Halo Anniversary Single-Player Campaign Preview
Note: In anticipation of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, our very own James Heaney completed a full video walkthrough of the original Halo on our YouTube channel. The catch: it’s at ultra speed. You’ll see.
Check out the multiplayer preview for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary as well.
Halo: Combat Evolved was not only the first real successful first-person shooter on consoles, but for many it was a defining social gaming experience of the early 2000s. