Bringing an entire saga to one place is always a tricky proposition, but it’s especially tricky if the titles involved are some of the most venerated in recent gaming history. Halo: Combat Evolved – the Xbox killer app that started it all, got the HD treatment a few years back, Halo 2 – the game that popularised Xbox Live, Halo 3 – the jump to next generation to ‘finish the fight’, and Halo 4 – the beginning of a new story after Bungie departed from the franchise.
In order to bring everyone up to speed wherever possible, all four games have been given one home: Halo: The Master Chief Collection. It’s a feat to bring all four to one disc, but what you may not know is that 343 Industries split the development between various studios and developers, each one taking on part of the overall package. Microsoft are banking a lot on this mass collaboration, but has it worked?
The Story So Far
To fairly assess this collection, it’s imperative that each component is assessed individually as all have seen minor to major upgrades from their original iterations. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is largely the same as the Xbox 360 release, though the transitions between updated and retro visuals are now instant and the terminals now link to the Halo Channel that comes bundled with the game. Halo 3 and Halo 4 are exactly the same as their Xbox 360 counterparts, though all the games have high-definition visuals and 60fps that is consistent throughout. Ruffian Games, the team who were tasked with touching up Halo 3 and Halo 4 have done well in this regard.
If only then could you fully rebind your controls. Halo: The Master Chief Collection does have a ton of control options that you can set to either one game in particular or all games simultaneously. However, the problem comes when you simply can’t find the right control scheme for your style of play. Allowing players to customise their own control schemes is uncommon in console games, but 343 had the opportunity to set a trend, which they’ve failed to do so.
Of course the main attraction is the completion of the Master Chief saga with the re-mastered version of Halo 2 . Saber Interactive has done a good job touching up the visuals and updating the sound effects to have a bit more punch, but the results are varied. Some stages appear darker thanks to some odd lighting effects, making it difficult to see unless you revert back to retro visuals temporarily.
Without a doubt the most incredible aspect of Halo 2: Anniversary is Blur Studios’ redone cutscenes. They’re incredible, breathtaking, and without a doubt are crammed full of detail that shows off what the studio is capable of. You do have the option of reverting back to the Bungie in-engine cutscenes, but why would you want to?
Each game is still filed with Easter eggs for the dedicated fan-base and having cooperative play across all four games adds replay value. Playlists allow you to play, either on your own or with friends, various missions across multiple games of a certain theme. It could be that you just want to be the Arbiter, so you play all the missions where you are the Arbiter. You could just like driving, so all the driving missions are back to back. It’s a nice detail that adds a level of challenge, though the entire saga of 45 missions on Legendary with all the skulls turned on seems like a hard sell. Either way, all levels are unlocked from the get go, with the option to turn on scoring and skulls to your liking.
For those who want to connect with friends either on the sofa or online, there are ways to do that via the custom games option. Each game, including two separate options for Halo 2, has its own set of multiplayer variants and maps. Halo: Combat Evolved for example uses the PC version’s map-set and balancing, while Halo 4 uses the load-outs more commonly seen in modern shooters. Halo 2: Anniversary includes some newer details such as a gun on the Mongoose and interactive environments, but also comes with the curse of “being kicked out of zoomed aim when you are hit”.
It does feel like a five-in-one scenario when it comes to multiplayer and it’s likely you’ll find something you’ll like within. I for one definitely appreciated the mechanics of the older games, but felt I did better in the newer variants. There is thankfully a wide range of modes across all games, with variations on classic types across the board. Playing with friends is a huge amount of fun.
Online multiplayer on the other hand has been broken on launch and still isn’t fixed to this day. Largely the problem with playing online at least is the matchmaking, which will find players but not always connect them to each other on the dedicated servers. Right now, the only playlists that are playable without too many problems are the Halo 2: Anniversary multiplayer and Team Slayer variants. Multiplayer in general for online matchmaking purposes is a limited offering, as it is right now, and I sincerely hope that it is fixed soon. This may sound like I’m beating a dead horse, but online matchmaking was what made the original Halo 2 such a resounding success.
Halo: Master Chief Collection made me feel as sad as a small child whose ice cream has fallen out of its cone and plopped on the floor. I’ve still got the cone and could quite easily get another scoop of delicious dairy goodness; but it won’t feel the same. That first impression when you are handed the ice cream, freshly made, is tarnished by that one act. It’s still a great game and well worth picking up, but I won’t be wowed when the game is fixed. Merely appeased.