343 Industries is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Halo 2 in a big way - giving fans not only a remastered version of Halo 2 for the Xbox One, but every single one of Master Chief's adventures in one special collection.
Originally released for the original Xbox in 2004, Halo 2 was a massive success for Microsoft and Bungie, with acclaim from both fans and critics. The game quickly became the top-selling game for the original Xbox, selling at least 6.3 million copies in the United States alone.
343 Industries partnered up with several studios to transition Master Chief's story to the Xbox One in preparation for their next installment, Halo 5: Guardians. After the success of remastering Halo: Combat Evolved ‐ Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity were called back to remaster the Halo 2 campaign and multiplayer sections respectively. Blur Studios was also called to redo the cut scenes, completely retelling the story in a more cinematic perspective.
As aforementioned, this collection sees every single Master Chief story coming to Xbox One ‐ with Scottish studio Ruffian Games handling the transition of Halo 3 and Halo 4 from Xbox 360 to the new console. The collection is filled with a lot of extra content that will no doubt, keep fans interested until Halo 5's release.
In this review, we won't be covering every single aspect of the collection, but will largely be focusing on Halo 2 Anniversary ‐ more specifically the remastered features ‐ and the extra content included in the collection.
So, does the remastered Halo 2 recapture the nostalgia? Also, do the new additions to the remastered experience fit in with the Collection? Well, there is only one way to find out.
WARNING: This review might contain spoilers.
There's enough Halo goodness in The Master Chief Collection to please every fan of the franchise ‐ from the Campaign to Forge. But let's be honest, the main reason why fans would purchase this would be the Anniversary edition of Halo 2.
Following in the footsteps of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, 343 Industries have partnered up with Saber Interactive to remaster the campaign for Halo 2 for the Xbox One. Almost everything has been revamped. The visuals, music and sounds have been re-worked, taking full advantage of the power of the Xbox One. The weapons sound more beefier and intimidating. Also, the remastered soundtrack is much more atmospheric ‐ giving a real sense of wonder, excitement or just feeling badass as rock music plays when flying the Heretic Banshee in 'The Arbiter'.
The remastered soundtrack is much more atmospheric ‐ giving a real sense of wonder, excitement or just feeling badass
Like the Anniversary edition of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 Anniversary lets users switch back and forth between the original and remastered versions. The two engines run simultaneously and, thanks to the hardware of the Xbox One, switching between the two is instantaneous ‐ as opposed to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary on the Xbox 360, which took quite a while to switch. Thankfully, this isn't an issue anymore in the Xbox One version.
Halo 2 Anniversary also sees all the campaign cutscenes remastered by Blur Studios, and they look phenomenal. The characters are brought to life, bringing a new perspective to the campaign, and differing greatly from the classic cutscenes. With cinematic panning shots and a greater level of detail in each character and their facial expressions, these cutscenes make the characters more emotive and relatable. Especially Cortana, whose appearance in the cinematics are on the verge of the uncanny valley. Even the smallest of characters, like a grunt, exhibits some personality. While I still enjoy the classic cut scenes, the ones produced by Blur make it really hard to switch back.
My most memorable missions from Halo 2 were Cairo Station and Metropolis, and experiencing them again with the polish of Saber Interactive and Blur brought back positive feelings of nostalgia. While the textures and objects have been beautifully redone in campaign mode, I found that in some parts where the classic textures were more superior in terms of visual design and creating a feel for the environment. I also felt that the remastered version seemed to put a lot of emphasis on the music, drowning out the classic sounds when you switch.
As well, as much as I enjoy playing through each mission to see the next cinematic, the gameplay in Halo 2 appears to be the most bland out of the four titles ‐ making me realise how much of the story in Halo 2 just flew over my head. I see that as a good thing, as Halo 2 Anniversary lets me revisit the campaign to get a better understanding of it.
Halo 2 Anniversary's multiplayer feels like a completely different experience
The other integral ‐ and arguably, the most iconic ‐ part of Halo 2 was the multiplayer experience. Back in the day, it introduced new gameplay mechanics such as dual-wielding and vehicle hijacking to the franchise, and created a more dynamic style of play. After working on various Halo map packs, the responsibility of remastering Halo 2's multiplayer mode for the Xbox One fell to Certain Affinity.
Under their hands, the Halo 2 Anniversary's multiplayer feels like a completely different experience. It combines familiar and brand new concepts, working together to create a very unified Halo multiplayer experience. It reintroduces the arena-style gameplay that fans know and love, while the maps are beautifully designed and captures the essence of the original maps - from the abandoned feel of Lockdown/Lockout, to the ancient atmosphere of Shrine/Sanctuary. As well, like the remastered campaign, multiplayer has jaw-dropping vistas that really immerse players into the game.
If you're an old fan or a recent convert to the Halo franchise, they have done a great job in trying to appeal to everyone. Giving fans a choice between a cinematic retelling or the classic visuals for the campaign, two different Halo 2 experiences, and even features like Forge and Theater.
