on 25 May 2012
Released 10 years ago to the day on the 15th of November, Halo: Combat Evolved broke out into stores, vastly becoming the harbinger of Microsoft's first Xbox console and even luring away Sony's ever faithful Playstation gamers. The original, for me, was the main reason for getting an Xbox in the first place because the game looked and played far smoother than anything that was currently on offer on the PS2, fairly inexpensive and had many worthy 'Xbox Only' titles. Me and my fellow droogs enjoyed the odd System Link experience back in the day, running a large cable throughout the house, setting up numerous 4v4 battles of Slayer and Capture the Flag, with the most dedicated of us would go through the entire campaign on legendary (the most difficult setting). So although the remake initially took me by surprise being rather unnecessary considering the relatively small leap in graphical advancement, I still awaited its release with a certain level of expectation. Changing the simplistic plot, characters or even dialogue would be suicidal for hardcore veterans of the original Halo, as would including or removing weapons.. so just what is enhanced in this remake?
Thanks to a thoughtful introductory video, gamers witness a brief selection of in game footage, spanning through the 10 levels of Halo - both starting with the original appearance and then strafing to the new and improved look. Clearly there is a vast difference in graphical capabilities by the amount of additions to scenery but this lacks the stronger effort put in for new release such as Reach or at times Halo3. The dashboard is fairly similar, with a spacial background and the traditional, epic, musical score, however this time the game makes use of Halo Waypoint (a free application which charters your progress in all halo series games, as well as statistics for battles like Kill/Death Ratio). This inclusion is a mediocre decision - as Waypoint is relatively pointless, only offering insight to your capabilities (which were available online via Bungie long before) and small appearance modifiers such as new helmets for Reach. Loading time is easily bearable compared to the long winded wait of the old game.
The soundtrack to the game is slightly altered too, making better use of surround sound and just using reworked orchestral pieces, unfortunately though it seems a tad quieter and lacks the punch of 2001. Guns, armour and vehicles all get new paint jobs but remain unchanged in effectiveness, lovely. Some characters (Cortana, Johnson & Captain Keyes) are strong re-workings of what they once looked like with Cortana appearing as she did in Halo3. Enemies are smarter and make for tougher challenges. Of course the biggest difference is that the levels are not re-imagined/designer but given a new lease of life with more realistic detail and less blocky surroundings. However, despite my own extensive knowledge of the levels, the remakes model occasionally had me flustered a handful of times as to which way led to where and wondering wether the obstacle was in the original game.
Enter the Back button. Pressing 'back' switches you back and fourth from the new to the old game in the 2 second long blink of an eye. This impressed me 1. because it was a speedy way of essential playing two games at once and 2. it was a classy move, helpful to remind players of what used to be, where you are and how different the jump in technology. In this switch, practically EVERYTHING is as it was, the enemies look and behave as they did, voices are the same, glitches are there.. it is the original game thrown in. The use of skulls which varied gameplay in the 3rd installment are back but most be scouted out in game to be made use of: the likes of 'grunt birthday party' (which sees head-shots release a burst of confetti and children cheering) and 'Black Eye' are all there, mostly making things more difficult like removing the radar & HUD, making ammo scarce and enemies stronger. An interesting extra is the inclusion of terminals, scattered throughout the campaign that offer more insight into Halo's origins without going too far or ruining the atmosphere and reasoning, most using FMV's to display the history of Halo.
The 360 age also brings achievements to the party.. Now these can often be a distraction to gamers, especially as they usually detract from the games plot and point, but here they are done in style. Instead of just having level completion awards, there are custom ones per level to liven them up a bit. From avoiding medpacks and over-shields on legendary difficulty to killing a set number of Covenant and stubbornly avoiding ejection from the Warthog. Sure you can look them up first and set out to do them, but thats a legitimate way to go as it represents a new challenge for the aged gamers instead of marvelling at the new wallpaper. The multiplayer is were its let down though. Instead of making use of the fact that they had the original campaign awaiting at the push of a button, they only allowed a Halo:Reach type multiplayer. It could be that I wanted to bask in the nostalgia of the old fights (this time online) but it seemed that the old mechanic was far more addictive and to some extent smoother. Never the less, the co-operative choice is still there, allowing only 2 players to blaze their way through the game, this time with the handy choice of split screen or over xbox live.
With a sense of occasion, the game comes in its own slick embossed cardboard suave case containing the real game case as if to be a special edition. Inside you are treated with a very small manual (its all in game now - save the trees and what not) 2 xbox live redeemable cards and the disc. The two cards are of particular interest as one allows for a 2 day trial of the Xbox Live service and the inclusion of a map-pack (which includes 6 classic locations and a firefight event over 1GB in size) whilst the other is purely superficial, an unlockable skull and two sets of armour for your avatar (male & female master chief uniform). Its also displayable in full HD and even 3D (yawn).
So my only gripes with the game are the lack of original multiplayer via xbox live and some slight overlapping with voice and image synchronization. Whats more is that on release, it was a staggeringly awesome price of just £25. Whether its because its a remake with no original idea or because its the games anniversary and they just felt like being nice for once, thats a bargain compared to other games and sets a precedent as to what can be done and how to do it. I was honestly expecting more butchery from Microsoft Studios and 343 Industries, but they pulled it off and Anniversary makes for a nice present to the gamers of a only decade ago.