Review: Halo Anniversary
The original Halo was a transformative moment in console gaming. It’s singlehandedly responsible for launching the Xbox as a platform, as well as proving the viability of Xbox Live. Bungie’s magnum opus has gotten a major facelift just in time for its tenth anniversary, and it’s still just as fun as you remember.
There’s very little I can say about Halo‘s gameplay that would be news to you. Master Chief, Cortana, Pillar of Autumn, Covenant, Flood, yadda yadda yadda. You know what Halo is and how it works. Most importantly, you know how it plays. And its trademark run-and-gun bliss has held up remarkably well in light of the more advanced shooters we enjoy today.
Halo Anniversary upgrades the experience with modern sensibilities, but does nothing to change the game’s perfectly balanced action. Its most clever conceit is the inclusion of a button that lets you switch between the Halo‘s original graphics and Anniversary‘s newness. I was surprised to find that my memory of the first game had evolved over the years as gaming technology advanced, to the point that the remastered graphics of Halo Anniversary are remarkably similar to what I remember. Of course, the new graphics are significantly different, they’re more crisp and detailed now, but my memory was far kinder to the old game than its reality.
Switching over to the old-school graphics (a process that’s not as instantaneous as the game’s trailers would have you believe — it takes a few seconds to fade out and fade back in) reveals imagery so primitive by today’s standards that it’s downright laughable to think back at how high-tech it seemed at the time. I thought beforehand that it might be fun to play through a level or two with the original graphics, just for nostalgia’s sake, but a few minutes was more than enough to have me switching back to the newfangled tech, just because it’s so doggone better looking.
Halo Anniversary is not a remake; it runs on the engine of the original game. So the feel of the game is precisely what you remember — the physics, the way the Chief moves, the pacing of the fights, the size of the locations, and placement of objects — it just comes in a shiny new package. But there’s more to Anniversary than upgraded graphics. Scenes are lit with movie-style cinematography, nicely heightening the drama. The musical score has been re-recorded with a bigger, fuller orchestra and some additional cues, though just like with the graphics, the game offers you the option to switch between the original score and the new, enhanced version. Sound effects have been upgraded as well. You can even play the game in 3D if you have a 3D-capable TV.
There’s no getting around how weird the human character models are when you first see them. They look more like real people now, but the transition is as jarring as a cartoon character suddenly being portrayed by a live-action actor. Their lips also seem to move with a peculiarity that leaves them lost somewhere in the uncanny valley. But Master Chief and the alien characters look great.
Another new addition is a series of mythology heavy, pre-rendered cutscenes that flesh out the backstory of the Forerunners, Halo, and Guilty Spark. There’s one of these polished scenes for every level, but they’re hidden almost like Easter eggs, and it’s up to you to find them. Some are easy to locate, others are almost diabolical.
A teeny bit of Kinect functionality has been added to the game in the form of a downloadable update. With Kinect, you can issue orders by voice for things like throwing grenades and turning on your flashlight. It’s sorta nifty, but still feels like an afterthought, and it’s in no way required to excel at the game. Multiplayer is a bit more hit-and-miss; some of the classic maps have held up with better balance and flow than others, though there’s one fun new firefight map included. The addition of two-player co-op over Xbox Live is extremely welcome, and can really change the overall dynamic of the game.
Bottom line: Halo Anniversary is a must-play for the series faithful, if only to get a second chance at besting it while putting your Xbox 360’s processing power through its paces. But if Halo never interested you before, this won’t change your mind. On the other hand, newbies might finally find this as their excuse to jump on board the Halo phenomenon.