10 years is a long time! In the last decade we have seen war, peace, a financial boom and a worldwide recession. 10 years in the videogame world, however, is a very very long time. In the video game decade we have been introduced to high definition online gaming, witnessed the rise and fall of Tony Hawks and Guitar Hero and almost all of us will have been caught either waggling our wands or jumping up and down in front of our television sets.
In November of 2001 Bungie Studios and Microsoft released a title by the name of Halo: Combat Evolved and promised that this was the title that would get an Xbox sitting under every television set in the western world. While it’s fair to say that Halo did fail to get into every household in the first world, it did move the FPS from being a mainly PC-activity to the mainstream console audience, spawning millions of fans and numerous sequels.
Bungie have now retired from the Halo series and have handed the baton onto the specially formed 343 Industries (343i). Faced with the challenge of keeping the series living up to the gargantuan expectations of the average rabid Halo fan, 343i made the decision to cut their teeth on an Xbox 360 remake of the game that spawned it all.
Where It All Began - No one can deny that Halo:CE revolutionised the FPS console experience but what is often overlooked is the story introduced to us in this classic release. Bungie themselves have spent 10 years and 4 sequels attempting to recapture the glorious storytelling of the original masterpiece and it’s telling that for all the technical accomplishments of each sequel, the original still stands head and shoulders above them in terms of plot, character and campaign structure. This was the instalment that introduced us to Master Chief, Cortana, Halo technology, Guilty Spark, the Flood and the Covenant and it was great to be back there armed with the knowledge of where the journey would eventually end.
Smoothing the Jaggies - The main challenge for 343i would be to remake, what to many is, a game of biblical proportions, keeping it fresh and up to par with the Hi Def generation but at the same time not departing from what made Halo:CE such a celebrated title. 343i have achieved this by not changing the campaign in any way apart from a complete graphical overhaul. The world may not be as fully realised or deliciously detailed as the recent Halo: Reach but they do pull an aging game into the current day very well. Halo:CE is at least, comparable with any Sci-Fi FPS that has been released in the last few years. The first time you land on the Halo and look up only to see the world folding in on itself and forming the perfect circle may not have the same impact as it did a decade ago but it will guarantee a nostalgic smile from any returning player. A push on the back button will transform the world back to the way it was presented in 2001 and will reinforce the notion that 10 video game years is indeed a long time.
Da Da Da - 3 syllables that written on their own mean nothing. Show these same words to a fair percentage of the planets population while saying the word Halo will however have them humming a score that, to any self respecting gamer, is as recognisable and catchy as that Star Wars and Indiana Jones themes. Marty O’Donnell’s masterpiece has been given an orchestral makeover leaving Halo:CE with that epic sound that was built on in the sequels and will leave you humming it in your head for a good few hours after shutting down your Xbox.
NOSTALGIA AIN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE
Be Patient. He's a Little Slow - It was commendable that 343i decided to include an online 2 player co-op option for the campaign even though it feels slightly forced in some sections but unfortunately the experience I have had with it so far has been technically below par. As the host in a co-op campaign you will play the game with little to no issues. However, if you are playing in a friends lobby prepare to deal with some of the strangest lag I’ve experienced. The game remains playable but movement is jerky and unresponsive with sniping and precision firing being so problematic that automatic weapons are left as the only option. It does not break the game but it does suck any real enjoyment for the second co-op player. This strange feeling carries on to the cut scenes where everything jumps like an old silent movie, like half of the frames are being dropped. I also experienced issues with players not respawning after being killed. None of this is what would be described as game breaking but it is irritating and I would expect better from a series that is looking to stay at the top of an ever-growing pile of competitors. If you consider that this was one of the few features that 343i had to build from scratch then it only adds to the disappointment.
Out of Reach - I have never experienced the Halo: CE multiplayer as the original release was a few years prior to the Xbox Live service. I also never managed to muster the effort to move an oversized Xbox and massive CRT television to another address just to experience it. Halo Anniversary’s main selling point, for me, was the opportunity to experience an old favourite through the magic of Xbox Live. The co-op was a disappointment technically but the multiplayer is a bigger let down. This is not a re-make of the Halo:CE multiplayer but merely a map pack for the previously released Halo: Reach with rules changed to ape the classic experience. The buttons are mapped to the Halo: Reach experience and causes real confusion when moving from the campaign and if you feel like you were done with the Halo: Reach multiplayer long ago there is nothing here that will reinvigorate your passion.
343i have just not pushed themselves enough with this title. I feel that everything I enjoyed about Halo:CE anniversary are the parts that were already included in the original entry. The campaign is as enjoyable as it ever was. Returning players will find themselves smiling inwardly at the memories of yesteryear and the new player will find a campaign that feels as well realised and more engaging than any of its current gen sequels. This was all also true the first time round. The high definition makeover is also a plus point but it does fall just short of the visuals from the recent Halo entries. Most disappointing though is the technically sub-standard co-op and the complete cop out of the multiplayer portion that leaves me feeling that too many corners were cut in development. If 343i want the Halo series to remain as relevant as it has been for the next 10 years, then they really need to try a lot harder as it is a property that, just recently, has been showing its age and that will need a fresh breath of creativity to remain at the very top. I guess that the jury will remain undecided on the new direction of the Halo series until 343i are left to craft a game on their own but on the evidence of this remake I worry that the creative spark of bungie will be replaced by new ways to milk a drying-up cash cow.