Ten years ago, long time PC software developer Microsoft decided to make a bold move and venture in the video game market. Knowing they had a steep upward battle ahead, because of Sony’s year head start and previous experience in the market, Microsoft knew that killer launch titles were the key to success. One of those titles was from a company that only Mac users were familiar with: Bungie. The game? Halo: Combat Evolved. Both Microsoft and Bungie dialed up the hype machine simply hoping for a successful launch. What they got was far greater. They changed the video game world forever.
Ten years later, much has changed. Microsoft and Sony have new consoles and Nintendo is struggling. Call of Duty is a monster. Halo continues to be an unstoppable juggernaut on the 360, while Bungie has passed the reigns on the blockbuster franchise they created. One of the biggest changes to the video game world since 2001 is online play, giving games new ways to bring people together. Since the launch of XBox Live, Bungie has taken full advantage if this. Today, arguably the most played game online on the 360 has been Halo with Halo: Reach continuing to enjoy a huge number of players fragging it up. Because of the success Halo has enjoyed, a lot of people wanted to experience the original Halo online. 343 Industries, the company who is now in charge of all things Halo, listened to those cries and had an idea.
When the first Halo came out, online play was pretty much a PC thing. If you wanted to play the co-op campaign with a friend you, had to either go to their place or have them come to yours. If you wanted to play competitive multiplayer, you had to lug around your 20-pound monster of an Xbox, a controller, and an extra copy of the game all the ingredients you need to have a LAN party or, worse, use buggy tunneling software that rarely worked properly. If you have never been a part of this phenomenon, you don’t know how much of a pain it was to haul all that stuff or pray to the Internet gods for a stable connection. I’m glad the video game world has “grown up” with me and that online play is a lot more prominent. Of course, 343 listened to the fans and added online play to Halo.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is by no means a remake of the original. In my opinion, it is a tribute to Bungie and its baby. All 343 has done with Anniversary is add new features and slap on a shiny new paint job while keeping the gameplay the same.
Now, there are some changes to the game that are noticeable from start. If you have played Reach, you will be familiar with the lobby where you can set up the campaign or competitive play. And you know those skulls that give you different abilities? Well they have been added to Halo not only in multiplayer, but single player as well.
As I stated before, 343 has kept the gameplay the same as the original. I mean, of course, the story and control scheme have not changed, which is to be expected. I mean, it would make no sense for them to change these aspects, as it would change the game completely. Instead, to make the story feel fresh, they added the skulls and added hidden terminals. If you find one, you are treated to some back-story to help fill in the gaps of the epic Halo story.
One of the biggest changes, as mentioned before, is the addition of online play. While the game is fun to play by yourself, it does tend to get a little dull, especially toward the end of the game in the library level, which is a little too long and a little too tough due to the enormous numbers of enemies thrown at you. This is made a hundred times better by playing with a friend and, like the original, it’s tons of fun… this time without leaving your couch. Playing co-op online in Anniversary is exactly like playing the original at a friend’s house. As soon as I started an online co-op game, a flood of memories from ten years ago came back and I got nostalgic. Of course, if you want to take a break from the co-op and play some competitive matches, you can now do that online as well with all six of the original Halo maps available online along with a new Firefight mission. If you have played all the modes on all the maps and want to go back to Reach that has more maps and modes, 343 was way ahead of you. Included with the game is a code that allows you to download the maps and the firefight mission to Reach. In all, the online experience is what you would expect from a Halo title. It’s loads of fun and is addictive as ever. After all, Halo has prided itself on online play since Halo 2.
After playing around with the online competitive for a while, I noticed that the game looked, well, a little dated. 343 threw in a little something to help with that. If you can’t stand the way the game’s ten year old graphics look, you can push the back button and the visuals will change to what the game should look like today in all its HD glory. The difference is night and day. Textures are smoother, the ground now has blades of grass instead of green patches. The weapons have a more updated look, and everything is a lot more colorful. This is, by far, the coolest thing in the game. Still, I found myself playing the game in the outdated graphic look just because of the nostalgia.
As if all those features weren’t enough, 343 added support for Kinect. Now, instead of hitting a button to reload, all you have to do is say “reload” and boom, your weapon is ready to kill some grunts. You can do more than reload, of course. 343 was nice enough to include a list of commands from the pause menu that you can say. While its nice to have this feature, I find it, as I do in most Kinect supported games, unnecessary. It doesn’t really add to the experience or to the gameplay that is already amazing. But if yelling at your screen is your thing, then have a blast.
If you are a fan of the score, a change has been made to that as well. But don’t worry, its still the classic drum beats and chanting and still the same score that gets you pumped for a big fight, you just now have the option to hear it remastered. For all you that have surround sound, you can enjoy the iconic score in 5.1, and who wouldn’t want that feature? Martin O’Donnell’s score for Halo was what got me into video game music. It had, and still does have, that effect on me. I mean, after listening to the score, I went out and bought the soundtrack not only for this game, but for Halo 2 and 3 as well. I don’t think there has been a better score for a game out there.
Ten years ago, a game came along that helped Microsoft survive its first endeavor in the video game world and helped propel them to success. Halo: Combat Evolved changed the way we played FPSs and the way we played games with friends. Today, 343 is paying tribute to the game that changed it all by releasing the Anniversary edition and adding features that the fans were asking for. They could have easily just threw on a fresh coat of paint on it and called it an HD remake like a lot of other titles, but 343 has more respect for Bungie, Halo and the fans than that. They have added a ton of new features well worth the $40 price tag. I don’t think this game was made to get gamers who have never played the original Halo game into the series. I truly believe that it was made to not only honor Bungie and Halo’s ten year birthday, but also to get those of us who have played it before back into it; to get us to remember how all of the greatness started. I could not have asked for anything more. Welcome back to the world of Halo.
* Reviewers note: I am not reviewing this game in the normal way. Instead I will be reviewing the added features that were added to the game while talking about the original.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher.