Halo: The Master Chief Collection – Xbox One
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date (WW): November 11th, 2014
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
As many of the industry’s older titles begin falling into memory and a new generation helms the development of video games, we have to look back and establish new classics and landmarks. Titles like Doom and Quake launched first-person shooters to popularity, and while highly influential, is it really fair to say that such games have directly influenced the recent slew of highly acclaimed, simulated war games? Of course not; doing so gives a little too much credit to the games of yesteryear, or either assumes too much innovation on the part of new developers. Worst yet, it ignores everything in between. Enter Halo. The first Halo revolutionized not only how an entire genre was perceived and approached, but also set the groundwork for the immensely popular online multiplayer services of today.
Depending on how old you are, Halo may seem like either a distant memory or a fond recollection – for some of us, it’s hard to believe that the franchise was kicked off nearly 15 years ago. Since then, we’ve seen a steady stream of vaunted releases along with a handful of spinoffs. In preparation for Halo 5, the series’ debut on an 8th generation console, we get to relive the high points of the series with this expertly put together compilation, Halo: The Master Chief Collection. This isn’t a simple rehash of past material, rather, it’s an awesome amalgamation of the games included with a touch of new stuff to boot.
In this collection, we’re treated to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary (a special high-definition remake exclusive to the collection), Halo 3, and Halo 4. Additionally it includes access to the Halo 5 multiplayer beta (through January 18th), access to the Halo: Nightfall series, and a multiplayer mode which integrates maps from all 4 previous games. There is a lot to talk about here, with the added difficulty of trying to separate a review of the individual games vs. the compilation as a whole. I’ll do my best to focus on the collection, though it’s easy to get lost in the gameplay as well.
Before I really kick things off, I want to make a couple of things clear, from a personal perspective. First of all, I’ve never been quite as enamored with online multiplayer deathmatches as many other gamers. I enjoy it from time to time, and it was what initially attracted me to the Halo franchise, but it wasn’t why I kept playing. Ever since I played through my first campaign, I seemed to fall into the minority of folks who preferred to move through the game in a linear fashion as opposed to one match after another. In short, it’s entirely likely that I may downplay or even neglect certain multiplayer aspects of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, because it never has been the focal point of the series in my opinion.
Secondly, I’ve played through the original Halo, Halo 2, and Halo 3 several times, although prior to playing through this collection I’d only ever spent about half an hour with Halo 4, and before now I’d never played through the actual Anniversary Edition of the first game.
First I’d like to go over some over-arching aspects of the game. Even though it’s 4 games (and then some) jammed into one package, the interface is simple and elegant, and there’s no need to go into excessive sub-menus to access each game. Everything is available from the screen, and within seconds you can choose a game, a mission, and a difficulty with only a few button presses. Too many compilations initiate an entirely separate boot sequence for each included game, but The Master Chief Collection avoids such trivialities. In a day and age where starting up even one game can be a major pain, it doesn’t get any simpler than this.
Another much-appreciated facet is the ability to universally set controller schemes from one place. Those familiar with the games will recall slight differences in the control schemes, especially during the transition from the original Xbox controller to the 360 controller. With a few clicks, it’s easy to set button configurations applicable to every game or adjust them individually. For instance, I’ve always preferred hitting X to reload and using B to melee, despite the changes later in the series. This may not seem like a major point, though once I realized how different some of the controls were (especially as concepts like dual wielding and the extra ordinance are introduced) I realized how essential this option was for making the experience as smooth as possible. The impact is lessened when years separate the releases, but you’ll definitely appreciate this if you sit down to play the tetralogy in order.
Other game-wide configurations and settings are present as well, such as character customizations, achievements, loadouts, and many more. It’s highly commendable that instead of just slapping 4 games on a disc, 343 has gone to the effort to join all of the games together in a cohesive unit.
Players also have the ability to create “playlists” of maps. Several pre-made maps are included with a similar theme (such as The Flood, final stages, vehicle-centric maps, etc.) and players can also pick and choose any combination of maps from all 4 games to play through. This is a great addition for reliving favorite levels and for further integrating all of the games into a single package. I just have finished making my way through the 4 games and am excited to put together some customized playlists.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
I haven’t had any experience with the Anniversary Edition, but I have surely played my fair share of the original. This is the campaign I fell in love with, though by comparison with later games it does tend to drag a little in the second half with the endless hordes of The Flood.
Regardless, the re-done graphics look amazing. It actually took me a few minutes to realize that what I was looking at weren’t the original graphics at all. With a simple push of what would be the “Back” button on the XB1 controller, the game instantly switches modes. Comparing the Anniversary graphics with the original graphics was a treat in and of itself. The cutscenes are also redone, though they are displayed in whatever graphic mode the game was in when the cutscene starts. I would’ve liked to toggle the modes within the cutscenes themselves, but this a small complaint. The gameplay is everything it should be (except for one thing), and thankfully 343 hasn’t tinkered with anything apart from the graphics (except for that one thing) to detract from the original experience. For those of you who haven’t ever experienced the remade graphics, it’s almost like an entirely new game. Beyond the superficial changes, the new graphics also eliminate many of the game’s dark spots that were almost impossible to see.
I do have one small complaint, and without having played the actual Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, I don’t know if it was carried over or implemented for the new compilation. At any rate, the method in which vehicles are controlled has been changed. Instead of using the left stick to go in any direction, the left stick is used only for acceleration, and the right stick (which normally controls the camera) must be pointed in a certain direction for the vehicle to travel. It’s difficult to explain, and even more difficult to control. I could typically acclimate well enough for ground-based vehicles, but when it came to being airborne, I was a complete mess. Essentially, both aiming and steering are controlled by the right stick, which means that they are very difficult to do independently at each other. Basically this means that you must be flying directly at whatever you’re shooting at.
