The master of remasters
Although Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was a noble effort to remaster the original game that brought first-person shooters on consoles into a post-Goldeneye era, I couldn't help but feel a bit underwhelmed by the overall package.
I enjoyed the idea of replaying the original, but there weren't enough bells and whistles to keep me interested for a lengthy period of time. Enter the Master Chief Collection, which not only gives you the remake of the first game, but a fully-featured remaster of Halo 2, as well as Halo 3 and 4.
I never thought I'd see the day when four major Halo games are under one roof [disc], but here we are. With promises of full 1080p support and 60 frames-per-second across every game, Halo: The Master Chief Collection follows through where it counts, and is now the new standard for remakes.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One)
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release: November 11, 2014
After booting it up, Halo: The Master Chief Collection gives you the keys to the kingdom right off the bat. Instantly accessible are all four campaigns (with local or online co-op), multiplayer, and the extras menu. The latter includes all of the Halo TV content, a spot to change online profile settings, and the Forge and Theater modes. That's, well, that's a lot of stuff to sift through, so let's start with the campaign, shall we?
From the start, every single mission is unlocked. While this sounds like a small caveat, it's actually a very welcome mechanic that will allow long-time fans to skip their least favorite levels and get right into the good stuff. Also, the game's larger cutscenes can be viewed in the mission select menu to easily rewatch later. That's something most will probably want to do that over and over for particularly special clips such as the brand new remastered Halo 2 FMVs.
While the original Halo doesn't look as good as its successors even with the resolution upgrade on the Xbox One, there's no denying that it's a timeless classic. From its memorable campaign to some of the best multiplayer maps of all time, Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that people won't stop talking about for decades. It was a joy to replay the campaign again, marveling at the toggle between "old" and "new" visuals, which is instantaneous in Master Chief Collection. For those that have never played a Halo game before, the campaign still holds up, and the silky smooth framerate will no doubt alleviate any concerns that this has become too dated.
Halo 2 is the golden boy of the package though, and it is fully remastered beyond the capabilities of what 343 Industries did in 2011 on the Xbox 360. The most dramatic effect is the completely redone cutscenes -- a night and day difference when directly compared to the original game's in-house visuals. When I first replayed the campaign, I was utterly confused as to what I was watching until I pressed the Back button and realized just how incredible the upgrade was.
That jaw-dropping effect carries over into the regular campaign, which is even more fun than the original in some respects. This is thanks to the addition of the memorable Arbiter character, and a greater look at the overall lore and races of the Halo universe. Halo 2 took the concept of the Ringworld device from Combat Evolved and expanded the galaxy tenfold, and it was a pleasure to relive the experience yet again.
On the other hand, Halo 3 is my least favorite of the core games. It basically took what Halo 2 did in terms of raising the stakes off of one location, but it lacks a lot of the surprise and charm from the second go-around. This is definitely one story that I skipped around a lot, foregoing specific missions that were either too tedious or not inspiring enough to replay. Where Halo 3 really shines is in multiplayer, as it features some of the best maps in the series. The brilliance of Master Chief Collection is that it allows players to simply watch the story scenes and skip right to Halo 4 if they want.
Although it was polarizing at release, I can definitively say that Halo 4 still holds up for me. The stark shift to the Forerunner conflict was a huge breath of fresh air, especially after Halo 3. This switch is particularly evident after playing the first three titles back-to-back, and I think people will appreciate the unique aesthetic and playstyle of Halo 4 more after experiencing them together. While I'm okay with the omission of the disappointing Halo: Reach, ODST would have made this package even more amazing. But, the sheer quality of these four games, whether it's by way of their campaigns or multiplayer maps, stands on its own.
Master Chief Collection is presented in such a way that everything is linked through one menu that can be accessed from within any game. This is where universal options can be tweaked, but it also allows for specific customization to any given title. Love inverted controls for Halo 1 but hate them for Halo 2, 3, and 4 for some reason? That can be altered permanently. Fancy using the Call of Duty style right-analog click for melee in every game? That can be switched to apply for every game. There's also the ability to auto-mute everyone in multiplayer as a default, and to set online avatars for each game. This amount of customization is not only welcome on a console, but mostly unprecedented.
The individual campaigns are each impressive in their own right, but multiplayer's where most will find themselves spending most of their time. After all, that's the thing that's going to keep everyone playing for more than a few weeks. With all of the claims and promises, I'm pleased to say that 343 Industries didn't take a half-measure with this collection in terms of preserving the original Halo experience; this is definitive. Hell, even the levels from the PC version of the original Halo are included in all their glory.
For anyone that had a classic moment with any core Halo game, it can be relived here. There are playlists upon playlists: Capture the Flag, King of the Kill, Oddball, Races, Infection, Flood -- it's all there. Not every gametype is playable in every title, but if it was in the original, it's in that respective list. In the sessions I had, online play was very smooth, and each game had their own authentic signature style without feeling too jarring jumping from one game to the next. The matchmaking system is set to go live next week and will feature the Trueskill ranking system from Halo 2. We will update with a report of how things are going during launch week.
Since Halo 2 is getting the royal treatment, it also has a small selection of completely remastered maps which employ a vastly upgraded visual style that is accessible from a different playlist. While the maps are a visual treat, this is essentially my only major problem with Master Chief Collection. Not only did 343 not take the time to remaster every map in the game, but it's also confined to a different section. It's an odd decision, as the isolation goes against the concept of cohesiveness that the Master Chief Collection sets out to accomplish. Making matters worse, the actual list is less exciting with such a small pool of maps.
Another relatively underwhelming extra feature is the "Playlists" section from the main menu. This boils down to a hand-picked selection of campaign missions that fit certain themes, like "daring escapes" and "vehicle heavy" levels. The only bright spot with playlists is the cross-game capability, which lets players experience similar stories across multiple titles. It would have been more impactful if all of these levels were heavily modified in some way to make them worth playing again, but fortunately, it doesn't detract from the overwhelming amount of content in the core game.
Digging through the menus, the features go on and on. Forge is back for every game outside of Halo: Combat Evolved. With the new visual updates it's easier than ever to craft new modified versions of favorite levels. Theater is equally great, as it allows rewatching of past matches and the option to find new ones online. Lastly, Halo TV is integrated, as is the Halo Nightfall series, the Halo 5: Guardians beta, and Halo 4's Spartan Ops mode -- all of which aren't live at the time of writing. The prospect of completing the whopping 4,000 Gamerscore will also terrify and excite hardcore fans.
While I think I would have given up playing a Halo 2 remaster on its own after a few months, The Master Chief Collection will keep me busy for quite a while. The sheer number of maps, variants, playlists, and rulesets will keep me interested for months on end. I can already envision myself joining groups of friends who only like particular games, forming separate communities within the collection. Not only that, but this is also the perfect way to replay each campaign if I ever get the itch instead of finding multiple discs. This is the new gold standard for remakes. Well done, 343 Industries.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection reviewed by Chris Carter
A hallmark of excellence. It may have some flaws, but they are negligible to what is otherwise a supreme title.
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