Game review: Halo CE Anniversary

By Troy Rawhiti-Forbes

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The Master Chief pops off a shot at a Covenant Elite in  Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.  Photo / Supplied
The Master Chief pops off a shot at a Covenant Elite in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Photo / Supplied

When Halo: Combat Evolved was released ten years ago, it was swiftly proclaimed as the greatest console first-person shooter of all time.

The proclamations were correct. Now we look back and recognise it as the game that changed everything. Combat Evolved was a revolution for gamers who preferred a control pad to a mouse. It guaranteed success for Microsoft's Xbox and provided another vexation for Nintendo, whose industry dominance had already been seriously eroded by Sony and their PlayStation brand.

It was meant to be a real-time strategy game, a kind of sci-fi version of Myth, until Microsoft bought Bungie Studios and had them rework it into an FPS for exclusive release on the Xbox.

Everything Bungie did for that finished product remains in place for Anniversary, not just the good parts. The over-powered pistol is there. The backtracking through repetitive areas is there. The wonky cutscene animation, the bugs and glitches that are either old annoyances or central to a player's overall strategy, they are there too.

Combat re-sold

So what's the point of selling these old boots again?

The main selling point is the remastered campaign, and the ability to switch between classic and modern visuals at will. The Master Chief's journey covered a lot of ground at Installation 04, and there are near-unlimited opportunities to stop and flip the graphics to see what the artists have changed.

Seeing the ringworld, now rendered in stunning detail and set to a brilliantly remastered soundtrack, will be as close as franchise latecomers get to understanding the jaw-dropping wonder that gamers experienced years ago when they saw that Halo arching up into the sky for the first time.

The levels that benefit the most from the new look are in the latter half of the game, where players must trek and re-trek through long interior sections that have been transformed from drab halls into dazzling examples of Forerunner aesthetics.

343 Guilty Spark, the original's gloomiest level, trades in soup-thick fog for luminescent vegetation and pitch-black skies before taking the player underground for the first encounter with the horrible Flood. Speaking of which, just wait until you see the assimilated Jacob Keyes this time. It's truly chilling.

Great ... no, don't throw my last grenade!

The Kinect integration is sensible, enhancing the gameplay without really changing anything. With simple voice commands you can access and switch your weapons, alter your screen's video settings, even lob grenades. Be warned though that there is a split-second delay in the weapon commands taking effect, because in the wrong scenarios that might be a split-second too long.

Try to keep the verbal sarcasm to a minimum, also, lest Kinect mistakes "uh, great" for "grenade" and dutifully throws your last remaining pineapple straight into a space occupied by no enemies whatsoever.

The coolest Kinect feature is the analyse tool, which lets you scan an in-game object and transmit its data to a library for future examination.

The Xbox 360 upgrade brings a set of achievements. Some of them are fiendishly difficult, but they're not unreasonable. After all, players have had up to a decade to perfect their skills.

Bungie also had a decade to perfect the Halo style before handing over to 343i, and in hindsight it was clear that during this game's development, they were very much in the learning stages.

The new look won't wash away any of the frustration that veterans might have felt every time they found themselves lost in some of Halo's vast bunkers and landscapes. Even the prettiest scenery gets old when you don't know where you're going, but there are Easter eggs out there that may offer some hope. These are the skulls - first introduced in Halo 2 - that allow players to alter the way the game works, and the terminals.

When accessed, the terminals play animated shorts that expand upon the events at hand and point the way towards Halo 4. The stories draw upon the secrets of the wider Halo universe and could even be considered companions to the excellent Halo: Legends collection.

It might be fair to say Bungie were still finding their way when they led players into an all-out assault on a Covenant camp that brings in waves and waves of ground troops, boosted by plasma turrets and a pair of monstrous Hunters. Once you survive that, it's up into the Truth and Reconciliation cruiser to immediately face another swarm of troops, led by a team of invisible Elites, armed with kill-you-with-one-hit energy swords.

All this, in just the third level of the game.

A similar sequence of challenges takes place near the very end of the Reach campaign, suggesting Bungie had learned a thing or two about when to challenge players with against-all-odds encounters.

If you hated your game crashing and then restarting you off at far-off checkpoint in Combat Evolved, you'll hate it here too. 343i didn't miss a single error, but they left them in anyway in order to preserve the original's spirit. Who hasn't used the scene loading glitch to make an entire team of Covenant forget the Master Chief was ever there?

Double kill ... triple kill

The multiplayer mode, which runs off the Reach engine, is more of a tribute to the original experience than a true remake. If it looks like Reach and plays like Reach, it simply can't be anything else.

That's not to say it's a bad thing. It is a fine experience, though series newcomers may find it hard being mercilessly cut down by players who have been camping in their sniping spots for most of the last ten years. It can be a brutal learning curve, but we know what they say about pressure and diamonds.

Reach integration also means players don't have to abandon their characters' career progress and start all over again with Anniversary. If you were a grade four General before, you'll still be one when you jump into classic maps like Beaver Creek and Prisoner.

As with Reach, the maps are taken from Combat Evolved and Halo 2. Halo 3's maps remain on the shelf for the time being.

So, how about a second date?

It would have been easy for 343 Industries to just polish the graphics up and sell the product like hotcakes. They retained the core gameplay, but it's not the same overall experience. It's better. Kinect is introduced to Halo without cheapening either, and swapping between visual modes is a fun distraction from the horrors of futuristic space war.

If this is a "love letter" to Halo's fans, 343i appears to be a worthy suitor.

Stars: 4.5/5
Platform: Xbox 360
Rated: R16

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