Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review
Written : Friday, November 18, 2011
By: Lee Abrahams
How do you review a memory? A decade has passed since the original black brick of doom, or Xbox if you like, launched across the world, bringing with it an equal measure of ridicule and intrigue. It soon emerged that one of the first games to be released on the original Xbox would rapidly become its killer app, as well as help dispel that sense of derision that some had directed towards Microsoft’s first foray into the console market. That game was Halo, slapped with the Combat Evolved tag by marketing men desperate to make it stand out as a military shooter, and the rest is history.
For a console launch title to receive such universal acclaim seems ludicrous nowadays, when you consider the brevity of back up given to the current generation of machines when they emerged, like mewling newborns, onto the market and the ongoing drama of constantly slipping release dates. That such a title would be available from day one was a benchmark of Microsoft’s intentions, and the fact it's since become ingrained as one of the most popular franchises in recent history should come as no surprise. The real shock, I suppose, was the fact I didn’t really like it at first. At all.
I was a late bloomer in terms of getting an Xbox, as I felt the PS2 offered a superior range of games that appealed to me. Time and time again my friends would extol the game's virtues, boasting of late nights spent glued to their screens, but I was having none of it. It was only after sampling the delights of Xbox Live that I finally caved and bought an Xbox of my very own. Bundled with it was a copy of Halo, a game I’d long since written off in my mind as overhyped nonsense. Plus, anyone who was anyone knew that only high end PC rigs could run a good FPS right? Obviously the younger me was an idiot.
"Welcome back to Halo."
Even after finally booting the game up and blasting through the single-player campaign on my own I was less than impressed. It was all cleverly long corridors to hide loading times and AI that I could take apart with ease. Where was this groundbreaking game I’d heard so much about? I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me and one of the gaming world's, so called, great experiences had turned out to be a big joke. Then I played it in co-op. On Legendary difficulty. And my world changed.
Here was an FPS that let you loose with weapons that were superbly balanced, in a world that seemed at times amazingly vast and yet tightly scripted. Enemies would be overwhelming, smart and yet still able to be bested with the right combination of teamwork and persistence. Little things that I had just ridden roughshod over in my blissfully ignorant initial foray started to come to the fore, as the handling of the Warthog felt more intuitive, the pistol was a beast when used correctly and each encounter felt like a genuine slice of Hollywood action. The musical score would crash and swell against the action: with wonderfully timed music bursting into life as yet another enemy assault started to gain momentum. Here was the game I’d been told about, finally presenting itself to my eager eyes.
"Blood or a REALLY fresh paint job on that armour?"
After that, you'd think things would have taken a down turn but instead they just got better. Eight of us would meet up, week in week out, to play multiplayer via two big TV’s and a link up cable. The action was fast-paced and every single match would throw up another moment that we would be talking about for days to come: that headshot from across the map, that superbly timed rocket that would decimate an entire team or that last ditch flag capture that snagged victory and eternal bragging rights. The foundation for future online domination was firmly laid in living rooms up and down the country, amongst those prepared to lug equipment weighing more than a small child into position for another night of friendship destroying combat.
All of this was ten years ago though and while this re-release still houses the majestic bare bones that made the original experience so compelling, can it ever hope to stand up to today’s juggernauts of gaming entertainment? Certainly the updated graphics are a welcome sheen of paint over an engine that was starting to look more than its age. It is nice to be able to compare the two at the press of a button, and the new visuals help to make the game feel fresh and yet still amazingly familiar. The epic soundtrack and decent, if humorous, voice work is as good as ever too, so no worries on that front.
Gameplay wise it's hard to complain either. Even though I was sitting down to play the same game I played all those moons ago, it still felt like a fresh challenge. Certainly plenty of games have come and gone since then. It is also readily apparent that games have improved and streamlined what was then a winning formula. Some choices seem strange looking back, like having health and a rechargeable shield, invisible enemies that can kill you in one hit, seemingly endless and generic corridor sections and the whole of that accursed Library. However, even with the old niggles still intact, things hold up remarkably well against modern fare. Heck, even blasting Flood for an entire level didn’t seem like the repetitive chore it once used to be. The game may not be revolutionary any more, but there is still plenty to be said for a superb campaign experience.
"Incoming goon squad."
The game also has the added extra of online modes too, which can be played off the disc or added to your Reach playlist via a DLC code (assuming you buy the game new). The maps are a mixed bag though, as pretty much all of the best maps and modes have long since been cribbed. Blood Gulch was always the best original Halo map, and that has been kicking around every subsequent game in one form or another, though it would have been nice to see Halo 2’s Zanzibar arena as well. What is on offer here is a nice blend of open maps to tussle over and a few smaller, more intimate offerings, all which help bring a wave of nostalgia flooding back. Though it would have been nice to see a few more original maps making the grade.
Even the achievement list is full of familiar nods to the series, with the obvious need to complete the game on Legendary, as well as having to root out all of those pesky skulls. The inclusion of terminals to flesh out the story a bit more is a neat touch too, and these scenes are lovingly crafted to boot as well as giving your score a nice little nudge when you find them all. Each level has a couple of specific tasks associated with it too, ranging from sparing the lives of Grunts to time-based sprints to the finish. The only downside is that arguably the game's two hardest achievements have been tied to its weakest level but that is a minor point. The extra boon is the fact that you can snag a further 250 points on Halo Reach multiplayer too, so it’s like Christmas came early for achievement hunters.
Halo: Combat Evolved has aged remarkably well and can still find time, between regally smoking a pipe and reading the most pretentious newspaper available, to show those youngsters a thing or too. Series veterans will no doubt love a second chance to tackle the campaign all over again, but for anyone looking for new and exciting improvements they may well be disappointed. However, that is the beauty of the package, that it shows a great game in all of its splendour, warts and all. As even with the few niggles here and there it can still easily take on all comers. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary may have since been surpassed but this is still a game that everyone can do with sampling one last time. Just remember to keep a shotgun handy – for close encounters.
A superb score, that still stands up perfectly after all of this time. The voice work is top notch too, even if some of the dialogue is inherently cheesy.
A lovely face lift but some textures pop in and out at times, and the whole thing can struggle in splitscreen modes whether online or off.
Still one of the benchmarks in FPS circles, with intuitive controls, excellent combat and a brilliant co-op mode. It still has a few too many generic tunnels though. Plus, The Library.
A worthy update, with the campaign still able to hold up well against recent offerings. Still other than the graphical tweaks this is the same game you played all those years ago.
A well thought out list, and you actually get a bonus 250 points on Reach as well for no extra charge.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is almost as good in reality as it ever was in your memory. The graphical update is welcome and the multiplayer maps are decent if not amazing. There are a few rough edges and cracks around the once infallible gameplay, but nothing that would stop you enjoying Halo: CE immensely the second (or first – lucky you) time around.