Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary shows how far we’ve come in a decade—and it’s not always a pretty picture. This release celebrates the 10th anniversary of the original Halo by bringing back the classic campaign with updated graphics and sound, along with a passable replication of the game’s multiplayer.
While Microsoft made a big deal about the game’s Kinect support, that feature isn’t listed anywhere on the box and you have to add it to the game via a day-one patch. By using the Kinect, you can say things like “grenade,” and Master Chief will throw a grenade. You can say “flashlight” and your flashlight will turn on. You can say “pause game,” “resume game,” and “change weapon,” and it all does what you expect it to do (with a little bit of a pause). It’s a neat trick, but using the buttons is faster and easier. This is a bullet point and, if you don’t have a Kinect, you’re not missing anything.
When you install it, the game also asks if you’d like to redeem the code to add the game’s classic maps to your copy of Reach as a map pack. It’s a nice way to add value, but just once I’d like to play a game without a series of updates and five minutes of inputting codes and unlocking features that “reward” me for buying the game new.
Have I scared you off my lawn yet? Do I sound like an old fogey? Maybe so, but the rest of the Anniversary package is more than worth the annoyances of setup and the almost useless Kinect features.
Very little has been added to the game itself; this is the Halo you remember. You can find hidden skulls that change how the game is played (my copy came with the “Grunt Funeral” skull that causes grunts to explode like plasma grenades). You’ll also find terminals that give you some background information on the world of Halo, and there may even be a few hints about what’s coming next. The new content is certainly fine, but the real thrill is being able to play the classic Halo with remastered graphics.
The graphical updates are extensive, and they make everything look like a contemporary game. You can hit the select button at any time to flip between the new graphics and the game’s original look, and the changes are startling; a lot of work has been done to make this look as good as it possibly can. The ability to switch between the two versions of the game at will also proves that the new textures and character models are all running on top of the original engine, so you don’t lose any of the of the game’s feel. Everything acts just how you remember it, and for fans of a series that has gone through so many changes, it’s great to go back to the original style that made Halo so popular.
The magnum is still incredibly overpowered at both close and long range, and it’s great to have it back. The Flood sections of the game are still annoying as hell. Cortana remains weirdly sexy. While there might have been some temptations to adjust the game here and there, the decision was made to keep everything as you remember, for good or bad. The updates are purely cosmetic, although the sound and music have also been completely redone. In fact, the changes to the game’s sound effects and music need more love than they’ve gotten in the press so far; the game sounds just as good as it looks.
Multiplayer is a mixed bag. You can play the entire game through in co-op with another person over Xbox Live, which is amazing, but the ability to play local four-player splitscreen is gone, which is madness. The game brings you into the Halo: Reach engine to play the six included classic multiplayer maps:
- Battle Canyon (Beaver Creak)
- High Noon (Hang ‘Em High)
- Penance (Damnation)
- Solitary (Prisoner)
- Ridgeline (Timberland)
- Breakneck (Headlong)
Each map can be played in a state close to its original design, or updated to fit in with the other Reach maps. You can also enjoy the classical loadouts and playlists to replicate the original experience. There’s also a brand new firefight mission and, if you don’t care about the single-player game, all this content can be purchased separately as a Reach map pack for 1,200 Microsoft Points ($15). New copies of the game come with a voucher that provides the map pack free of charge. (As a side-note, on Twitter I’ll be giving away all the codes that came with the game, so follow @BenKuchera if you want a chance for some free Halo content.)
To be absolutely clear: if you don’t like Halo, you will still not like it now that it’s prettier. For fans of the original, however, this is a great way to revisit a game that remains fun to play, and it adds some great new content to your multiplayer rotation. The visuals and sound are impressive without taking away from your fond memories, and the Kinect features are safely ignored. For $40, this isn’t a bad deal at all. See you online!