw in some extras, with the use of Terminals like the ones from Halo 3. Once activated, these give you a insight into the history of the Halo universe as well as some of the main characters in the game, as well as events that are currently taking place that you can’t see because you are too busy smashing the Covenant as the Chief. After each clip, you get a series of strange symbols that pop up – are they of any relevance? There are little hidden Easter eggs dotted around the game that may give you a few clues as to whats going to happen in Halo 4 so time will tell on this one.
GRAPHICS: You have a nice novelty with regards to the graphics, as you can switch between the original graphics and the improved HD graphics, so you can happily switch between old school and modern day with a simple press of the back button. In switching between the two, the progression of graphics over the years is quite staggering as this game shows. The new HD graphics are extremely well designed and highly detailed. They may not be as good as Battlefield 3 for example, but the effort that the developers have gone into is quite astounding. There was no texture popping seen during gameplay and the sheer space that you have to explore with massive amounts of detail is a credit to 343 Industries.
The Master Chief looks as menacing as ever along with that hero aura that his character has held over the years. The other main characters are rendered quite well although their mouth movement when talking does look a little bit like a ventriloquists dummy at times. The elites are as fearsome looking as ever, the grunts are still funny looking and the jackals are still their bird-like selves. When you compare them to the old graphics, you can see that their design has come a long way as well. The weapons and vehicles are highly detailed and look fantastic and the muzzle flashes when firing look great and as realistic as you would expect from a Sci-fi weapon. The explosions are extremely well rendered as well, whether it be a normal explosion or a Covenant plasma explosion. There is no slow down when this occurs as well, even if you manage to set off a series of grenades on the floor with a rocket launcher, the sheer size of the explosion is impressive and rattles the area you are in to great effect.
The most impressive thing about the graphics is the scenery that you find yourself in. Whether it be on a sun-soaked island with crystal clear waters and sandy beaches, all surrounding a lush jungle with mountainous ravines, or snow swept craggy canyons and steep snow covered hills that no-one has walked on in a millenia, or even alien-like futuristic mystical architecture – the detail is truly astonishing. With the sheer size of everything, you do get the feeling that you can explore Halo for hours and find so many interesting landscapes and scenery, and then you look up and see the wonders of space as well as the rest of Halo, making you want to explore it all. Sadly (or thankfully, depending on your point of view) this obviously isn’t the case as this game would be months long and not hours with multiple discs if this was the case but graphically, it really is an fantastic piece of computerized art.
SOUND: The musical score for Halo: Combat Evolved was always great and now the developers have remastered the soundtrack and it is as beautiful and amazing as it was the first day you heard it, but now it is with outstanding vigour and gives you that extra oomph when hearing it. You will probably get goose bumps when you hear it. It really does encapsulate the whole game perfectly. During gameplay the score is set with precision as well, with slow moments giving you an almost soothing experience as you view the luscious scenery, and when you know a fight is coming the score changes to build up the anticipation of a heart-ripping firefight. Then when you do get into a fight, the score ramps up to something worthy of an action set piece, it gives you an adrenaline rush and even gives you the confidence to go in guns blazing.
Sound effects are rendered impressively as well, with the battle rifle sounding absolutely bloody lethal! You can hear every round as it sprays out, with round after round pumping into your enemy and tearing him to shreds with a satisfying boom that somehow makes you feel like you are firing the weapon yourself. The shotgun is the same as well, with the massive blast coming out of the end meaning that eviscerating your foe is really satisfying – and Halo fans know that the Halo shotgun is the strongest weapon in gaming history! The explosions sound as good as they look as well, with the bass working overtime and potentially rattling your teeth if you have it loud enough. This game will sound amazing on a decent surround sound system and is most definitely the way it should be heard. The voice acting is as good as the original but is slightly marred by the poor lip-syncing that I previously mentioned and unfortunately this does look very odd when a character is talking.
