There was a time before the First Person Shooter genre was oversaturated, a time in fact when people didn’t believe you could do an FPS on consoles at all. Then along came Halo and changed shooters on consoles forever. Easily one of the greatest launch titles ever released, Bungie’s masterpiece has pioneered shooters into the golden age we still see today. Ten years later, Microsoft have decided to update the game in HD with a proper overhaul with a new graphics and engine. Does this upgrade keep the distinguished shooter intact or does it feel like a different game entirely?
Right away, it has to be said that Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary has aged very gracefully. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve played the campaign dozens of times over the last ten years, it could be easily mistaken for a game being released in 2011. What’s more remarkable is the fact that even today it remains as one of the best shooters released this year; in regards to story, gameplay, and level design. The game is so perfectly paced and thrilling that I finished the 8-10 hour campaign in just two sittings.
The game begins on the Pillar of Autumn, which if you have played the original 10 years, will feel like a homecoming. Seeing Master Chief emerging from the cryo-chamber in HD is every bit as exciting as the original. After The Pillar is attacked you make your way down to the surface of the alien world Halo. The second level is open, vast and beautiful, wanting exploring to see what’s over those mountains or in the small tunnels, it all begs to be discovered.
As you drive around in the warthog you should realise just how different the level looks and feels to the first one which was tight corridor shooting and an urgency to get off the ship alive. That’s what made Halo so amazing to play. The game features just 10 missions but within those missions you will drive in vast greenery, snipe stealthily in the dark, storm a beach, travel deep within a control room, be led by a blue lighted A.I. through a never-ending maze called “the library”, return to where you began and ultimately drive for your life in one of the most thrilling final levels in gaming.
Every level offers something new, and each mechanic is brought in brilliantly; with the variation in levels really keeping things feeling fresh. On top of that major plot points and twists were executed brilliantly. The level when the flood is introduced is a perfect example of building suspense in an action-packed shooter; even the twists are well produced.
Microsoft didn’t just want to upscale the game in HD and add slightly better textures and call it re-mastered. Instead, a whole new engine was built to be put on top of the existing one and the result is really impressive. The game isn’t as visually impressive as Halo: Reach but it is surprising to see just how much they could add to the game while making it look and feel the exact same as it did ten years ago.
Probably the best feature is the back button. Pressing this button will switch between the old engine and new and it is easily one of the most impressive features I’ve ever seen in a game. This button shows the progress of games in just a decade, but the gameplay feels just as relevant now. The new graphics actually enhance and make the game play even better. Levels like “The Library”, and “The Flood” actually look better and stops you from getting lost or bored.
There is two major new features however and that is in the form of terminals and hidden skulls. These terminals are hidden throughout the game, and offer insight in 343 Guilty Spark, the halos and the future of the game series. There are cryptic, but lengthy, and really make next year’s Halo 4 even more enticing. The other main feature is hidden skulls. The skulls are usually hidden off the beaten-track and offer nice little variation to the game that wasn’t available in the original.
The soundtrack is as beautiful as ever and rises and falls at the perfect time. Every note fits perfectly and captures the mood of the level and gameplay. Voice acting does the job perfectly and the humour of the grunts are just as funny as ever.
Timeless classic isn’t something heard much in games but what this game does is prove that the original Halo is genuinely a timeless classic and is still one of the best campaigns ever released. The final sequence is still a treat and the alien word of Halo is still just as captivating as it ever was.