It’s been ten years since Halo: Combat Evolved blew our minds on the original Xbox. The graphics were “bonus” (that’s what the cool kids said), and the gameplay was unprecedented on a console. With a streamlined control system and a myriad of clever weapons and grenades, Halo went on to spawn half a dozen sequels and even more copy cats. After a decade of supporting the franchise it created, Bungie broke free of Microsoft’s grip and went on to go make something non-Halo. However, Microsoft created a new company internally to manage the future of Halo called 343 Industries (named after a bitch character in the series). 343 has created a map or two for previous Halos, but the new studio just released its biggest project yet. Using modern hardware and clever programming, 343 Industries just brought the original Halo into the new generation.
343 wanted to do everything in their power to keep all the gameplay intact while making it look like a current gen shooter. Part of how they were able to do this is because some of the original code from ten years ago is still being used. This ensured the physics, vehicles, and shooting would behave exactly like it did ten years ago. Two graphics engines are running simultaneously at all times. One runs the old game exactly how it was last generation and the other is essentially the same under the hood, but boasts “next gen” graphics. Major benefit? The player can choose to switch back and forth between the old and new graphics any time they want. Pretty fancy.
I played through the game with just the new graphics the first time through. I played Halo to DEATH years ago and was down to look at something new. The outdoor vistas have seen the most improvement. What used to be a flat green floor is now a beautiful collection of foliage and trees that really pop. The indoor levels still bear a slight improvement, but it’s not as noticeable. Sometimes a flat wall can only ever be a flat wall. The new graphics are sharp but still don’t look as good as Halo: Reach or any other modern shooter for that matter. I also ran into some frame rate issues while playing in the Anniversary graphics. If I had to guess, I’d say running two engines at the same time is taxing on the hardware and could be the reason why they couldn’t push the newer visuals to today’s standards.
The new graphics also feature a few new character animations and subtle differences that go a little beyond just a new coat of paint. Unfortunately, some of the new animations still look dated, even though 343 clearly had complete control over them. Also, a few automatic doors don’t blink or light up like they used to when they open, and the HUD didn’t seem to get much of a visual upgrade at all. These complaints are nitpicky, but I expected a little more polish on Microsoft’s biggest franchise.
Besides the aesthetics, Anniversary also has upgraded 5.1 audio with some re-recorded sound effects. All the voice acting has been kept intact, but some of the guns carry a brand new bang. This was actually my favorite part about the remake. The sniper rifle fires with a heavy bass now and the Needler sounds more alien than ever. Casual observers won’t notice the difference, but it’s a guaranteed rager for anyone who’s heard the old sounds a million times. Plenty of sound effects were untouched (and a few were questionably removed) but the audio director definitely did his job on this one.
The only other addition to the single player mode is Terminals. This is a feature that was present in the past few Halo titles. They’re little easter eggs that can be found around the campaign that give you a deeper understanding of the Halo universe. In Anniversary, any time you are in the updated graphics mode, you’re liable to find these terminals and get more stories that elude to what Halo 4 might be about. It’s a small addition, but the dedicated Halo fan will love it.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary also includes 6 competitive multiplayer maps and one map specifically for Firefight (Halo’s Horde mode). All these maps are redesigned versions of arenas from classic Halos, but they don’t keep the old rule set. They were all built with theHalo: Reach graphics engine and rules. You can either play these maps using the Anniversary disc or the Halo: Reach disc (if you choose to install them to your hard drive). The only nostalgia in the multiplayer’s gameplay is that some game modes tweak the weapon damage, jump height, etc. to make everything behave like it did in Halo: CE. It’s not really the same, but it’s something. Besides that, there’s no way to relive those hectic split screen sessions from ten years ago in this package. Kind of a shame.
Each map is a beautiful remake and a lot of fun to fight on. There are two versions of every map: Classic and Anniversary. The classic versions mimic the old geometry as best it can to please purists, and the Anniversary versions add tunnels, walkways, structures, etc. to make the map play better with Halo: Reach’s gameplay. These maps offer a new dynamic to online battles (as do all new maps) and keep the online battles for Reach fresh and fun.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a great package, and well worth it at only 40 bucks. However, out of all the Halo games, this is the lightest package. Halo has been synonymous with content over the years and Anniversary doesn’t quite offer the long legs the other Halo’s have. I understand this game was probably a short development cycle, but even Halo: ODST featured a brand new campaign and the invention of firefight with only a year in development. I recommend this title to anyone who likes shooters. If you haven’t played Halo, there’s never been a better time to enjoy it. If you’re a long time fan, you’re going to love the modern touch, just remember, it’s a $40 Halo in price and content.