GAMEPLAY: For this anniversary edition, the developers haven’t changed the already brilliant and well designed gameplay. It plays exactly the same and is an extremely enjoyable experience. With the sound effects and music combined, you will happily go screaming into battle with the confidence that you can murder every single Covenant soldier in sight. Sometimes you do have to hang back and pick some off from a distance as the amount of enemies that you can find yourself up against can be overwhelming, because the enemy A.I. is (if anything) better than the original. But you will feel like an intergalactic kicker of alien ass when playing this title and it will with no hesitation, give you an immense sense of satisfaction, especially after a massive battle, of which there are many!
You really do have to keep your wits about you however, or you will find yourself dying a lot. This is because the world you are in is so big that the enemy (with its impressive A.I.) will flank you and you can get damaged very quickly without you even knowing about it. So if possible, it is best to start from a distance and pick off the stronger enemies and mop up the weaker ones at close range. But every now and then you will get the urge to go on a suicide run. You more than likely will die doing this but if you do pull it off you will find yourself very excited and you will get one of those “Halo Moments”, where you have overcome the odds. These moments make this title a very rewarding experience.
To improve the campaign mode and mix things up, the use of Skulls is once again available allowing you to make the single-player experience more difficult (if Legendary is too easy for you) or more fun. Also, with the addition of the terminals and the hidden Easter eggs throughout the game, another interesting element is the use of Kinect. You can shout out voice commands like “Flashlight” or “Change Weapon” and the game will happily oblige. But you can also say “Analyze” with turns the world blue, while certain things, like a fallen comrade/enemy or weapons/vehicles show up in red. If you then place your reticule over one and say “Scan”, it will do exactly that. Then in the “Extra” section of the main menu, you can enter the “Library” option and look at highly detailed accounts of the things you have scanned (45 in total), giving you that extra depth to the Halo universe. In the extras menu you can also view all of the video clips from the terminals that you find on every level of the game.
In essence, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is still as great as the original title and with the little extras thrown in for fans of the series, the developers have somehow manage to make this great game even greater!
MULTIPLAYER: This new version of Halo uses the same mode as Halo: Reach, but has seven new maps that were inspired by original game, allowing fans of the multiplayer to explore and exploit these new maps to gain that all important XP. Thankfully you don’t have to start your character from Halo: Reach multiplayer again, as all your stats and equipment are still there to carry on gaining XP to continue going up the ranks. You still have the fun (albeit tight) XP system and with daily challenges, you will be ranking up in no time. You also have the facility to play the Campaign mode in its entirety in co-op, whether it be online or by system link, allowing you to enjoy the experience with a friend (only two player sadly). You just join each other at the lobby in the Campaign mode option and you can commence the violence. On top of all this, the horde-based Firefight mode also returns.
LONGEVITY: Halo: Combat Evolved can take you between 10-15 hours to finish, maybe even longer depending on multiple factors (difficulty, skulls, player skill or the amount of exploration time you decide to take) and with the new multiplayer maps to explore, the Reach multiplayer may just draw you in again and could be playing this for a long time to come. The fact that there are hidden terminals and Easter eggs, along with the analyze and scan function via Kinect gives this title a satisfying replay factor, with the player perhaps hoping to find that hidden gem that could lead to more info on the upcoming Halo 4. Fans will keep playing this for a long time to come and newcomers to the series (where have you been?) will enjoy this title very much and will tide you over nicely for a week or two.
VERDICT: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has successfully re-captured the original title brilliantly and is an absolute delight to play. The original gameplay, the remastered sound and the improved graphics make this a true homage to the original. For people who always wondered what the appeal of Halo was, you will most definitely find out why when playing this. Almost every aspect and detail of Halo: Combat Evolved has been expertly remastered and tweaked by 343 Industries and we should all be looking forward to what they do with Halo 4.
If you do love modern day First Person Shooters and want to know how they got this good, buy this game as it inspired most of them in some manner. But even if you don’t care about that and want a brilliant shooter to play, this is the one to grab. You will not be disappointed in your purchase. So get playing and lets hope they do the same thing for Halo 2!