Halo Anniversary is the high-definition remake of Bungie’s classic first person shooter Halo: Combat Evolved. Ten years have passed since this landmark release on the original Xbox console. Can this remake remain relevant in the genre that the original helped to forge?
When Bungie announced that after the release of Halo: Reach they would be stepping away from the franchise to concentrate on other projects, fans were rightly worried. For the first few years of its existence, for many, Halo was the sole reason to own an Xbox. When Halo 2 launched, it showed just how important online multiplayer was going to be for future console releases, and helped build Xbox Live into the service we see today. 343 Studios were given the reigns to the franchise by Microsoft, and on this showing, fans can rest assured, the franchise is in capable hands. 343 Studios is helmed by many former Bungie staffers, who are well versed in the universe and the games themselves. This love letter to the community is a way to whet the appetite before Halo 4 is released in 2012.
Rather than rebuild the game from scratch, 343 Studios took a different approach to remaking this game. Instead of making it over in the Reach engine (the current Halo engine) they chose to lay the Reach engine visuals over the top of the original game engine. So what you get, is a game that looks like a current generation shooter, and still handles exactly like the original. They even added a feature that allows you to switch between the two at will. A quick press of the back button will switch between the current graphics and the original, allowing you to see for yourself just how far graphics have come in the last decade.
Keeping this remake as faithful as possible to the original is both the games strong point and its weak point. While the gun balance and “30 seconds of fun” battle motto remain as fresh and enjoyable as it always has, the level design has not aged well. What was excusable 10 years ago at the dawn of FPS games on console, is now an annoyance and looks very lazy in comparison to other modern FPS’s. Walking around the same set of 2-3 corridors every level begins to detract from the fun and atmosphere of the game. Which is a shame when you think that in a genre now filled with Call of Duty a-likes, the back to basics approach of the game’s battle mechanic is a welcome change of pace to the current crop of games over reliance on set pieces. Running out of ammunition mid battle and having to improvise, remains as fun and exciting as it did back in 2001, running down the same corridor umpteen times does not.
Also added to the single player are elements taken from other games in the Halo franchise. Hidden ability skulls from Halo 2, and Terminals from Halo 3, give long time veterans something new to look for, and give new players an additional challenge as well as some back story to the franchise.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the package comes in the multiplayer section. Rather than remake the multiplayer portion the same way they did the single player, the developers chose to stay with the base Reach multiplayer base. Much like ODST worked for Halo 3. So instead of a standalone multiplayer experience, what you get is a Halo classic map collection for use either by itself, or in conjunction with a copy of Halo Reach.
The map pack includes 6 classic maps from the Halo franchise and a Firefight map based on the ”Halo” level of the original game. Each map comes in two forms, a straight up remake of the classic map itself, and a modified version for use with reach game types. 343 Studios have added a separate playlist with the options tuned to match as closely to those of the original game for those who wish to play it a more traditional fashion, as opposed to including all of the things that Reach added. I.e. the 3-shot pistol returns and the Jet pack and other abilities disappear. While this mode is a lot of fun, it just serves as a reminder of what could have been, had they decided to remake the whole multiplayer. The remade maps are as follows;
- Hang ‘Em High (Halo:CE)
- Prisoner (Halo: CE)
- Damnation (Halo:CE)
- Headlong (Halo 2)
- Beaver Creek (Halo 2 version)
- Timberland (Halo PC)
The multiplayer also includes a Co-operative mode, so that you and a friend can now play through the campaign as a team online as well as offline.
- Gun play remains as fun as it did way back in 2001.
- Graphics are stunning.
- A true HD remake in every sense of the word.
- Level design hasn’t aged well.
- No stand alone multiplayer.
It’s hard to judge a package like Halo Anniversary. On one hand you have an absolutely perfect remake of a classic Xbox title, and on the other the multiplayer short changes you and some of the design choices, made out of necessity at the time, do not hold up well in comparison to modern games. That being said, it’s being sold at a budget price so some of the short comings can be overlooked.
If you loved the original and you relish the thought of playing it again with HD graphics, or with a friend online, then it should be a definite purchase. If you are new to the Halo franchise then this is as good a time as any to see what all the fuss was about. Just don’t expect it to be quite as revolutionary as it was when it was first released ten years ago.