Friday, 9 December 2011

Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary

ou know how awesome the last-gen of consoles were, when you see a spate of remakes hogging shelf space, time and most importantly reviews like this. The Halo series is legendary for reasons more than one. At the time, its debut effort, Halo: Combat Evolved propelled Microsoft's original Xbox from a non-starter to a must have console. 

A lot has changed since then. We've seen five other games, a very awesome set of animated shorts that was Halo Legends and a spate of novels that have fleshed out the universe in ways that video games could not. Oh and there's a small detail of Halo creators Bungie no longer developing games for Microsoft exclusively. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is helmed by 343 Industries, a new studio created for the sole purpose of making more Halo games.
Driveby - Halo style

At the back of the box, Halo: CEA proclaims high-def graphics,3D support, Kinect functionality and new multiplayer maps. Enough new, shiny features to tick all the boxes of the modern day gamer. But as the old axiom goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. And this time, I mean it in a purely good way.

The AI is still best in class, the weapons give the same familiar kick and the lack of power-ups made popular from Halo 3 and Reach make this game more skill dependent than most others. There's something to be said about the controls that induce almost instant reactions, even if the last time you've played the game was in early 2000s. Everything is as you left the wide expanses of the Halo ringworld years ago. Ditto with the story, which has you don the cybernetically enhanced boots of super soldier Master Chief taking on the Covenant on a newly discovered planet. It's all untouched, pristine and near goddamned perfect.
Don't mind if I do

Throw in some recent additions to the franchise, such as skulls, which modify the game such as giving you infinite ammo or let enemies burst into confetti and of course, terminals, which fill in the game's backstory, and you have all you need for the old-timers to come racing back. 

And if you haven't played any of the games in the franchise, CEA is an ideal starting point. The HD upgrade is substantial, giving the game a lot of colour, texture and dare I say life that the original was lacked. You can see how big a jump it is, by switching to classic mode, which lets you play the game as it was on the Xbox 1. Blocky graphics, low-res textures et al. A nice touch, if you're interested in a visual history lesson.

But the problem with things staying the same is that it applies to the game's faults as well. All of which have been faithfully reproduced. Remember how the game used to pause between missions? Yes those awkward moments are still there. For those new to the franchise, the first game had this issue where you'd see a “loading...” sign on the bottom left corner of the screen and movement would screech to a halt as a chunk of a level would load. I don't know if it's intentional on the part of the developer or just something they overlooked, but it's something that shouldn't be there in a modern day remastering. Driving vehicles, especially the Warthog is still painful and in some cases impossible around edges and cliffs. 

Some of the pain has been brought on by the devs themselves, because triggering events at certain points does become a buggy affair.  For example, an escort mission ended awry with a certain character getting shot. However the very next cut-scene had the same character piloting the ship on which you made your escape. As a zombie perhaps? We're hoping that a patch fixes these sort of glitches.
Fear my green laser

Grouses aside, the 3D mode is more or less fluff with little to no tangible benefit over normal viewing. The lack of depth was pretty appalling, given how well other games have managed to render the third dimension. Kinect support is a hit or miss depending how devoted you are to shouting at the top of your lungs to get it working. You can use MS' motion sensor to lob grenades, scan the environment or even switch to classic mode with your voice. It works, but just barely.

Then again, you'd be foolish to buy Halo CEA for these features alone. As mentioned earlier, the gameplay still holds its own and does so quite well. This extends to the multiplayer as well. It isn't a full blown offering, rather a set of maps and an update to the already popular Halo: Reach multiplayer and it runs using the same engine rather than the new shiny one created for CEA's single player campaign. Classic maps such as Hang 'Em High, Battle Creek and Damnation are present, accounted for and are pretty sweet.
Catch me if you can

Overall, Halo CEA is a worthwhile purchase for the die-hard Halo fan who wants to see what a classic would look with some modern day eye-candy. Considering the original Halo wasn't too widely available newbies would find this an accessible entry point into the franchise as well. It's an accessible re-issue that in spite of its short comings, is well worth a look in.

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