After finishing the campaign of last year’s Halo saga prequel Halo: Reach, I was psyched for a remake of the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Though no plans had been announced by Microsoft the fact that the campaign concluded literally as CE began made a revisit to Master Chief’s debut seem all but inevitable.
This past June my wish was granted when Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
was announced, scheduled to coincidence with the ten year anniversary of the original.
|The classic campaign returns but a new coat of paint can’t cover up the signs of age
Sadly, my dream of playing through CE
’s story with all the improvements of its subsequent sequels wasn’t realised. Under Anniversary
’s hood sits Combat Evolved
in all its dated glory. While pressing a button switches between the original ‘classic’ graphics and revamped ‘remastered’ graphics, the campaign plays identically to the 2001 Xbox launch game.
However, the original’s multiplayer has been ripped out and replaced with seven new maps for Halo: Reach
based on classic Combat Evolved
and Halo 2
arenas. But more on that in a bit.
There are a few minor tweaks and additions to the campaign that are worth pointing out. Firstly, the ability to play co-operatively with a friend via split-screen has been removed though you can still play together over Xbox Live with two copies of the game.
Terminals like the ones found in Halo 3
have been added. Though I’ve only managed to find one so far they contain brand new cutscenes featuring 343 Guilty Spark that fill out the trilogy back story and apparently allude to events in the upcoming Halo 4
. The hidden skulls that have become a tradition for the series are also tucked away somewhere, bringing with them modifiers to increase the overall challenge level.
The remastered graphics for the most part are really nice. Textures and models have been completely recreated and some excellent lighting and graphical effects have been implemented. However, there are several inconsistencies when it comes to series continuity. Though Cortana maintains her post-Combat Evolved
redesign, in other areas it seems like the developers went out of their way to conflict with the rest of the series.
Most glaringly obvious is the new look of the Halo structure itself which now has huge glowing sections exposed on its hull and odd looking borders around its edges. In general, the visual tone is a lot brighter and more colourful than the original. These might sound like nitpicks only a hardcore Halo
fan would care about but the fact is they clash with series continuity and seem to go against the point of this remake - recapturing the spirit of the original.
The campaign’s sound is also hit and miss. While the developers were smart enough to keep the original voice acting intact, a lot of the sound effects have been tinkered with and the soundtrack re-recorded. While there is an option in the menus to switch back to the original music (the new versions don’t leave much of an impression anyway) there isn’t a way to restore the original sound effects. As such, the “classic” mode isn’t quite the Halo
experience you remember it to be.
|The package loses a great deal of value given the fact that the included Reach maps will be available for download on the very same day for only £10
It’s worth noting that I wasn’t able to experience a few elements of the Anniversary
experience since they won’t be available until a planned day one patch. The most significant feature is support for Kinect allowing players to throw grenades and switch between the two graphical modes with voice commands. Using the Kinect function seems to be the only way to access Analyse Mode that sounds very much like a Metroid Prime
scanning system where certain objects will add back story and lore to a readable database.
While the Kinect support, skulls and terminals could perhaps give Halo
diehards a reason to keep coming back to the campaign, speaking as a series veteran I’m finding these small extras to be of very little interest.
New elements aside, Combat Evolved
’s campaign is definitely showing its age. In stark contrast the immaculately paced shooters of today CE
is slow going, forcing you to slog through dozens of repetitive enemies, which often keep respawning through monster closets or the use of drop ships, before allowing you to move on. Level design is often confusing due to repeating geometry, often lacking guidance and occasionally requiring you to backtrack through lengthy areas. These elements come to a head in the Library level which was notorious even back in the day for its agonisingly drawn out design. CEA
doesn’t have a true multiplayer component instead being bundled with the seven new maps for Halo: Reach
. A version of Reach
’s multiplayer comes on the disk allowing you to enter the Anniversary
specific playlists. If you want to export these maps to the full version of Reach
you’ll have to buy the game new to receive the necessary download code.
In a move that vastly detracts from the point of CEA
, these maps are also being made available for download on Xbox Live on the same day and for about the third of the price.
The maps themselves are well made, reviving classic stages from past Halo
games like Battle Creek, Hang ‘em High and Headlong. A remake of the little-known Timberland from the PC version of Combat Evolved
is also included, finally making its way onto Xbox Live.
|Let’s hope this isn’t a good indicator of quality for the Bungie-less future of the series
Probably the highlight is the brand new Firefight map called Installation 04. It takes direct inspiration from the second level of Combat Evolved
’s campaign where you have to defend friendly soldiers against waves of oncoming Covenant – a highly appropriate influence given the Horde-like nature of Firefight. It’s just a shame that this is the only time you can really experience the original game with all of improvements of Reach
’s game engine. In the end, Combat Evolved Anniversary is a strange package. Its campaign feels half hearted, neither fully remaking nor preserving the original game. The Reach multiplayer maps, while excellent, feel tacked on to the package to attempt to justify this being a full disc-based release. It is retailing for less than the price of a full retail game (it's less than £30 at most online U.K. retailers) but unless you really can’t stomach the original’s dated graphics, I’d strongly suggest skipping this and simply downloading the Anniversary map pack instead. Save that extra £20 for something more worthwhile. The excellent new Firefight map called Installation 04. A great throwback to Combat Evolved that gives a taste of what Anniversary’s campaign should have been.
HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY VERDICT
In the end, Combat Evolved Anniversary is a strange package. Its campaign feels half hearted, neither fully remaking nor preserving the original game. The Reach multiplayer maps, while excellent, feel tacked on to the package to attempt to justify this being a full disc-based release. It is retailing for less than the price of a full retail game (it’s less than £30 at most online U.K. retailers) but unless you really can’t stomach the original’s dated graphics, I’d strongly suggest skipping this and simply downloading the Anniversary map pack instead. Save that extra £20 for something more worthwhile.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The excellent new Firefight map called Installation 04. A great throwback to Combat Evolved that gives a taste of what Anniversary’s campaign should have been.