Halo CE Anniversary review: a great classic, rejuvinated

Returning to the original Halo: Combat Evolved game felt a little strange, it was one of those games that was a masterpiece at the time but you worry that the gameplay won’t have aged well or that it was never as good as you originally thought it was.

Halo: CE changed how first person shooters were viewed on consoles. It managed to get the controls spot on, had some of the best graphics seen at the time and more importantly for Microsoft, was a day-1 launch title that went on to sell millions over the course of time spawning a number of sequels.

Developer 343 Industries promised fans that the main core of the game would not be altered and they have kept their word. The gameplay is just the same as the original, there have been no additional gameplay features added to the single player mode and it still manages to play just as well as it originally did, even outshining some more recent first person shooter games in the process.

One new minor feature integrated in the single player campaign which doesn’t effect gameplay is what I call “Terminal Videos”: you come across some small terminals that can be interacted with during the game, where once you select it you will be shown a new backstory video

We also have the addition of an online campaign co-op mode, which was limited during my brief play through to the few people who were online during the review period. It played well and added something different to the game without messing with the main single player mode.

A few Kinect features have been added to the game too with the option of voice controls to shout out “grenade” or “reload”, though I have to say I find it quicker and easier to use the game pad here each and every time.

The main multiplayer side of the game adds six new remakes of some favourite Halo maps while also adding a new Firefight map. This time round the Halo: Reach engine gets used, so if you have been playing that you will know what to expect here. The new maps seem very good from my short play with them and help add to the overall package.

There is also an “Analyse mode” integrated into the game with help from the Kinect; this feature lets gamers scan items during the game to fill out the Library, which is an interactive encyclopaedia of Halo “Lore”. It works well and helps to add a bit more to the experience, but once again doesn’t have to be used if you don’t want to.

The work that that the developers have done on the graphics side is excellent: no it isn’t as spectacular as some of the more recent first person shooters on the market, but it manages to retain the look and feel of the original game while ramping up the textures, adding some great shadowing and improved animation. Graphically I’d probably say that this is now the best in the Halo series, just topping Halo Reach thanks to what I feel is better art design.

The option to switch between classic mode and the updated engine helps show off the huge improvements that have been made to the game thanks to the addition of more foliage and loads of particle effects. What I noticed even more is how the company has retained the great art design feel from the original team, something I was worried may change so it leaves me with high hopes for Halo 4.

Things are not perfect though as the game seems to struggle with texture pop-in a lot, something I noticed which stood out even more towards the end of the game. This also happened when the game installed to the hard drive too. There are also a number of times when the frame rate takes a hit at strange times, so it feels as if the smooth cutscene can become a little juddery, but none of these problems will affect you enjoying the game.

343 Industries and Saber Interactive have also brought 3D to the Halo universe, though I wasn’t that impressed by it I have to say. It is only available in the enhanced graphic mode, though it can be turned on and off via an in-game menu. The resolution seems to drop quite considerably and I had an issue where the text looked huge on the screen for some reason. It also seemed to suffer from a lot of crosstalk, though your experience may vary depending on your 3D TV.

The depth was decent, but it didn’t seem to add anything to the experience and seemed more like a novelty rather than anything else. It certainly wasn’t worth the drop in resolution when compared to the non-3D version.

Sound has been remastered from top to bottom, from Martin O’Donnell’s original soundtrack to the reworked speech and weapon effects. While I am a big fan of the new weapon sounds, especially the machine gun, I wasn’t so taken with the speech that seems to have been re-recorded. It sounds clearer but doesn’t sound as well read as in the original or other recent Halo titles.

The good news is that you can switch between the original and the remastered audio if you want, though only via the main menu and not during gameplay unlike the classic graphics mode.

343 Industries have done a great job with this remastered version of a game that still ranks in many peoples all time top ten lists. By not interfering in the gameplay and just sprucing up the graphics and adding features that you don’t have to make use of they have managed to keep fans like myself very happy. What will really be interesting is if the company can take on board what makes Halo the best game of the series and transfer that to Halo 4. I for one hope they do.

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