That music. That grandiose, swelling battle anthem that gets you anxiously leaning toward your television, the hair rising on the back of your neck and the blood pumping, readying you to take the fight to the alien forces of the Covenant all over again. I only needed to hear a few notes of that famous Halo music while the game loaded up for the first time to get me in the zone to revisit a title I haven’t played in nearly a decade.
The Halo franchise means many things to many different types of gamers. For me, it changed the way I look at console first-person shooter; it got me to buy into Microsoft being a serious gaming console contender; and, most important of all, Halo introduced me to some of my absolute best friends in real life. In a nutshell, I owe a Wookie life-debt to a video game called Halo.
And I'm definitely not the only one.
So for the franchise’s 10th anniversary, Microsoft decided to celebrate Halo’s birthday in style with a remastered version of the original classic, developed by 343 Industries. The company set out with one absolute going in: don’t fix what ain’t broke, and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary stays absolutely true to that motto. This remastered version of Halo plays exactly how you remember the original Halo on Xbox playing back in 2001. Enemy A.I. reacts the same way to bullets and grenades, while the infamous pistol is still as powerful as you remember it. Not a corridor was changed, nor any new levels introduced into the campaign. This is classic Halo from top to bottom.
Now where the Anniversary edition does mix things up is with its visuals. 343 Industries completely reskinned the entire game, making this 10-year-old classic look as good as modern Halos, as well as other contemporary games on the market. Water glistens, environments have plenty of vegetation swaying in the breeze, and alien structures are brought to life with more textures and loads of pulsating lights. 343 made sure that Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was not just a resolution upscaling, as many remastering lately tend to be. Careful attention to detail was paid, but never to the point where environments, landmarks and characters lose their connection to the original Bungie effort. The only area where the graphics of Halo Anniversary suffer is with lip-syncing. 343 did nothing in this department, and the lackluster lip-syncing sticks out like a sore thumb next to the finer details of the title.
Halo Anniversary also comes with a cool “flashback” mode, where at the push of a button you can revert back to the original Halo’s graphics from 2001 on the fly. The game doesn’t need to be paused, or relaunched to do it. Simply press the “Back” button and continuing playing. Then, when you’re sick of looking at the old school, muddied textures by today’s standards, simply press “Back” again and bring Halo back to the future to the year 2011. It’s a neat feature that doesn’t change gameplay in the slightest, but it does let you appreciate how far this industry has come in just 10 short years.
Since 343 Industries is tackling all future Halo titles, including Halo 4, they found a cool way to connect this remastering of the first Halo with their future work on the franchise. As you venture across Halo you’ll stumble across Terminals, which are little computer screens that play short, foreboding videos that detail some of Halo’s backstory, as well as tease what’s to come. There’s one Terminal per level, extending the replayability of this game to find them all and maybe get a taste of what’s on the horizon for the Halo universe.
It’s not really a stretch to say that I’ve probably played through the original Halo more times than Bilbo Baggins has had birthdays. For people like myself, don’t go into the campaign of Halo Anniversary expecting a lot of new (outside graphical touches, that is). If you know this game like the back of your hand, you’ll be able to breeze through it pretty quickly, even on the more challenging difficulties. It’s meant to be a spit-shined tribute to one of the most influential games ever made. And in that light, 343 Industries does a solid job reviving the original Halo for a new generation.
But even if you blaze through the game’s campaign, there is still multiplayer to be had. The multiplayer component of Halo Anniversary is essentially a map pack for Halo: Reach. You get six classic Halo competitive maps (“Damnation,” “Beaver Creek,” “Prisoner,” “Timberland,” “Headlong” and “Hang ‘Em High”) and one Firefight map (“Installation 04”), which can be installed to your Xbox’s hard-drive for use with either the Halo Anniversary or Halo: Reach disc.
The six competitive maps are ripped from both the original Halo and Halo 2, yet have been slightly retooled to cater to Halo: Reach’s gameplay, which includes sprinting, jet packs, etc. All in all, the maps have a good sense of verticality and expansiveness to them, with updated visuals to make them shine next to the rest of Reach’s established offerings. It’s also worth mentioning that Halo Anniversary is the first time you can play through the original Halo’s campaign cooperatively over Xbox Live, a feature many have been begging for over the past 10 years.
For the diehard Halo fanatics out there, Halo Anniversary is definitely a safe purchase. You get to relive the title that started it all, with some gorgeous graphics to boot, at a discounted rate of $40. In addition, the classic multiplayer maps extend the life of Reach’s already fantastic multiplayer component. As for the people who have never played the original Halo when it released in 2001 on the Xbox, maybe now’s the time to finally jump aboard the bandwagon. The original Halo is considered a classic for a reason. Just know that with Halo Anniversary you’re essentially playing a game that was designed in 2001, only with a solid graphical overhaul. By today's standards, this game may be considered old fashioned. It might not blow you away like some of today’s AAA titles manage to do, but it comes pretty damn close. And that’s a feat in and of itself.
CraveOnline received one advanced copy of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary for the Xbox 360 from Edelman, on behalf of Microsoft. We were held to the embargo date of Monday, November 14, 2011 at 6am PST. Before starting our review, we completed 100% of the game’s campaign on normal difficulty. We also toyed around with all the multiplayer maps included. We did not test out the unnecessary Kinect functionality because the reviewer does not own a Kinect sensor.