Review

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review (Xbox360)

After finishing the campaign of last year’s Halo saga prequel Halo: Reach, I was psyched for a remake of the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Though no plans had been announced by Microsoft the fact that the campaign concluded literally as CE began made a revisit to Master Chief’s debut seem all but inevitable.

This past June my wish was granted when Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was announced, scheduled to coincidence with the ten year anniversary of the original.

The classic campaign returns but a new coat of paint can’t cover up the signs of age

Sadly, my dream of playing through CE’s story with all the improvements of its subsequent sequels wasn’t realised. Under Anniversary’s hood sits Combat Evolved in all its dated glory. While pressing a button switches between the original ‘classic’ graphics and revamped ‘remastered’ graphics, the campaign plays identically to the 2001 Xbox launch game.

However, the original’s multiplayer has been ripped out and replaced with seven new maps for Halo: Reach based on classic Combat Evolved and Halo 2 arenas. But more on that in a bit.

There are a few minor tweaks and additions to the campaign that are worth pointing out. Firstly, the ability to play co-operatively with a friend via split-screen has been removed though you can still play together over Xbox Live with two copies of the game.

Terminals like the ones found in Halo 3 have been added. Though I’ve only managed to find one so far they contain brand new cutscenes featuring 343 Guilty Spark that fill out the trilogy back story and apparently allude to events in the upcoming Halo 4. The hidden skulls that have become a tradition for the series are also tucked away somewhere, bringing with them modifiers to increase the overall challenge level.

The remastered graphics for the most part are really nice. Textures and models have been completely recreated and some excellent lighting and graphical effects have been implemented. However, there are several inconsistencies when it comes to series continuity. Though Cortana maintains her post-Combat Evolved redesign, in other areas it seems like the developers went out of their way to conflict with the rest of the series.

Most glaringly obvious is the new look of the Halo structure itself which now has huge glowing sections exposed on its hull and odd looking borders around its edges. In general, the visual tone is a lot brighter and more colourful than the original. These might sound like nitpicks only a hardcore Halo fan would care about but the fact is they clash with series continuity and seem to go against the point of this remake - recapturing the spirit of the original.

The campaign’s sound is also hit and miss. While the developers were smart enough to keep the original voice acting intact, a lot of the sound effects have been tinkered with and the soundtrack re-recorded. While there is an option in the menus to switch back to the original music (the new versions don’t leave much of an impression anyway) there isn’t a way to restore the original sound effects. As such, the “classic” mode isn’t quite the Halo experience you remember it to be.

The package loses a great deal of value given the fact that the included Reach maps will be available for download on the very same day for only £10

It’s worth noting that I wasn’t able to experience a few elements of the Anniversary experience since they won’t be available until a planned day one patch. The most significant feature is support for Kinect allowing players to throw grenades and switch between the two graphical modes with voice commands. Using the Kinect function seems to be the only way to access Analyse Mode that sounds very much like a Metroid Prime scanning system where certain objects will add back story and lore to a readable database.

While the Kinect support, skulls and terminals could perhaps give Halo diehards a reason to keep coming back to the campaign, speaking as a series veteran I’m finding these small extras to be of very little interest.

New elements aside, Combat Evolved’s campaign is definitely showing its age. In stark contrast the immaculately paced shooters of today CE is slow going, forcing you to slog through dozens of repetitive enemies, which often keep respawning through monster closets or the use of drop ships, before allowing you to move on. Level design is often confusing due to repeating geometry, often lacking guidance and occasionally requiring you to backtrack through lengthy areas. These elements come to a head in the Library level which was notorious even back in the day for its agonisingly drawn out design.

CEA doesn’t have a true multiplayer component instead being bundled with the seven new maps for Halo: Reach. A version of Reach’s multiplayer comes on the disk allowing you to enter the Anniversary specific playlists. If you want to export these maps to the full version of Reach you’ll have to buy the game new to receive the necessary download code.

In a move that vastly detracts from the point of CEA, these maps are also being made available for download on Xbox Live on the same day and for about the third of the price.

The maps themselves are well made, reviving classic stages from past Halo games like Battle Creek, Hang ‘em High and Headlong. A remake of the little-known Timberland from the PC version of Combat Evolved is also included, finally making its way onto Xbox Live.

Let’s hope this isn’t a good indicator of quality for the Bungie-less future of the series

Probably the highlight is the brand new Firefight map called Installation 04. It takes direct inspiration from the second level of Combat Evolved’s campaign where you have to defend friendly soldiers against waves of oncoming Covenant – a highly appropriate influence given the Horde-like nature of Firefight. It’s just a shame that this is the only time you can really experience the original game with all of improvements of Reach’s game engine.

In the end, Combat Evolved Anniversary is a strange package. Its campaign feels half hearted, neither fully remaking nor preserving the original game. The Reach multiplayer maps, while excellent, feel tacked on to the package to attempt to justify this being a full disc-based release. It is retailing for less than the price of a full retail game (it's less than £30 at most online U.K. retailers) but unless you really can’t stomach the original’s dated graphics, I’d strongly suggest skipping this and simply downloading the Anniversary map pack instead. Save that extra £20 for something more worthwhile.

