Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
When we talk about games that define their hardware, Halo: Combat Evolved remains in the upper echelon of such discussions. With the identity and brand of the Xbox hardware rooted in Bungie’s sci-fi first person shooter masterpiece, there’s no debating the influence it’s come to have on the genre in the ten years since its release. And now, with Bungie handing the reigns over to 343, it only seems natural to return to the beginning, revitalizing one of the genre’s best campaigns and a handful of the series’ most memorable multiplayer maps on current hardware.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary holds entirely true to the Xbox release, going so far as to run its new aesthetic revision on the same code as the old game with the notable feature of flipping between old and new visuals at the press of a button. Whereas the old visuals hold a certain charm in their own way, they’re largely sterile and colorless. With the old graphics, the dark interiors of corridors cast off an eerie, yet fitting, atmosphere and an iconic sort of look which hasn’t lost its nostalgic value much.
The revisions on many of the environments are largely filled out with aesthetic flourishes that capture an edge reminiscent to that of Halo: Reach and provide some welcome color into areas both drab and overlong – like the infamous library segment – easing players through with signposts and nice architectural detail without necessarily fixing the problems that made some areas unpopular. The big drawback of holding so true to the original content is mostly in the rigid character animations, which simply look odd and out of date, juxtaposed against their nice surroundings.
Also included – perhaps of equal importance to the visuals for hardcore Halo fans – are options for both the original synthesized soundtrack and a revised orchestral one. It’s a testament to the compositions how well they’ve held up and the revisions provide welcome remastered versions of the iconic tracks which can be switched out in an options menu. Terminals filling in backstory and skulls providing gameplay variants have also been added and are hidden about the levels. These lend some credence to the idea of fans trekking back through these areas for the well-done fan service and perhaps experimenting with the skull stipulations.
Combat Evolved plays just as you remember it. The great simplicity of its combat systems is captured, then, but so too are its janky parts, some collision detection problems, and other artifacts of a time long past. Everything simply feels the same and in some parts antiquated, while in others, it proves to be a forward-thinking, evolved formula that most developers have yet to match.
Competitive multiplayer makes a less substantial showing, essentially consisting of a Halo: Reach map pack. It’s fine that it’s been done this way, for fans of Reach, but that game strayed far enough from the things that made Halo great that it feels questionable trying to force the connection. Part of what separates something like Combat Evolved from future iterations is its beautiful simplicity. Reach goes the other way. Neither the most aggregious nor superlative thing, the competitive multiplayer’s fine and features plenty of classic and modern varients to keep fans of either happy, but in terms of map contents, it’s undercut and fails to deliver all of the original maps.
The reinvisioned maps which are included, recreated by developer Certain Affinity, are lush, well-conceived updates to some multiplayer classics, spanning the first couple Halo games. Great maps like Beaver Creek and Hang ‘Em High have been updated and best of all, are finally playable on Xbox Live. In a way, that’s good enough.
Better yet, old favorites can now be edited in Forge and there’s a new Firefight map plucked out of the campaign. The online’s ultimately good but it’s still Reach. For some, that’s a real shame and for others, it’s a good way of getting more replay value (and new achievements) from Bungie’s final entry in the series.
For Halo fans, Anniversary will come as a welcome combination of quality fan service and nostalgia, providing an experience that’s both true to that of the original, while also being remastered for future generations. Combat Evolved remains every bit the essential, console-defining shooter it was ten years ago. An easy recommendation for the budget price.