I was lucky enough to be sitting in the audience at The Galen Center in LA as Halo: The Master Chief Collection was unveiled to an unsuspecting audience at the Xbox E3 media briefing. Of course, the crowd went wild.
A few short months later and here we are, 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios have just delivered four of the most influential games in Xbox history. Each one remastered on the Xbox One for a new audience to enjoy and for the old hands to experience again, albeit with updated visuals.
I’m going to put my cards on the table and tell you right now that if you’ve got an Xbox One you should be buying this collection.
And here’s why.
For starters Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a package of games from a series that helped define the Xbox brand, and that’s got to count for something.
Then there’s the story set around this amazing concept whereby these huge, planet-sized ringworlds- the Halo constructs, exist in the human race’s far-flung future.
The games tell a rich, full-blooded sci-fi yarn unlike any other. These beautiful artificial worlds harbour a sinister secret and the humans are not alone in the universe. The Covenant is a collection of alien races, who see humans as an abomination that needs to be destroyed. From the chimp-like grunts to the light-sword wielding Arbiter, the alien Covenant are the perfect enemy.
With the stakes this high, we need a hero- the Spartan John 117, a cybernetic warrior- the last of his kind and saviour of the human race.
But it’s the gameplay that makes the Halo games so amazing. For over a decade the Halo series has retained a certain purity as a first-person shooter. Whilst other franchises have tweaked their gameplay, the Halo saga from Combat Evolved to Halo 4 has remained, fundamentally, the same. Almost retro, but totally sublime.
But this isn’t a collection of four individual games, this is one seamless package with all the games’ levels unlocked and ready to play. They can be played chronologically or bundled together via a series of playlists. It’s an incredible undertaking the preserves the original Halo experience, but allows for an almost museum-style presentation of this important franchise.
The first game in the series, Halo: Combat Evolved was released way back in 2001 for the original Xbox. Three years ago a re-textured version of the game, Halo Anniversary, came out for the Xbox 360. This is the version included in The Master Chief Collection; albeit at a better resolution and faster frame rate. If I’m honest, whilst the gameplay is still there, even with the remastered textures this instalment of the saga is showing its age.
Halo 2 was, again, first released on the original Xbox. For this collection 343 have given it the anniversary treatment as well. And they’ve pulled out all the stops. As well as remastered textures and audio, top Hollywood SFX studio, Blur, have been brought in to fashion new cut scenes that craftily tie the game into the Halo: Nightfall web TV series and Halo 5: Guardians. Considered by many to be the best game in the series, Halo 2 Anniversary doesn’t disappoint, offering up some beautiful visuals and some classic duel wield gameplay just as I remember it.
Halo 3 was the series’ first outing on the 360. I remember being a bit disappointed with the lack of anti-aliasing and the resultant jagged edges marring some otherwise great graphics. Of course for the Xbox One version this is no longer an issue. But without the benefit of a modern re-texture, the visuals for this chapter seem to take a bit of a downturn from those of Halo 2.
Halo 4, was released a couple of years ago for the Xbox 360. It was visually impressive then. Now it looks drop dead gorgeous. Of all the games in the package Halo 4 actually looks like it was developed exclusively for the Xbox One. In my opinion it’s not the strongest entry in the series, but it was 343 Industries first solo entry in the series. They had big shoes to fill in following the franchise’s original developer, Bungie, and stepped up to the plate with style. Halo 4 introduced a new world and a new enemy in the Prometheans.
The Halo saga’s pure shooter experience is no better showcased than in the games’ multiplayer. Whilst at the time of this review I was unable to test the multiplayer mode this collection ships with all the maps created for the original games, including a few specially remastered Halo 2 multiplayer maps.
Completing the package are a number of top-shelf extras. From the menu players can access Halo: Nightfall, an original life-action weekly Halo TV show that serves as a prequel to the next game instalment Halo 5: Guardians. The TV show has been produced by Sir Ridley Scott’s Scott Free production company. The first 30 minute episode is out now.
There’s also access to an exclusive hour-long Halo 2 Anniversary “making of” movie as well as direct access to Blur’s new Halo 2 cut-scenes and the games’ terminal animations.
No matter how you look at it, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is shockingly good value. With hours and hours of gameplay and tons of extras this is a must-have for every Xbox One owner.