Ten whole years have passed since the original Halo: Combat Evolved brought Microsoft’s first Xbox console into a league of its own. Now, to celebrate ten years of one of the greatest iconic gaming franchises on the planet, 343 Industries and Microsoft Game Studios has released an enhanced remake with a complete visual overhaul, added LIVE co-operative gameplay – and even Kinect Voice support. If you like to reminisce over the original or simply see how advanced gaming has evolved since 2001, with the press of a button or voice command you can switch between original visuals or the modern enhanced graphics on the fly – you’re going to see Halo: Combat Evolved in a whole new light, quite literally!
If you played the original Halo: Combat Evolved when it was a launch title for the original Xbox in 2001, then you already know the story before the Xbox 360 was launched. However, for many gamers new to the Xbox 360 who first clapped eyes on Halo when Halo 3 was released in 2007, you would have ended a trilogy before starting it, then likely to have moved onto ODST and more recently have played Halo: Reach that pans out as a prequel to the whole epic Halo plot. For those gamers, now is the opportunity to play the game that kick-started a new generation of first person shooters and get to grips with the story that encouraged you to “Finish the Fight” with a war you previously knew nothing about.
Hardcore Halo fans from the original Xbox console also have many great reasons to be excited for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Not only will you get to replay the campaign and remember back in time when this was the most engaging story you could ever experience on a console, but now you to get to experience it in a way like no other – fully remade and remastered visuals in stunning HD, brand new 2 player co-operative campaign gameplay over Xbox LIVE, and Kinect voice commands that allow you to throw grenades, switch between visuals as well as activate an Analyse Mode to store information in your Data Library. If that wasn’t enough to bring an old game back from the dead into the modern world, the game also features hidden Skulls that were first introduced in Halo 2, each with their own unique effect that changes the gameplay once found and activated from the campaign lobby . Many of the Skulls are favourites from Halo 2 and Halo 3, which include Iron, Mythic and Black Eye, but new Skulls such as Bandanna for Infinite Ammo, Malfunction so that a random part of the HUD display is disabled at each respawn, and Piñata where punching enemies can make them drop grenades, are just a few newbies to the mix. The only problem is finding them as they are well and truly hidden in secret areas within the campaign!
Terminals also make an appearance too and are hidden throughout the game much like Halo 3. Once found and activated the Terminals in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary display video cut-scenes that relate to the Halo Universe as told by the one and only 343 Guilty Spark, and if you manage to find them all you will even get snippets of information to tease you about the upcoming release of Halo 4, but that’s a whole new form of excitement set to come 2012. For now, back to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.
It sure is good to see Master Chief back again on the Xbox 360, even though you are playing with him in a time before the events of Halo 3, but it feels like he’s been away for so long and now you’re ready to strap yourself in and revisit a world you love all over again. The gameplay itself is very much the Halo you already know and love, and for those who never played the original it does more or less feel like an early form of Halo 3 – which of course it should do in every aspect since it is an early part of the same story and it is also more graphically comparable to Halo 3 than any of the other Halo games on the Xbox 360. Being an early form of Halo, many of the games weapons, enemies and equipment aren’t going to be quite to the style that you’re used to with Halo 3, Reach and ODST. 343 Industries have kept the game true to the original, so despite updated campaign visuals there haven’t been any other enhancements to the size and scaling of enemies – this is a true classic with a brand new skin. Switching between Classic and the Modern visuals also give a real insight into how far we’ve come in a decade. The Classic Halo visuals appear very dark and basic in comparison to the modern visuals which are polished environments with far greater detail and effects. In order to accomplish the switch between classic and modern visuals, the game runs two engines at the same time in-sync with one another, but considering how well the new fresh look plays – I can’t find any reason why you would want to switch to classic mode other than a quick look now and again for curiosity purposes?
Additionally, as well as the complete original campaign all beautifully remastered, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary also has included six classic Halo Multiplayer Maps and one new Firefight Map that can be played straight from the disc itself, or alternatively (with the included DLC code with every brand-new copy of the game) can be played directly from Halo: Reach without the need for disc swapping since the Multiplayer aspect of uses the Halo: Reach engine. So, If you had once thought that you needed to own Halo: Reach to be able to play the Multiplayer side of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary – you don’t – but obviously you are only limited to the seven maps included on the disc which are Battle Canyon, Breakneck, High Noon, Penance, Ridgeline, Solitary, and Firefight only map, Installation 04. These maps are also re-imagined favourites from both the original Halo: Combat Evolved which could only use LAN to form Multiplayer back in the day, and re-made maps from Halo 2 which has been brought to life with upgraded and more current visuals.
Keeping in line with an old and new theme, each of the maps in the Anniversary Map Pack have two variants based on Classic and Modern. The modern, Battle Canyon doubles up as the classic map Beaver Creek, Breakneck becomes the classic Headlong, High noon becomes the classic Hang ‘Em High, Penance becomes the classic Damnation, Ridgeline becomes the classic Timberland and finally, Solitary becomes the classic map Prisoner. Just to clear up any confusion, the classic variant does not revert to the older visuals and keeps a modern fresh look in line with all other Halo: Reach Maps, but the Modern variant allows for modern Halo: Reach online gameplay with all the regular Reach multiplayer features. With five playlists also adapted to suit a more classic style of multiplayer thanks to a Halo: Reach title update, the Anniversary Map Pack playlists will take advantage of the removal of sword block, additional damage bleed, as well as changes to reticle bloom, removal of Armor Lock, and adding Active Camo. Forge lovers will not be disappointed either as this is featured on the disc in the Multiplayer Menu alongside Theatre Mode, so you can edit away and watch your games back to your heart’s content just like any other regular Halo game.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary will certainly appeal to gamers who owned the original and offer those who never played the game an incentive to experience the campaign that kick-started the Xbox’s most famous trilogy in a current-day graphical visual quality that make it look fresh and new featuring the legendary man himself – Master Chief. Hearing Cortana’s voice again as you plough the campaign is sure to bring back all the warm feelings of just how good and intense the Halo story is with ten long chapters of Covenant and Flood battling to keep you going for hours at a time. Halo is definitely the Xbox 360 Viagra; you just want to go on forever and reach the climax before tiredness kicks in! It also adds brand new Achievements to unlock with an enhanced story, enjoyable co-operative campaign gameplay and each and every one of the Multiplayer Maps are re-imagined classics that sit well with the Halo: Reach game engine to continue to keep the Halo magic alive. If you aren’t interested in buying Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary for the campaign, but want to breathe some fresh air into Halo: Reach, the Anniversary Map Pack will also be available to purchase separately from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 1200 MS Points.
It’s worth noting that Kinect Voice controls are not on the disc and come as a small downloadable patch once your console is connected to Xbox LIVE. If you do decide to download the Anniversary Map Pack, it is an extra 1.6GB download, but this is only required if you want to access them from Halo: Reach. This is most definitely a game worthy of your hard earned cash – oh and that irritating over powered Magnum Pistol, it’s still there and just as you left it ten years ago.
No remake, or other Anniversary edition of any other game has received this level of attention to detail and enhancements whilst still keeping the game play very much true to the original through-out every aspect. If you hadn’t considered buying Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary before, then if I were you – I’d change my mind pretty sharpish!