Best Game Moment: The excellent new Firefight map called Installation 04. A great throwback to Combat Evolved that gives a taste of what Anniversary’s campaign should have been.

Videos

Comments

By Paradoxed (I just got here) on Nov 14, 2011
Paradoxed
This review goes about it's business in as wrong of a way as I could ever imagine.

This is a remake of a game. You do know that right? This is not being passed off as a new installment in the series. I am truely skeptical this reviewer does not realize this.
Let us compare this game to other remakes: Sonic Generations, Pacman, MGS... all of these remakes practically were little more than the same exact product with HD textures. And yet they are reviewed well. This site gives SG an 8. So why is it that a remake that goes above and beyond is criticized as if it were called Hallo 4? Fans DID NOT WANT the campaign to be altered with. They wanted the same experience, with current gen graphics and remastered sound, and that is EXACTLY what this game provides. You can switch between both old and new visuals and score, but you still managed to complain about the remastered sound effects. And what does it matter if the MP maps are being co-released? I'm getting the same content, so how should it be reviewed differently?
There are reviews that I disagree with, and then there are reviews that completely miss the idea of what it is they are reviewing. This is one of those instances.
By BalancedEdge (I just got here) on Nov 15, 2011
BalancedEdge
Lets point out some misinformation in this review shall we? First off according to numerous other reviewers split screen co-op is still possible. Second, Forerunner structures have always glowed blue, and if more vibrant colours is a break of continuity then don't let anyone show you how Reach changed the wings on the Banshee. Third the soundtrack was rerecorded by Skywaler Sound, and having listened to it myself, it seems to pack even more punch. Fourth, for anyone who played the original consistently or enjoyed the days when speed halo (no not the Reach gametype) was big, the enemy spawning system makes perfect sense. Areas with wave based combat are designed that way and are wide open. Areas with linear design have linear spawning just like any other shooter, not particularly confusing. Fifth Timberland is not a "little known map" it was probably one of the most popular halo custom edition maps ever. Sixth, I suspect the biggest reason the map pack exists is so people who by the game used can still get the maps. Seventh, you, like every other reviewer completely ignores the Reach title update which changes numerous gameplay mechanics to create a more classic multiplayer.
Yeah, I'm a fanboy, but I love Halo, and though I will not judge your overall opinion of the game, seeing as my pre-ordered copy hasn't arrivved yet, I will have to play Skyrim until I can further flesh out my own opinion.
You say Anniversary is a strange package, and yet I find your review the strangest package of all.
By rockinshogun (I just got here) on Nov 15, 2011
rockinshogun
Were you high when you wrote this? This reads like the writing of an angry middle school student. You may think that statement is an exaggeration, but I teach grade 7-8 and I read papers that sound like this nearly every day.

Not only is it poorly written, but it is also poorly reasoned. Also that first paragraph: "Sadly, my dream of playing through CE’s story with all the improvements of its subsequent sequels wasn’t realised," (with realized spelled wrong), are the ravings of a madman. Where have you been for the past year? Do you not write about games? It was made clear early on that it was going to be the exact same game! How would it be possible to press a button and switch between the classic game and new graphics on the fly if the graphics, geometry and gameplay did not remain identical? After all the remakes with updated graphics of the Sly Cooper, Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, God of War and The Team Ico games, why would you even expect something different? The improvements in this game even go above and beyond anything in those. The addition of modern net code for co-op and significantly overhauled graphics at the same price point as opposed to those collections with near-identical graphics that are essentially rendered at a higher resolution really bothers you? Are you completely out of touch with the state of the industry? I'd get if you agreed with it, but you didn't even address it. You merely state that it isn't what you, personally, (and irrationally) wanted. Is something broken in your head or are you a child?

Also, I personally believe that the game holds up, but that's a matter of opinion and I can understand differences of opinion, but many of the statements in this article go beyond matters of opinion and sit in the realm of sheer incompetence.
By BigKush (I just got here) on Nov 15, 2011
BigKush
Nothing like the angry tears of fanboys to start one's day. The paragraphs of butthurt are almost as long as the review itself. As for shogun, I'd have grave concerns for the students you supposedly teach - because you're commenting at a 5th grade level.
By bob_the_builder (I just got here) on Nov 15, 2011
bob_the_builder
@rockinshogun, I signed up just to say this to you...

You teach children?

Really?

Realised is the correct spelling of the word, as written in the Queen's English. Realized (with a z) is the bastardised American spelling of the word.
As for your accusations on poor writing; try using a new paragraph to indicate to the reader that you are expressing opinion or addressing a point that differs from the text that precedes it. Your monotonous rant was a chore to read.

Also, one would consider direct questions to be worthy of their own paragraph.

I am saddened for your country, in that you hold such great a responsibility as to educate its children.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 20, 2011
SirRoderick
Are the first three clone accounts? Cause they sure as hell seem like it. It's the only comment made for all three of them.

Anyway, personally I think this is one of the more honest reviews I've read. Nearly all of the others basically say 9/10, cause it's Halo. This might be overshooting a bit to the low side, but at least the flaws come up!

And I should also make the point that remakes don't get special rules.

EDIT
Ok, all the guys above me have only posted one comment. that's just weird.