The Master Chief is a gaming legend, there is no denying that. The green-helmeted hero has become synonymous with the Xbox brand. Think Xbox – think Halo. Indeed, it’s arguably likely that the Xbox brand would have sunk if it wasn’t for Bungie’s first person revolution, which came in the form of Halo: Combat Evolved, launching alongside the original Xbox in 2001. The very definition of the “Killer App”, people bought an Xbox just to play Halo, evidenced by the fact that nearly all the other games on the original Xbox sold poorly when compared to their GameCube or PS2 rivals. Microsoft knows the value of its Master Chief mascot, who went on to appear in three numbered sequels, so it is no surprise to see the Redmond company making use of their prize asset in the run up to the 2014 holiday season.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection brings all of the numbered Halo games together into one tidy package, and includes access to all 106 multiplayer maps that appeared in the original releases. One hundred and six maps. One-oh-six. Got that? Say it out loud. All of this content is weaved together in a slick menu system that lets you jump into any level in the four campaigns you fancy. There are even playlists that throw a few levels from each game together, in a sort of Halo “best of”.
My time with The Master Chief Collection began in the most obvious way: jumping into The Pillar of Autumn, Halo: Combat Evolved’s first level. “All I want to know is, did we lose them?” – “I think we both know the answer to that”. The famous opening exchange between Captain Keys and Cortana rang out, before I knew it I was back in control of the Chief, skipping along corridors and sneaking through vents for what must be, well I don’t know how many times I have played Halo: CE, but it is a lot. And you know what? It feels as fresh as it did in 2001. The enemies, the AI, the story, the mythology – all a work of genius. The version of Halo: Combat Evolved included in the Collection is the Anniversary Edition, released in 2011 on Xbox 360. Seeing it at 1080p on Xbox One, running at 60fps, I appreciate the effort 343 went into breathing new life into this game far more than I did when it first released. A press of what used to be the “back” button flips the game into 2001 mode instantly, revealing just how much work as been done to make Halo beautiful again.
Next on my entirely logical tour of the Master Chief Collection was Halo 2, which has had similar treatment to the Anniversary Edition of Combat Evolved. Halo 2, the game that brought first person multiplayer to the masses, also featured a pretty decent campaign, something people tend to forget back thanks to its botched cliffhanger ending. This is Halo 2, modified to run on new gen hardware, so you would expect it to look even better than the original Halo’s makeover, right? Perhaps surprisingly, they are pretty much on a par. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the jump up in visual fidelity is massive when you compare how the game used to look to how it looks now (again, a press of a button reveals the dated look). The Halo 2 remake shines on its darker levels, with the beefed up power of the Xbox One allowing for some more impressive lighting effects. The Brutes have never looked as gruesome as they do here, so there is plenty to love about this remake, not least the completely remade cut scenes. My word, the cut scenes. Back in the day, Halo 2 used the game engine to render its cut scenes, and, in 2004, they looked pretty damn good (some horrendous texture pop-in aside). 343 have gone for a pre rendered approach here and the results are stunning, movie-quality and goose bump-inducing for any Halo fan, and there is the added plus that they are not exactly as you remember them.
Other than the visual touch up, Halo 2 is exactly how you remember it. It added duel wielding of weapons for the first time, an increased array of enemies and guns, and of course, the chance to fly a Banshee upside down. I only wish 343 could have taken away any reference to The Flood, although I suppose that would not do an already confusing story line many favours. The AI in this game is a joy to do battle with, and the way the characters move on screen is a blatant precursor to the enemy behaviour found in Destiny. The DNA shared between those two games is clear to see, but it amazes me that Halo 2’s campaign is so much more enjoyable than a game released 10 years later.
Halo 3 has not had the same visual overhaul as its predecessors, but it does benefit from the same 1080p resolution boost and the bump up to 60 frames per second. Being an Xbox 360 game, the visuals hold up pretty well, especially given the boost in pixel count. The Halo 3 campaign features some iconic levels (Tsavo Highway, Sierra 117) and some real stinkers (Cortana, Floodgate), all of which make the cut here. I must have played the Halo 3 campaign through an unhealthy amount of times with friends, but I still got a kick out of seeing it rendered in high res and running so smoothly, so much so that I ripped through the first 4 levels and went to bed at 2am without even thinking about it.
Halo 4 is the most recent of the bunch, having only been released 2 years. Being the most modern of the included games, it looks great thanks to the increase in framerate and, again, pixel count.
The multiplayer from each game is replicated exactly, so jumping into a game of Halo CE multi took some real adjustment on my part. No sprint option, super deadly pistols and a barrage of grenades – yep, this is Halo just as I remember it, only smoother and running at a (much) higher resolution. Those of you expecting the Halo 4 multiplayer setup spread over the 106 available maps may be disappointed, but those of us who have played all the Master Chief games up to now will get great pleasure from jumping into a deathmatch from yesteryear.
The Halo 2 Anniversary maps have had a similar overhaul to the campaign, with a new lick of paint and the Xbox One’s extra grunt making for a more immersive experience on each. The difference here is that the Halo 2 Anniversary levels are a step up visually from anything else seen in the entire Collection. Lockdown has never looked this good, and Zanzibar (or “Stonetown” as it is called here) is just begging to be played, with its mixture of open beachfront vistas and beautifully rendered stone corridors continuing to offer one of the best arenas to do battle in 10 years after it first appeared in Halo 2. The Halo 2 Multiplayer experience has been kept, feeling as edgy and direct as it did back in the day. It’s Halo CE refined, this is the starting point for console multiplayer as we know it today, and as such it still plays superbly.
In terms of pure content, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is simply massive. In terms of the content itself, this package is astounding. Four of the best shooter campaigns ever made, in one box, all running at 1080p at 60fps, Halo has never looked so good. Throw in over 100 multiplayer maps and a bevy of Halo themed extras and you have a recipe for a true system seller. Halo: The Master Chief Collection will surely end up on the shelves of millions of Halo fans, and will no doubt be the start of something beautiful for Halo virgins as 343 bring this classic franchise to a new generation of gamers.
Huge amount of content.
Halo 2 remaster is beautiful.
All four games look amazing in 1080p/60fps.
No ODST/Reach? Yeah, we're being greedy now.