There is a reasonable argument that without Halo, the videogame world that we appreciate today might have been very different. Take Masterchief out of the original launch line-up and – barring a couple of well received racing titles – the original Xbox is left with questionable exclusives like Blood Wake and Fuzion Frenzy. Without the Spartan would Microsoft have made such a splash in the market? Would they have even dented the PlayStation juggernaut? And today would the 360 even exist? All points are moot but it speaks volumes that this week is celebrated as much for being Halo’s tenth anniversary as it is the Xbox’s.
Never one to miss a trick, Microsoft has had the original brought right up to date. Combat Evolved Anniversary has been showered with a Pelican full of high-resolution textures and sharp new character models that even the perennially grumpy Sgt Johnson could not find fault with. Whilst leaving the campaign true to that of a decade past, Saber Interactive have handled this remake with the utmost consideration to the fans.
Although “remake” is not entirely accurate; “port” would be closer to the mark. So keen were they on not damaging the experience that very little has been altered apart from the graphical sheen. Everything that you remember is there, from the floaty jumping to the beautifully overpowered pistol that’s as lethal at a hundred-yards as it is a point-blank range. Each set piece is present and every pitched battle intact, and rightfully so, as there’s nothing worse than a reimagining that smudges your rose tinted spectacles.
As such, you can see how Halo made its mark as its general combat still stands up even to modern levels of scrutiny. Given an open arena specked with odd pieces of cover, you and the Covenant will trade blows, each trying to get the jump on the other as the AI does its best to out-smart you. Warrior Elites will flank or bide their time, whilst their Grunt companions seem permanently in binary states of either charging headlong or retreating post-haste. The intelligence and tactical savvy displayed is still impressive and indeed remains more than a match for current shooters.
Playing an equal part in the sandbox warfare that Halo thrives upon is your extensive weapons cache. Very rarely has a game created such a tightly tuned arsenal, with each firearm having a unique role meaning that none are useless when deployed in the correct situation. From the shield-draining plasma pistol to the dependable and Flood-thinning assault rifle; the versatile and powerful pistol to the explosive potential of the Needler; each is distinctive in its approach. Throw enough projectiles at anything and eventually they will succumb, but knowing which tool to use in the heat of battle is the key. Even years on, there’s a sense of smugness that comes from draining a high-ranking Elite’s shield with an overcharged plasma bolt before one-shotting it between the eyes.
And with the introduction of the Flood, weapon choices become even more crucial as what works against the Covenant is rarely effective against these diseased, space zombies. The interplay between the two alien species is enough to not only introduce a very subtle and clever difficulty curve as you plot just how to tackle both sides simultaneously, but it also produces some of the finest organic set-pieces in gaming. From close quarters fighting in the corridors of the Pillar of Autumn or across a snow-covered field where mortar tanks rain fire down upon all and sundry, just settling back and watching your two enemies duke it out is a wonder. Seeing them attempt to employ the same sneaky stunts they pull on you, diving out the way of grenades or simply beating down Grunts with gleeful abandon, you observe the sandbox at its best.
Not all facets have survived the test of time so well, however. As engaging as the open expanses of the Covenant hanger bays and the wide pastures of Halo are, the inner corridors of each border on tedious. The middle levels – starting from the latter half of otherwise tremendous Silent Cartographer through to The Library – in particular suffer from a large amount of repetition, exacerbated further by their close-quarter nature. Later Halos have seen fit to allow breadth even if forcibly channelling the player, and leaping back so far in the evolution of the series you can see why as The Library still lives in infamy.
Most criticisms have obviously been addressed in later releases but, nevertheless, travelling back to the origins you can see how far it has progressed. Melee attacks are weak and feeble wafts of a gun butt, jumping feels as though you are doing so on the moon, and lack of boost on Ghosts is almost criminal. Combat Evolved is also brutally difficult. Even veterans, who will have softened over time, will cry in frustration at the sheer number of times they are blown up, beaten down, and generally schooled by the alien oppressors.
By comparison, there also exist modern-day problems, most notably in the retexturing of the environment where certain elements have been overworked. Although the world of Installation 04 is now gifted with greater colour and detail, certain visual cues have been made either far too subtle or lost altogether. Certain Flood infested corridors became a maze that I only escaped when switching back to the old graphics, whilst an overabundance of snow means at points a similar retreat to 2001 is required for anyone wishing to see more than five metres in front of their Mjolnir visor.
As a final nod to the current positioning of the Xbox, Kinect support has also been included. Able to activate a tactical view of the battlefield (akin to that seen in ODST) whilst also scanning weapons and creatures into to a virtual library, it offers a novel if not essential extra. Multiplayer too is included and sees an update, although this is through Reach’s already exemplary online execution being packaged on the same disc complete with classic map remakes.
The danger of going back to the classics of yesteryear is rudely discovering that they were very much a product of their time. To Halo’s huge credit it still stands testament with the vast majority of what it brought to a fledgling console ten-years ago. It’s easy to bemoan the niggles that were since ironed out in Halo 2 and beyond, but that the core gunplay and intelligent adversaries are unmoving in their ability to one-up shooters a decade its junior reveals what a legacy Bungie have left for Microsoft.