“I Need A High Definition Weapon” – Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

Ten years have gone by since the Master Chief and his A.I. sidekick, Cortana, catapulted the Xbox into the limelight with Halo: Combat Evolved.  By 2004, Halo: CE (or simply Halo) had sold over four million copies and grabbed universal acclaim from the critics.  It would become the flagship franchise for Microsoft’s Xbox brand, and spawn a number of sequels, prequels, comic books, action figures, novels, and more.

For its ten-year anniversary, Microsoft hopes to recapture some of the glory of those early days with the HD remake, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.  Running on two concurrent graphics engines (the Saber3D engine and the original game engine adapted for 360), the game has been revamped with new graphics, a re-recorded soundtrack, achievements, and terminals that bring more of the back-story (and potentially future story) to light.  But how does Halo: CE Anniversary compare to its legendary progenitor?  More importantly, how does this reconditioned classic hold up in today’s modern arena?

For the three of you who don’t know, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary follows the adventures of Master Chief after humanity’s greatest military outpost, Reach, has been glassed by a collective force of aliens known as the Covenant.  This alien conjunct of religious zealots sees humanity as an abomination to be exterminated; in their quest to fulfill this mission, they pursues Master Chief and a group of UNSC (United Nations Space Command) survivors to a mysterious ring-world called Halo.  There, the Chief and the rest of the crew make their stand against the Covenant forces and a new enemy known as The Flood.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a first-person shooter remade from the original 2001 game.  The HD component runs on the Saber3D engine, with the multiplayer running on the Halo: Reach engine.  While Halo: CE Anniversary removes some of the improvements (most notably armor abilities) made in later games in order to maintain an authentic representation of the original game, it does sport some features that Halo-philes may find rather interesting.  The campaign now has terminals that can be found at each level throughout the game which provide back-story regarding the Halo construct, the Forerunners that built these massive ringed weapons, and our favorite absent-minded monitor of Installation 01, 343 Guilty Spark.  When the terminals are accessed, a cut scene, showing a portion of the back-story, is presented to the player and is unlocked for later viewing in the menus.

Campaign gameplay is largely unchanged from the original Halo: Combat Evolved, which may take a little getting used to, as the control scheme is slightly different from newer installments of the franchise.  However, with CE Anniversary, you are able to freely switch between the updated and original version on-the-fly for those who have a flair for the nostalgic.  Fair warning here though: you may want to install the game to your hard drive as it seems to take its time switching back and forth between new and old graphics – with a black screen between transitions to boot.  Furthermore, since the graphics can be changed on-the-fly, you’ll want to make sure you don’t switch them while you have a couple dozen “Covies” on your back, else you may find your poor bloodied corpse lying on the ground when the screen fades back from the black.

Likewise, the transitions between gameplay and cut scenes seem to take a pretty long time to load if you don’t have the game installed on the hard drive.  This is somewhat of an annoyance, considering that most of today’s games have an almost seamless transition between cut scene and gameplay regardless of whether or not it’s been installed on the hard drive.  While I can say that I do enjoy the feeling of nostalgia, they could have left the irritating lengthy transitions and load times in the last decade.  Players be warned, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to upgrade your hard drive, this would be it.

While Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary certainly looks leaps and bounds better than the original, it does appear to be a bit dated in comparison to newer titles.  This is most notable during the Pillar of Autumn level, where control panels don’t carry a lot of detail, and even the Master Chief’s Mjolnir Mark V suit looks somewhat cartoonish in contrast to the armor portrayed in Halo: Reach.  The character modeling seems to suffer as well, being less detailed and realistic than last year’s prequel.  Yet, with that being said, the Flood (an already terrifying enemy) look scary as hell with the updated graphics and stereoscopic 3D .

Campaign mode also features Marty O’Donnell’s and Mike Salvatori’s classic soundtrack (digitally remastered for those of us who have upgraded our systems to 5.1 surround since 2001) as well as a newly recorded soundtrack featuring the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra and the Chanticleer Vocal Ensemble.  The remastered soundtrack is an absolute thing of beauty for your aural inputs to behold.  Having the original Halo soundtrack in my playlist regularly, I was taken aback by how crisp and new it sounded in all its 5.1 remastered glory.  However, the re-recorded and slightly re-imagined soundtrack left a far different impression.  Where the original soundtrack sets a mood of foreboding and has a real depth of emotion to it, the new soundtrack sounded more technical – as though it were performed by a synthesizer.  I actually had to do a little reading online and roll through the credits before I was convinced that the new tracks weren’t done electronically.  It’s as if the music were composed by the evil emo-cyborg that bears the same namesake as the orchestra, and whose acting performance had about as much feeling and emotion as the new soundtrack did.

The multiplayer gameplay, on the other hand, was essentially lifted directly out of Halo: Reach and carefully grafted into Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.  It would be easy and accurate to say that there isn’t anything new to see here, with the exception of some new maps to enjoy.  Fan favorites such as Beaver Creek, Headlong, and Prisoner among others have received the HD makeover treatment for CE Anniversary.  While the glitches of the past are long behind us, new weirdness can be found in these remakes.  For example, it’s hard to understand why they left the Banshee in Headlong if the killbox ceiling is only twenty feet above it.  Having an airborne vehicle in such a confined space leaves little room to maneuver and serves more purpose as a bullet magnet than it does as a terror from above.

A feature that has been much talked about with Anniversary is the use of Kinect.  Kinect works a couple of different ways in this game, primarily with voice commands.  Not only are you able to call out to the Kinect device to reload your weapon or toss a grenade, but you can use it to adjust the brightness, switch back and forth between the graphics from the Anniversary game and the original, and scan items, vehicles, and creatures for later review in the Library.  It’s here that you can use hand motions to turn objects on display or page through them.  Unfortunately, while the motion-initiated controls are responsive, the voice commands aren’t.  I experienced delays whenever I told the system to use a grenade or reload my weapon, even after running the Kinect tuner multiple times.  After a while, I found it was much easier to just use the trigger and bumper buttons instead.

In many ways, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary feels much like the original – rough, unpolished, but highly entertaining from the single player aspect.  Multiplayer takes a hit for the team on the count of a lack of new features and little more than a standard map pack’s worth of new maps.  This leaves little to entice the multiplayer aficionado to purchase this game if they already have Reach in their collection.  For the Halo enthusiast who relishes every morsel of back-story that they can get their hands on, it may be worth the $40; however for the rest of us, shinier graphics and an enhanced story may not be enough.

This game receives a 3.50/5.

Our Rating
out of 5.0

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