6:20pm Wednesday 4th January 2012
By Adam Pettifer
It’s another shooter! And another remake! In one! Well, we’ve had plenty of those this year, but this one is a little different. It’s Halo. The first one – you know the fondly remembered one. You aren’t a true gamer unless you’ve completed Halo 1 on the Legendary difficulty setting, right?
I guess I’m not a real gamer then. I got into the franchise with Halo 2 on the original Xbox, but boy did I have some fun with that. I was still playing it on and off until the original Xbox Live service was shut down in April 2010. My clan – The Sea Dogs – were “legendary” in their own way. We spoke like pirates over the airwaves, to the annoyance of uber-serious American players and we almost always lost. We didn’t care though – it was fun, great fun. We’re still going today on MW3 – look us up if you want to join an awesome, rubbish clan (search for “TheSeaDogs”).
I only played part of the original Halo 1 campaign back in the day – every Halo game since that has held its appeal mainly through its multiplayer modes. For sure, the Halo 2 campaign was very pretty graphically and had a compelling story, but... it just wasn’t that much fun. Same goes for Halo 3 and ODST. Halo: Reach was far, far better however – that was a real success for the franchise. It was a polished, enjoyable game with no weaknesses. It was also the end of Bungie’s involvement with the Halo franchise for Microsoft...
Halo CE Anniversary is a toe in the water from Microsoft’s new guys – 343 Industries. They will be the developers behind the forthcoming Halo 4, so what better way to get some practice in than to produce a graphically updated re-release of Halo 1. Think of it like Lucasfilm releasing the special editions of Star Wars episodes 4,5 and 6 before getting stuck into 1,2 and 3.
So, I have been relishing the chance to deal with this bit of unfinished gaming business and complete Halo 1. And it really has been a joy to play. The campaign is compelling, exciting, and beautiful to behold. The new, updated graphics are fantastic – they bear comparison to any new game on the market. The wonderful cinematic/Celtic orchestral schore has been re-recorded with a new orchestra – it sounds fantastic. The oh-so-familiar tunes now have new detail – new string and wind instruments are noticeable that I couldn’t hear before.
Another great feature is the ability to flip back at any time to the game’s original Xbox graphics – just press the back button on the controller. This even works on the menus and gives a great chance to see how far things have come. I found it impossible not to use this every few minutes or so – to see how much better textures look, weapon and character models look etc. It is also possible to switch back to the original soundtrack if wished. These are nice touches, designed to reward the real devotees.
Halo Waypoint, the Xbox Live portal for the Halo series is well integrated into the game menus and the game also features a cut down version of Halo: Reach Multiplayer – but with classic Halo 1 maps. This proves to be a very nice little refresher between bouts of gameplay on the campaign - there are several modes and a good group of maps. There is plenty of MP enjoyment here. In the box is a download code also – it is possible to download these maps to the Xbox 360 hard drive and just play them through Halo: Reach, as DLC, along with all the other maps for that game.
But despite all these real bonuses – it’s all about the campaign. It still feels fresh and modern today, it really stands on its own two feet, even compared to upstarts such as Battlefield and MW3. In terms of sheer gaming enjoyment, it utterly overshadows those in single player. For me, it is possible to pull off kills, stunts and acrobatics in a way that I never can in modern shooters...
I can snipe enemies at huge range, often in one shot with the wonderfully over-powered pistol (still my favourite), switching seamlessly to the assault rifle (was it always this powerful?) instead of reloading to finish other enemies off. I can toss sticky plasma grenades straight onto Elites, even when they are using their invisible active camouflage, to beautiful degrees of precision. I can sidestep Hunters at exactly the right moment, to get around them and destroy them from behind (far more tricky to do in Reach)… There is a level of satisfaction here - a way that skill is rewarded that modern shooters just do not have in single-player.
So as a campaign, it’s rewarding in a way that no modern shooters are. And that’s been the big revelation for me. I thought it would be an enjoyable little nostalgia trip, but in reality, the only other game that deserves mentioning in the same breath is Half Life 2. This is a real lesson in how shooter campaigns should play - one that every software developer should revisit and understand.
It hasn't even been released as a full price game - it is possible to find this in stores for around £29.99 - making this one of the best bargains in gaming for sheer enjoyment and re-playability (yes - Halo on Legendary does take quite a long time to master. But it is rewarding!). I hope you try and enjoy this wonderful old game...
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is out now for Xbox 360.
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