One of the massive changes you will notice is the interface. All four games in this collection are tied by one single UI ‐ allowing players to easily switch between dozens of campaign missions, hundreds of multiplayer maps, and thousands of options across the four games. The UI is fairly easy to navigate, with the only downside being that the individual menu screens are no longer accessible.
All the campaigns can be played individually, letting you configure the skulls, scoring and time settings ‐ if you want to do a speed run or place on the leaderboards. You can also play them in a set playlist of curated (not user customisable) campaign missions from the four games, specifically designed around a story theme or game element. In other words: if you love playing missions with the Warthog or Scorpion, or you just like killing the Flood or the Prometheans ‐ there will be a playlist for you. For those who are really looking for a challenge, there is a LASO (Legendary, All Skulls On) playlist which includes all missions spanning from Halo: Combat Evolved to Halo 4 - good luck!
The four games are now running in 1080p at 60fps. But while Halo 2 received a massive overhaul, the rest of the games in the collection received minor tweaks in their graphics and performance to take advantage of the Xbox One's hardware. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is much faster, especially when switching between the classic and remastered version. Meanwhile, both Halo 3 and Halo 4 had changes to lighting and rendering. I also did notice that Halo 4 suffered from fewer frame drops during campaign.
One of the biggest announcements of E3 this year was that The Master Chief Collection will include all the classic multiplayer experiences and will ship with over 100 maps ‐ including all the maps from Halo 3, Halo 4 and the PC versions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. All the experiences are preserved, and you can easily switch between the old and new games, or join a mixed playlist. For example, if you are not interested in the remastered Halo 2 multiplayer, you can easily switch to a classic Halo 2 online playlist. Or, if you enjoy games like SWAT, there is a playlist that includes all versions of SWAT from Halo 2 to 4 - which is pretty neat.
All the classic multiplayer experiences... are preserved, and you can easily switch between the old and new games
In writing this review, the multiplayer servers were not available. However, I was able to party up with several 343 Industries employees and play on some of the Halo 2 Anniversary's maps and gametypes. The gameplay was very familiar and insanely fun. One gametype in particular we played on was Gungoose CTF, a Capture the Flag variant where players spawn on Gungooses, resulting in chaos as you race for the flags and hunt down other drivers. Like all multiplayer games, being in a party is the best way to experience Halo's multiplayer. Even in the sessions with 343 Industries, the light trash-talking and overall enjoyable atmosphere just made me love Halo even mode.
For those who are concerned with the the classic multiplayers, I was able to play local Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, and they both play and feel great, retaining some glitches and button combos. However, I did have some problems trying to execute some of the super-bounces.
Customising your player is made simpler, letting you configure your appearance for each title, with the later games having more custom options. As well, you can also edit your emblem, the avatar that will be shown on your Halo profile, service ID, clan tags, and name plates. I noticed during the customisation that some of the emblems have been resized, with some of my old classic emblem configurations not working. It is a minor annoyance but may affect a lot of players. As well, your armour in Halo 3 and Halo 4 is not completely customisable, limiting you to armour sets as opposed to changing individual armour pieces. It is a little disappointing, but at least we get access to special armours like Halo 3 Recon and flaming helmet and Fotus amour.
Halo 2 Anniversary will get its own Forge as well ‐ and I believe it is the best Forge mode to date.
Other favourites, such as Spartan Ops and Forge, are also included in The Master Chief Collection. For the uninitiated, Forge is a level creation and editing tool that allows you to create your own maps, While the Forge modes in Halo 3 and Halo 4 remain the same, Halo 2 Anniversary will get its own Forge as well ‐ and I believe it is the best Forge mode to date. Adding new items to the sandbox like the Golden Warthog, Heretic Banshee and even an infected energy sword! It evolves from the Halo 4's Forge Mode by reworking some of the building mechanics and adds new features like dynamic and interactive elements, resulting in some awesome Race and Infection variants. I'm really excited to see the maps and gametypes that come out of the community. Spartan Ops, on the other hand, will not be available on launch but is scheduled for release in December via an update.
The Master Chief Collection comes with three notable extras: Halo: Nightfall, access to the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, and the Halo Channel.
Produced by Ridley Scott, Halo: Nightfall is a five-episode miniseries that will serve as a lead-in to Halo 5: Guardians with one of the characters, Agent Locke, connecting the miniseries to the game. It tells the story of a group of operatives from the Office of Naval Intelligence as they investigate and try to stop a terrorist threat. The first episode was not available to us when reviewing the collection.
The Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta will debut on December 29, designed to give fans a taste of what to expect in the new direction for Halo 5's multiplayer, as well as collect valuable data and feedback for 343 Industries to create the best multiplayer experience they can. Meanwhile, Halo Channel is the place to rewatch the cinematics and terminal videos from the games, and watch other Halo-related content produced by Microsoft, including Halo: Nightfall, Halo documentaries and behind the scenes videos. There are also a handful of other extras like the leaderboards, service records and the file share system that will surely be more active once the game releases.