Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Hands-On Preview
November 15th, 2001 – a date that doesn’t mean that much to that many people around the world. Afroman, was number one with his frankly awesome track, Because I Got High, in the UK at the time while over in the states, Donald Rumsfeld was reassuring the world that the US Army would find Bin Laden. More importantly, November 15, 2001, was the date that Halo: Combat Evolved was released in North America, along with Microsoft’s new Xbox console. Bin Laden is now at the bottom of the sea and Afroman might be with him, for all we know. Halo however, is still here, still going strong and the original is gearing up for a re-release.
Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved went on to define the original Xbox and with well over six million copies sold, Master Chief is up there as one of gaming’s icons. The title was enough reason to pick up an Xbox on its own for many, and its influence can still be found in many of the triple-A first person shooters that we play today. Our very own Mark Bridle describes Halo: Evolved as “a true FPS rock star” and rightly so.
It is fitting then, that such an influential title shall be getting re-released on its ten-year anniversary date. Of course it’s not quite ten years for us in Europe until March 2012, but we won’t get too upset about that. 343 Industries recently picked up the original Halo, dusted it off and decided to drag it into 2011. But is it just a lick of paint? A £30 stocking filler for Christmas? We recently spent a couple of hours with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s single player campaign and multiplayer to see if it has survived the test of time.
Before we got to play though, Content Producer David Ellis and Producer Dennis Ries (and you can read our interview with Dennis here) came up to showcase some of the new elements to Halo for its re-release. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t slap a coat of paint on it,” Ries said. “It had to be true to the original.” added Ellis. That isn’t to say there aren’t added elements in Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary though. In addition to an improved graphics and audio engine, Skulls are present to add another dimension to the gameplay. This is of course, optional. There are now Terminal Videos present like the ones that we first saw in Halo 3. There will be a series of animated shorts for gamers to delve into as they play Anniversary. Also new are achievements, stereoscopic 3D, co-op over Xbox LIVE and Kinect integration.
As we sat down to play, the menu was already in classic mode. One tap of the back button and we were greeted with an instant makeover. Colour, texture and overall looks are far more pleasing on the eye, and this feeling carries into the single player campaign very well. We were allowed to play through the first three missions, but it is immediately apparent that graphics and audio have had a lot of work put into them. The sound was re-recorded for Anniversary, and even the weapon sounds have been remastered. As we were playing through, we found ourselves frequently hitting back on the 360 pad to really take in how much the graphics have improved. We are not going to get carried away and say this is Frostbite 2 incorporated into Halo — it’s far from it. The new graphics aren’t perfect by any means, but for this particular title, its roughness around the graphical edges is almost romantic. It just feels right. Master Chief looks awesome in his revamped suit. 343 was originally going to put him in the Mjolnir MK V suit from Halo: Reach’s multiplayer, but later changed to their current design after some fan outcry in the aftermath of Anniversary’s E3 announcement. A good move, we felt.
The new graphics and sound do wonderful things to the gameplay. We found ourselves taking in the whole environment a lot more. It feels like the missions take place in larger surroundings, but you just have to tap back again to realise that graphics go a long way to making players feel more immersed in the gameplay. Everything else about the gameplay is pretty much the same, and that is no bad thing. 343 and Saber interactive have treated the gameplay with the respect it deserves, and left it well and truly alone. You would have to be pretty confident to tinker with gameplay that maintains an average of 97 on MetaCritic, wouldn’t you? Check out this comparison video below to see the graphical improvements for yourself.
Anniversary will also have co-op over Xbox LIVE. It’s hard to believe that ten years ago, this wasn’t on the cards, but Halo: Combat Evolved was a split screen affair. You know, those days when you had to actually go to your friend’s houses to play games with them. Now, co-op is as simple as popping off an invite and, though players won’t have each others company for LIVE co-op, they will have their entire screens to enjoy those new graphics.
Skulls brings with it a new angle for the more experienced Halo player to take. Fog will disable player’s Motion Tracker, while Malfunction will remove certain parts of the HUD when players respawn. Those new to the first Halo, or even the series, have the option to leave them off, while the ardent fan revisiting the game can add another layer to the gameplay by including them.
Kinect comes into Anniversary via the medium of voice commands. Grenade and reload commands will do exactly as they say while more interestingly, saying “analyse” will prompt a ‘scan’ of the object players are looking at and then add it to a library. Players can then find out more information about what they scanned. Scan an Elite Minor and players get information about them and can also move a 3D image around for a full view of whatever it is they have scanned. Enemies and vehicles can be viewed in greater depth this way. We thought of it as almost an Autovista for Halo, though it isn’t quite as in-depth.
Then, we have multiplayer. We played a few matches on the High Noon map, and 343 has brought all of its experience from working on previous Halo multiplayer and seamlessly put it in. It’s worth noting that we were playing over LAN, but nonetheless it was thrilling and entertaining. We died. A lot.
Overall, players are set to get a new, mature and calculated approach to Halo: Combat Evolved with Anniversary. It is essentially the same game enjoyed by so many ten years ago, though it stands on its own as a release in 2011. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has everything that the retro fan will love to see, but it also carries enough new content such as the multiplayer, 3D and co-op to entertain and engage retro fans and those that were too young to play it before. For £30, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary could turn out to be an absolute bargain. Check out the gallery below for more screenshots.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary releases November 15th, exclusively for Xbox 360.