Now that I've had a few weeks to fully digest 343 Industries' revisitation of gamers' original assault on the Covenant, I figure it's high time I shared my impressions of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
. There are some potential, albeit mild, spoilers for some of the new Terminal content in the second to last paragraph, so feel free to skip that if you'd like to remain pure.
First and foremost, the HD reskin of the campaign is really, really nice. You can tell all of the base models are last-gen, for the most part, but 343 did an amazing job of prettying things up without rebuilding the entire game from square one. The ability to switch back and forth between the old and new graphics is cute, but I didn't find nostalgia quite overpowering enough to demand checking out old-school Halo particularly often.
The addition of the Terminals, on the other hand, was a fantastic idea. While I love the Halo universe and story, I'll be one of the first to admit the telling of that story, at least in-game, can be clumsy at times. Shedding some light on Guilty Spark's side of things (mostly) and the history of the Halo rings, these fusions of motion comics and CGI are a refreshing treat in what would've otherwise been a gussied-up retread. In particular, the ninth Terminal, which ties in with Captain Keyes' capture by the Flood, is legitimately chilling, and throws up a few extra clues as to his past; in fact, I'm pretty sure there's a shot of Catherine Halsey in a négligée in there, if you're into that.
Analyze mode, the Kinect functionality they tacked on, feels, well, rather tacked-on. Similar to the Metroid Prime games' scanning option, the Analysis mode in H:CEA
is the only particularly interesting bit, given that toggling your flashlight or slightly lagged reloading and grenade tossing aren't particularly useful when they're already mapped to the controller and faster to use that way. Telling the game to "analyze" overlays a blue filter on your surroundings, with items you can scan (by saying "scan" - whoa) showing up in red tones, kind of like an infrared vision. Once an item, enemy, or person is scanned, it gets listed in a special library section, where you can read a blurb on the entry and move a render of the object in question around to take a closer look at it. Unfortunately, even this is only so great a distraction, as there are only forty-five entries to unlock, and most of them are pretty obvious. At least the game is kind enough to not highlight multiple instances of the same scan target once you've unlocked the entry for one, and it'll drop you right out of the mode if you come under fire.
What really sweetens the deal, which I already felt was worth the lower, $40 price tag, is the new map pack for Reach
's multiplayer that also comes on the disc. For those new to the Halo franchise or at least not into Reach
, these maps are all playable in their own playlists, with progress tied to Reach's existing rankings and acquirable goodies, as a sort of "first one's free" taste of the already booming Halo multiplayer scene. For those of you who're already Halo-heads and want to access the Anniversary
maps and their old-school physics and rules-bearing playlists without swapping discs, you can download the pack to your hard drive, allowing you to jump into the Anniversary
goods from your standard Reach
While my experience with the original Halo: Combat Evolved
's multiplayer was fairly limited (read: I played three games), having come into the franchise not all that long before Halo 2
was due, most of the rebuilt maps weren't tugging at fond memories, though they're all fairly servicable and it's not hard to see why they were chosen for updates. It was rather nice to see Battle/Beaver Creek get an overhaul, but what really grabbed me by the short and curlies was the return of Headlong, in the form of Breakneck. Headlong was practically my home away from home when it came to team-based matches; I pretty much earned a doctorate in alternating between snagging the Active Camo in the hallway off to the side and waiting for the inevitable rush attempt on it from the other team, or lurking just outside said Camo if said opponents were likely faster than me, before picking them off and rendering their mad dash completely worthless. The little touches hearkening back to ODST
, such as The Superintendent's visage gracing a billboard overlooking the war-wracked city, just add that much more, and I can't wait to romp through there on a more regular basis.
Also included is a completely new Firefight map, Installation 04, which is based on one of the beam emission stations on the Halo of that designation, and includes some extra UNSC Marines to give you a hand (read: get killed in the first wave, every time). Vehicle-friendly, the map gives you just enough room to drive around a bit without being overly expansive and prohibitive to foot travel, as trying to do full laps around Unearthed can prove. Being the Score Attack whore that I am (did you think I got to Legendary rank on the basis of actual skill?), I was glad to find a hidey hole in the form of a smaller room toward the rear of the level that contains an ammo rack and is only accessible from one door, which certainly doesn't hurt my opinion of the level, and there are fairly regular Banshee spawns off the cliffside to give you something to pop for bonus points.
All in all, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
is both a great trip down memory lane for Halo fans of the past, and a worthwhile experience for more recent fans who don't want to give up their current-gen graphics or the prospect of achievements in order to learn the series' roots. The game also does a nice job of pointing to the future, as it's been hinted by 343 Industries that the content of the Terminals is meant to bridge some of the gap betwixt Halo 3
and the forthcoming Halo 4
. Between the Terminals in this game and H3
, as well as the Datapads obtainable in Halo: Reach
, it seems almost certain that the events in this "second trilogy" will revolve around one or more Forerunner AIs, very possibly the ones that spawned the Monitor units such as 343 Guilty Spark and 2401 Penitent Tangent themselves. Despite the given superiority of Forerunner technology, I imagine even their artificial intelligences have a threshold for rampancy (madness), one for which any system that's persisted since the Forerunners' heyday has probably long since surpassed. One of the new Terminal sequences also has Guilty Spark pondering the Flood, the unknown nature of their origin, and the possibility that their original home may still exist somewhere out in the cold of space, which leaves the door open for those infectious, puke-green bastards to come back as well. At the very least, I hope they hold off on reintroducing the Flood for at least a game and a half, as I know I'm not the only one who's had their fill.
While not the greatest priority in the gaming world right now, what with Skyrim
(and some other okay games, I guess) already flooding the year-end market, Halo: CEA
is more than worth the investment once you've freed up some time and finagled your family out of some holiday cash.
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