Alongside the graphics, the music and sound effects have been remastered (and it would seem re-recorded) as well. Simply toggling modes will demonstrate the vast difference in music quality; the Anniversary Edition features louder, clearer music, and in more than a few instances it’s clear that additional accompaniment has been added. Sound effects are louder and clearer as well, with gunshots literally booming from even the most modest TV speakers. Music has always helped to create a cinematic quality in Halo games, and it’s great to see this peripheral yet important background element revisited and improved upon.
Halo 2: Anniversary
Exclusive to The Master Chief Collection is the Anniversary Edition of Halo 2. Like the previous game, graphics can be toggled with the “Back” button (or what used to be the Back button; now it has a couple of squares on it) and the cutscene graphics can also be toggled. However, the cutscenes have also been extended and completely redone with fantastic results. I am in awe at how realistic the new graphics are – you can see how slick the skin of the aliens are, the Chief’s armor shines and reflects, the pores and age spots and wrinkles are evident in the humans’ faces – it’s completely incredible. Now I am far from an expert on recent games, but this is the most realistic stuff I’ve ever seen in a game. Seriously.
The remade in-game graphics are a treat as well, replacing some of the drab and repetitive interiors with additions more becoming of a functional spaceship/installation/whatever else. The exterior scenes really pop; gray landscapes are transformed into lively areas with dynamic lighting and no trace of the sometimes jagged rocks and hillsides resulting from previous hardware/space limitations.
The single most impressive visual amid the entirety of The Master Chief Collection is the revamped image of Gravemind. Originally, he had an imposing size and some pretty menacing words, but it looked more like an overgrown plant. The concept is fully realized in this new edition; it’s slimy and shiny, it wriggles and flaps, and it must be seen!
Music and sound has undergone an increase in quality just as in the previous game. In the Anniversary Edition, the music is louder and often features more diverse instrumentation than that of the original. Sound effects are amplified as well, and like the previous game, gunshots have become an appreciably loud and aggressive sound that soars above all else.
Thankfully, the new driving/flying controls did not make their way into Halo 2 and the original scheme remains intact. This is especially useful since airborne combat becomes more prevalent in this second installment.
Again, the gameplay is exactly what it should be, and greatly enhanced by the hi-def graphical overhaul. If you happen to be an ardent fan of Halo 2 specifically, you may want to pick up The Master Chief Collection for this amazing new rendition alone.
There isn’t a whole lot to add about Halo 3; this is exactly the Halo 3 I remember from the 360. Unfortunately, a little of the wind was knocked out of my sails after experience the brilliance of the redone Halo 2, but that doesn’t diminish Halo 3 as a game. It would’ve been nice to see some graphic updates, perhaps at least bringing the cutscenes up to the level of those seen in Halo 2, but I suppose the company wants to hold out for another discrete release.
Halo 4 is the only game here that I don’t have a lot of previous experience with. I’ve played through the other 3 several times, and although I own Halo 4, I hadn’t ever gotten through more than about 30 minutes of it. Based on Halo 3 though, it seems very little of Halo 4 has been changed for the compilation. As a game in and of itself I found it a little less engaging than its predecessors, but I doubt this has anything to do with its inclusion in the collection.
Instead of having distinct multiplayer modes for each game, multiplayer can be configured to include just one or any combination of games. I’ve only played around with it sparingly, but the degree of customization is staggering. If there is anything from any of the 4 games that you experienced in multiplayer, it’s available here.
343 has been busy releasing several patches to improve matchmaking and other facets of the multiplayer experience, so it appears that not quite all of the kinks have been worked out. While multiplayer isn’t my primary motivation for playing Halo, I do plan to delve in further at some point and update this article as necessary.
The Spartan Ops mode from Halo 4 returns, to be played in single or multiplayer modes.
Forge, with content from Halo 2, 3, and 4 is also featured, allowing players to create their own multiplayer maps.
Halo 5: Guardians – Multiplayer Beta
As of writing this, the multiplayer beta has ended. I suppose I should’ve been more vigilant about participating, but truthfully I’m looking forward to the surprise when the game is properly released.
Downloadable Content (DLC)
Several DLC packages have been announced or alluded to, including Halo 3: ODST, free to members who played between the release date and December 19th. However, as of right now, this seems to be unavailable as does any other additional content.
It’s not easy to wrap up all of the above into a few all encompassing statements. I’m sure I’ve left a few stones unturned, but I feel like I’ve experienced the heart of this collection and what it represents. Most people will probably view Halo: The Master Chief Collection as a lead-in to Halo 5, yet I see it as a wonderful preservation of the core series for the 8th generation. Without backwards compatibility on the Xbox One, this is great way to keep older Halo titles alive without stockpiling old hardware.
What ultimately pushes this collection to something greater than the sum of its parts is how deftly all 4 games have been wound into one package. Few compilations are able to so seamlessly blend different games from different eras, and it’s nice to feel like I have something more than 4 old games slapped onto a single disc.
Even with the expired Halo 5 beta, fans of the franchise will still want to pick this up, if nothing else for the amazing hi-def remake of Halo 2. Relative newcomers to the series can also make use of The Master Chief Collection to experience the core games all in one place. Normally I would only recommend compilations to those who don’t already own the original games, though this is well worth picking up no matter how many previous Halo titles you do or don’t own.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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