It’s hard to believe that ten years ago that the first Halo game was released. Every time a Halo game comes out I feel like this will be the time that I’m over it, it’s time to get cynical and call Bungie out for milking a franchise, and every time I get sucked back in and everything seems justified; and I was never even much for the mulitplayer! Now, with a repackaging of the original game it felt like it might truly, finally be my time to throw down the controller and say ‘enough is enough!" But damnit, I just can’t do it.
The package retails for an entry level budget plus the Halo-factor at $70, and includes the original campaign remastered, plus a code for the Anniversary Map Pack for Halo: Reach’s multiplayer offering, which can be accessed through the disc, but doesn’t provide any functionality with Reach’s regular multiplayer maps.
Halo’s campaign remains a classic. Despite the six games (granted, one of those was an RTS) coming out over the course of two generations of hardware, the formula of the first game has never quite been nailed like it was the first time. Perhaps it might be Bioshock 2 Syndrome, whereby the first impression and original ‘wow’ moment can never truly be replicated with the same result, but even ten years later, shooting it out with a couple of Elites and a handful of Grunts, or against larger groups of enemies in any one of the games many epic battles is still the most satisfying single-player experience that the Halo franchise has to offer.
There was a lot of denial from Microsoft when asked whether there’d be a remake of Halo 1, and my feeling is that the genius of Anniversary Edition is that it’s not a remake. It might arguable, or it could be just me splitting hairs, but Halo AE is a re-release of classic, and they’ve remastered some aspects. I’m not trying to talk it down, but the campaign is entirely playable in its original form, as press the back button toggles between the graphically upgraded version and the original, mud textured Xbox visuals. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come in ten years that the original looks so dated when compared in this way. The upgrade to the visuals are quite significant, but they don’t go so far as to overtake or even match the fidelity on, say, Reach, but it’s in large part due to the limitations of plugging some new graphics into an old engine. Sometimes there’s some jarring moments where the spiffy new visuals don’t quite marry up to the rather stiff animations, with crisp looking uniforms of marines in glorious HD, but still only the same number of joints as they did in 2001.
Multiplayer is a curious affair, with the obligatory coop over Xbox Live, which works great, but the versus multiplayer is all through the Halo Reach engine and a 1.2GB download with a code supplied in the box. There’s nothing wrong with the collection of classic maps like Headlong, Prisoner, Battle/Beaver Creak and others, but it’s pretty disappointing to not be able to play the original multiplayer just as you can with the campaign. The Anniversary playlist on Reach does attempt to make things ‘classic’ by giving you the memorable pistol and other tweaks, but it’s not the same, and it makes me sad.
Graphical improvements aren’t the only additions made to the campaign, the music has also been remastered, and some voice recognition commands for players that have Kinect available. With this, you can reload or throw a grenade by saying the appropriate command word, and this idea is about as bad as it sounds. The amount of time it takes to say either word might seem insignificant, but for grenades in particular, you could easily be back in cover by the time between you have the intention to throw a grenade and the Kinect recognises that final vowel. There’s an original feature in the form of an analysis overlay, which allows you to scan in items from the game world by saying "analyse" and "scan". This all gets added to a library (no, not “The Library”) under Extras in the main menu, where you can browse the 3D models and read lengthy background on each enemy variant and the various vehicles, weapons, and allies in the game. This can be browsed using Kinect gestures, but it has the same problem as the voice command grenades, where it’s competing with something already far more efficient.
The other part of the Extras menu is the videos you access from visiting the various terminals which have been added into the game, one per level. The videos themselves are about two or three minutes in length and of significant quality. As someone who purchased Halo: Legends for $15 and felt a little ripped off, these terminal videos go a long way to reminding me that the Halo lore is rich and detailed, worthy of fanboyism. There might have also been a little foreshadowing of what might be yet to come in Halo 4 in one of the videos, but I can’t be sure.
The Bottom Line
If you have fond memories of the first time playing through Halo: Combat Evolved, then Halo: Anniversary Edition offers a pretty comprehensive package for reliving those memories. Between the graphical upgrade, and the host extra content packed in there (I didn’t even mention that skulls have also been inserted,) there’s a good chunk of cool things to get sunk in to when you’re not busy reminiscing over the fall of Keyes, the unveiling of The Flood, and driving around in a warthog. On the other hand, if a big part of your Halo experience was the split screen or system link battles against your friends, and you never really managed to jump into the Xbox Live scene with Halo, you might have to bust out your old original copy and kick it old school for real.