Ten years ago, a little game called Halo: Combat Evolved was released for the original Xbox. Great graphics, an interesting story, and a strong multiplayer suite put console FPSs on the map. Halo had it all. Now, in 2011, Microsoft has seen fit to re-release the campaign with shiny new graphics and a new multiplayer map pack made in the Halo: Reach engine. The question is, is it worth another trip unto the breach?
Well, that completely depends on what you’re expecting out of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.
More so than usual, Anniversary can be split cleanly into two halves: the singleplayer and multiplayer. The singleplayer contains the exact same campaign as the original Halo, right down to the pistol and Legendary ending. You heard that right. The original, incredibly overpowered pistol from Halo returns in all its glory. Everything else has remained the same in Anniversary as well, and depending on what you thought of the original game’s campaign, this could be great or not so great. Personally, I loved Halo: Combat Evolved’s singleplayer and found it to be a real treat playing with the new graphics as the original Halo is easily one of my favorite campaigns from the Halo series. The choice not to alter the campaign’s gameplay is really a testament to how great the original gameplay was and is. If there were any doubts, the holy trinity of guns, grenades and melee is still as potent and fun as ever.
If you’ve never played a Halo game, this is actually a really great place to start, as the story in Halo: Combat Evolved is not as overbearing and self-indulgent as some the later games became. You play as the Master Chief, a genetically augmented super soldier with a futuristic combat suit who must unlock the secrets of the ring-world Halo while battling aliens collectively known as the Covenant. Halo (the game, not the ring) uses the now default recharging health system, but it also employs a more old school health pack system. Basically, if your shields are depleted, your health will go down. Your shields will recharge but you’ll have to keep an eye out for health packs to replenish your actual health. Also like many games today, you can only carry two weapons at a time. Deciding what weapons to keep and what weapons to swap out is where much of the game’s strategy comes from.
On the other hand, the multiplayer is not the original Halo’s multiplayer. Like Halo 3: ODST before it, Anniversary contains the previous Halo game’s multiplayer (in that case, Halo 3), meaning it looks and plays exactly like that game (in this case, Halo: Reach). Unlike what ODST did for Halo 3, Anniversary does not contain all the maps released for Reach, only the new Anniversary map pack. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I did find the difference a little jarring when playing the multiplayer after several hours of the campaign. And considering the original game had 13 maps, I find the fact that Anniversary only has six to be underwhelming at best. In these six maps you find three from Halo: Combat Evolved (Prisoner, Hang ‘Em High, and Damnation), one from the PC version of Halo (Timberland), and two from Halo 2 (Beaver Creek and Headlong). I find it kind of hard to believe that classics such as Sidewinder are omitted from this package. I mean, Sidewinder was awesome.
The multiplayer options, though, are just as robust as they are in Reach and you can even continue your multiplayer progress in Anniversary. Also included in Anniversary is a new Firefight map for you to fight off waves of Covenant baddies. It’s based on the second level of the campaign and is really great, but sadly, it’s the only new Firefight map in the package.
The graphics in Anniversary are quite impressive, though not for the reasons you might expect. They aren’t all the impressive artistically or technically. I would say they’re roughly on par with Halo 3. What’s impressive is that at any moment in the game (aside from cut scenes) you can switch between the new graphics and the old with a press of a button. The difference is pretty striking, and while the remastered graphics won’t blow your mind, they’re nice to look at. Playing the game with the new graphics enabled actually makes it a little easier to play. Jackals’ shields are easier to see and the environments are much brighter in general. I found it much easier to navigate the dark corridors of the Library and the Truth and Reconciliation with the new graphics to the point that I never actually used the flashlight. Sadly, the animations and lip-syncing are still pretty bad despite the redone graphics.
While Anniversary’s core gameplay does not change anything from Halo: Combat Evolved, there are some extra goodies in there. Every level in the campaign has a Halo 3-like Terminal tucked away somewhere. For the most part, they just give the back-story of Halo but are still pretty interesting to watch. In addition to the terminals, there are also gameplay-changing Skulls to be found. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in love with the Grunt Birthday Party skull since I found it in Halo 2 (read: looked it up on YouTube) and it’s good to see its inclusion.
Halo: Combat Evolved is a good overall package. Playing the campaign is like visiting with an awesome old friend that you haven’t seen in a while. The multiplayer, though, is too barebones to feel like it’s worth the $40 price tag. Couple that with the fact that the multiplayer doesn’t quite emulate the feel of the original Halo and you’re left with a game that is likely to disappoint many longtime fans. Still, the singleplayer should be experienced by those who haven’t yet and the multiplayer isn’t bad. It’s just not Halo: Combat Evolved’s.