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Game review: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

18 Nov 11

I can’t believe that it’s been ten years since Halo: Combat Evolved came out on the original Xbox. At the time it was peerless; a mature, weighty science fiction story coupled with incredibly hectic futuristic combat action across a strange alien environment. Everybody took notice and Microsoft sold shedloads of its original Xbox on the strength of this one game. Halo was, and still is, the Xbox killer app.

Microsoft Studios and 343 Industries have taken the original Halo gameplay and overlaid a fresh set of visuals.  Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s graphical polish drastically improves the muddy textures of the original. Gone are the bland walls and the tessellated textures of barren landscapes. Interiors are now packed with detail, and exteriors are lush and inviting. 

As commendable as the graphics overhaul is when compared to the original, the visuals still don’t really stand up against todays Xbox 360 offerings. Granted, the Halo series is more about immersion and gameplay than top-class graphics, but I think that 343 Industries could have done better. If this was the fifth anniversary, way back in 2006, I’d be very happy, but having just come from Gears of War 3 the visuals still look somewhat lacking

I’m probably being a bit hard on the game as, unlike what Eidos did with Tomb Raider for Lara Croft’s tenth anniversary, this is not a reboot or re-imagining. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is exactly the same game that Xbox owners were playing ten years ago, the difference being purely cosmetic. Pressing the start button in game (or clearly saying ‘classic’ if you have a Kinect) will switch the game to the old Xbox graphics and they look horrible. It’s an excellent illustration of how much effort has been put into this anniversary release.

The Halo story is the closest to a true science fiction story as you are likely to get whilst playing a video game. Back in 2001, original developers Bungie and publishers Microsoft steered away from the usual bubble-gum, throwaway space opera video game plot. For Halo: Combat Evolved, the game that defined the original Xbox and spawned a series that would do the same on the Xbox 360, players were treated to an epic narrative the likes of which (with the possible exception of Mass Effect, which itself borrows quite a lot from Halo) we’ve not seen since.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary retells the story that introduced owners of the original Xbox to the Halo universe and to the cybernetic Master Chief. Chronologically, the game picks up straight after the events in 2010’s Halo: Reach, positioning the game as a continuation of the last game for newcomers and a bit of nostalgia for the more seasoned Halo players.

Halo is set in a future where the human race, with the aid of faster-than-light travel, has colonised the heavens. It doing so they caught the attention of a collective of alien species known as the Covenant. These creatures deem us to be an affront to their belief system and so they declared war on the human race. In order to even the huge odds stacked against them, the humans embarked on a project to create an army of super-soldiers: the Spartans. During the events of Halo: Reach all but one Spartan were destroyed. This last Spartan, Master Chief, escaped the destruction of the planet reach on board the starship called The Pillar of Autumn.

It is at this point that Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary begins. Whilst fleeing the Covenant forces The Pillar of Autumn jumps, via slipspace, to a random location that just so happens to be near a huge artificial structure in the shape of a ring. On the inner face on the ring there is an earth-like landscape with mountains, trees, rivers and oceans. The Pillar of Autumn is attacked by the Covenant resulting in the player, as Master Chief, the last of the Spartans, finding himself on the surface of the strange alien structure and in a race to discover the Halo’s sinister purpose before the Covenant.

The gameplay is basically a series of linier journeys from point A to point B punctuated by firefights against a host of interestingly different alien creatures. Along the way Master Chief is provided with the opportunity to use vehicles from the humble Jeep-like Warthog to alien flying-machines. Master Chief can carry two weapons and a selection of grenades, all of which can be replenished in the field, including swapping out human guns for Covenant weaponry. The Spartan armour has a built-in rechargeable shield which can take quite a beating. When the shield is down that’s when Mater Chief’s health levels start to deplete, which can only be replenished with health packs. If you are not careful to find cover when the shield is down, you’ll soon find yourself nursing a very fragile Spartan though some very unforgiving situations.

Whilst the entire game can be played co-operatively with a pal, Anniversary also includes a competitive multiplayer component. The multiplayer mode features a selection of classic maps from Halo 2 as well as others inspired by Halo: Combat Evolved, all rendered using the more up-to-date Halo: Reach Engine. A code supplied with the game allows the multiplayer maps to be installed onto the Xbox 360 hard drive and accessed directly as an Anniversary playlist from within Halo: Reach, if you own it. Halo multiplayer is a bit old school and an acquired taste that you’ll either love or want to leave be. Even if you don’t get into the multiplayer game, the single player campaign is worth the price of admission anyway.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has exactly the same feel as the original. This should satisfy the purists, as this is only a cosmetic enhancement of the 10-year-old game. The game is Halo: Combat Evolved Warts and all, and not a remake. Newcomers that have played the other Xbox 360 Halo offerings may find Anniversary a little hard on the eyes and unrefined compared to the later games. You are just going to have to accept that, being mindful that this remastered version looks a lot better than the original.  

If you’ve enjoyed the recent Halo games, but missed out on Halo: Combat Evolved, you owe it to yourself to give this anniversary version a go. If you have fond memories of the original this’ll give you the opportunity to experience the classic Halo game once more. 

Graphics: 7.5
Gameplay: 9
Sound: 8
Lasting appeal: 8.5
Overall: 8.5