jillsandwich's Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Xbox 360) review

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Authentic Campaign, but Multiplayer is a missed opportunity

I'll make this as clear as I possibly can: My pair of rose-tinted glasses for this game are the rosiest and foggiest of glasses. This and the Resident Evil series essentially defined my early childhood, and I have nothing but fond memories for Master Chief's escapades about and around the not-Niven ring known as Halo. In playing this remade, remastered, retextured version of the very first Halo game, I have only been reminded of one thing: A lot of things have happened in video games since the first Halo game came out.

I remember thinking a couple years back around the time Halo 3 came out, how cool it would be if the additions to the combat sandbox in Halo's 2 and 3 were incorporated into a ground-up, Twin Snakes-esque remake of Combat Evolved. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is absolutely not that game. Sure, looking at some screenshots might tell you that they made the game from the ground up and everything(which doesn't imply a lack of effort, none of the assets from Halo 1 carry over in the Remastered graphic setting, which seems like quite an undertaking), but they absolutely did not. This is Halo, through and through, just as you remember it, and even with some of the stuff you try not to remember. Yes, the Pistol is still grossly overpowered. Yes, the Warthog is still invincible. Yes, you will still be jumped by a gang of invincible marines if you try to kill Captain Keyes. Yes, The Library is still utter garbage.

This warts-and-all approach to the campaign is a little disappointing when you start thinking about how much the game could be improved, but it's damn near impossible to fault the game for it. The team at 343 and Sabre Interactive stated very clearly from the outset that this is some god-damned Halo. After all, the game is, in a feat of what I believe to be some sort of dark magic, running the original game's code underneath the new graphics engine. This not only allows the most nearly authentic Halo experience, but also allows for one of the game's coolest features. At any time during gameplay, you can press the Back button, and after a few seconds, the game's original graphics will be displayed. If you can stand looking at the original graphics for more than a couple of seconds, you will once again be reminded: Halo came out a long time ago.

The new graphics look all-around infinitely better than the original game, but there are a few apparently stylistic changes that bother me a little. When you can view the Halo from within the bridge of the Pillar of Autumn in the first level of the game, on the Classic setting, the ring-structure is a mysterious, ominous, monolith with an aura of darkness obscuring most of it. On the Remastered setting, It's a big, shiny blue thing in shiny, starry space. A lot of the Forerunner structures specifically benefit from being a little minimalist in the details. Plus, straight-up lifting the Halo 3 Cortana model and just plopping her in with everybody else is jarring and weird. Without those sorts of things that only crazy people are going to give a shit about though, the Remastered visuals look great.

Speaking of remastered things, all of the sound(save for the voice acting) has been re-done. Not that it really needed to be, but the masterful score by Martin O'Donnel and Michael Salvatori has been recorded with the Skywalker Symphony orchestra with a couple of extremely subtle differences. Despite my brain constantly reminding me that it's not as good as the original score, the new soundtrack is still very interesting to hear. All of the weapon and assorted sound effects were also remastered, which only serve to make everything in the game sound even beefier, so that's a plus.

Among the new additions are Terminals, which are returning from Halo 3. Unlike the ones in Halo 3 which were static screens of text, the terminals in this game are quite pretty-looking pre-rendered videos that flesh out some of the story of Guilty Spark and his thankless duty maintaining Installation 04. 343 has said that these videos drop some hints at the story of Halo 4, which I'm sure you could find if you managed to decipher the most cryptic shit in the world, or if you cared that much about the Forerunner side of the Halo story(which in playing this game I realized that I don't, at all). The Terminals are pretty cool additions, but they unfortunately will not make obsessive Halo fans any less worried about the direction Halo 4 is going in, but I suppose that's an entirely different story.

So that's the campaign. It is some seriously Halo-ass Halo. Whether or not that is good for your case depends on how fond you are of the original game. Where this package really breaks down for me is the multiplayer.

The game takes the ODST approach by making the multiplayer portion of the package a map pack for an existing Halo game. When you select the Multiplayer option on the main menu, the game then loads into the Reach engine. The multiplayer portion has seven maps, all maps from past Halo games, six competitive maps and one firefight map. The ultimate problem with the whole thing is that most of the maps in the game are already in Reach.

Well, they aren't officially in there, but Bungie built some seriously awesome custom content creation tools into the game that are so great that it kind of makes some of the maps obsolete. With the Forge mapmaking feature, anyone can make any map they want(popular choices being recreations of past Halo maps) and share them with their friends and the Halo community at large. Bungie has even taken cool community maps and put them into official matchmaking playlists for the whole world. As a result, the more simple maps in this package(Beaver Creek, Hang 'Em High, Damnation) have been easily recreated in Forge and even placed in a classic map playlist in the past. The maps looking slightly better than generic tilesets don't really do much to make you forget that these maps already exist in the Reach infrastructure.

The standouts of the map pack are Timberland(a map that was previously exclusive to the PC version of Halo) and Headlong from Halo 2. These are large-scale maps well-suited for objective modes with a lot of different ins and outs to make the moment-to-moment gameplay very interesting. If the whole pack was comprised of maps like these such as Zanzibar, Sidewinder and Infinity, it would be a must-buy. Also, where the fuck is Boarding Action? Seriously, I'm pretty sure that someone at Microsoft has a job that is devoted solely to tormenting me by NEVER, EVER remaking that opus for ANY OTHER HALO GAME.

There's also a Firefight map, as I previously mentioned, and it's pretty cool. It's a rendition of one of the Forerunner structures in the second level of the game with a bunch of stranded marine dudes that you have to go save. This map has a cool little twist in a squad of A.I. controlled ODST troops that help you in battle. This does a little bit to alleviate the problem that Firefight is really hard to play by yourself, but not very much. As you have most likely come to learn if you've played Halo before, your allies are not the brightest bulbs on the tree.

If you take anything away from this review, I hope it's this: Don't buy this if you didn't play Halo in its prime. As much as I loved replaying this game, I'm sad to say that it does not hold up to modern FPS standards. The level design is boring and drab, sometimes downright unfair(It evidently never occurred to anyone at Bungie that your recharging-health damage model makes no sense if you don't put any fucking cover anywhere), and the age-old Halo problem of getting stuck with a bad checkpoint is even worse with the original damage system. But, if you know and love the original game, by all means, buy this immediately. It's 39.99 price perfectly fits your needs, and the multiplayer maps are a great little bonus. If, however you're a casual Halo player who's never played the first game, and just want to see what all the fuss is about, don't worry about it. At this point, it's best you don't know. After all, in a pretty damn awesome move, you can just buy all those maps on the Xbox Live Marketplace for a decent price at fifteen dollars. It's good that unlike ODST, Microsoft isn't making you wait a couple of months if you just want the maps.

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