Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review - Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Way, way back on November 15, 2001, a new entry on the console scene in the Microsoft Xbox released a title called Halo: Combat Evolved. The premise of the game pitted you as Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced super-soldier tasked with saving humanity. The concept of weapon/melee/grenade as a play style was relatively simple, but gave way to an incredibly intricate and more complex universe. The gameplay revolutionized the FPS genre on consoles, offering a galactic storyline mixed in with extremely advanced weaponry and frenetic multiplayer gameplay. Since that time, the Halo franchise has gone on to be one of the most popular and well-known franchises in the history of video games, preparing for its fifth installment next year. To fill that void of time between now and then, Microsoft and 343 Studios have teamed up to release Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Omnicomic was provided a copy for review by 343 Studios.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection includes the following games: Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4. Additionally, players will get access to the live-action digital series Halo: Nightfall and the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. It's definitely a treasure trove of just about everything Halo, bringing all the main entries in the series under the same proverbial roof. The four games provide access to 45 campaign missions and over 100 multiplayer maps, all of which are available to jump in and out of on a whim. If there's a particular stage on Halo 3 for instance that you're just itching to play, you can select it from the start, pick a difficulty and get to it.

Aside from the inclusion of all of Master Chief's exploits, all games have been remastered visually, now running at a crisp of 60 frames per second and a native resolution of 1080p (save for Halo 2: Anniversary, which runs at 1328x1080). Halo: Combat Evolved is based on the high-resolution remaster of the original released in 2011 for the Xbox 360 and Halo 2 got a similar upgrade for its anniversary. Halo 3 and Halo 4 are already in high-definition and received minor upgrades to push them to the new resolution and framerate. On both Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, players can press the Back button on the controller to toggle between the original graphics and the newly updated graphics. The change is literally night and day, with plenty of textures added and a general brightening of all the stages.

The "jewel" of the game's crown though has to be Halo 2 Anniversary. Besides getting the graphic overhaul, certain cut-scenes have been rejiggered by Blur Studios to further bolster the story itself. And there is something to be said for players who finish Halo 2 Anniversary and can go right onto Halo 3, not having to wait years to finish the fight--even though the ending still remains pretty controversial. Additionally, the game maintains its original multiplayer functionality, which is a welcome throwback to the days of Halo yore. Halo 2 arguably put Xbox Live on the map and really solidified the service as a legitimate contender for console matchmaking, so it's pleasing to see that the game maintains what made it so great to begin with. Six multiplayer maps also get the visual upgrade treatment (Ascension, Zanzibar, Lockout, Sanctuary, Warlock and Coagulation) alongside some minor geometry tweaks that impact the flow of matches in those maps.

If there's any complaints about the compilation, it's that the design flaws of both Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 Anniversary are on full display. Checkpoints are few and far between at times and playing either game through Legendary can get a little frustrating as a result. It would have been nice if 343 Studios offered a save anywhere function (or at least more frequent checkpoints), prevalent in many ROMs for similar reasons in terms of design. Understandably, there's a fine line between preserving the original out of respect and making modifications that improve the experience, but this is one that could have been traversed. Also, the exclusion of Halo: ODST and Halo Reach may turn a few players off. While some consider Halo: ODST to be something of an outlier in the franchise in terms of feel, Halo Reach has what is possibly the best multiplayer in the entire series. Their absence is understandable considering neither include Master Chief and likely size limitations, but it would've been great to throw them in for good measure.

Core games aside, there's tons of other content included as well. Forge is back, as is all the character customization you could possibly want. Multiplayer map lists can be made, allowing you to skip from one map to another across games and there are 4,500 achievement points ready to be harvested. Unfortunately, your previous service record doesn't seem to transfer over, but it gives you even more incentive to ploy through it all again. The menu for moving through the games and modes is very fluid, offering an intuitive structure that essentially drills down into where you're trying to get to for that particular game. And while much of the multiplayer matchmaking wasn't made available ahead of the game's release date, you more or less know what you're getting with Halo multiplayer.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for fans of the franchise. All the familiar pieces are there, some of which are loved and some not so much. It's a great collection for fans of Master Chief since it collects all his exploits to this point, although the $60 seems a little high all things considered ($40 may have been a much more attractive price point). Still, Microsoft is pitching this as an AAA title that sates the appetite until Halo 5 arrives in stores and it does offer a myriad of avenues for delving into the Halo universe. All of the favorite multiplayer maps are here, as are campaign stages and their accompanying choke points of frustration remastered in glorious high-definition. Giving Halo 2 attention is worthwhile, considering its importance to both Microsoft and online matchmaking in consoles. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is going to be a must have for devoted fans of the series or those who may want to revisit the golden days of endless hours of playing with friends; mainly, this applies those older players like myself who no longer have all the time we had in college to play.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is available now on Xbox One.


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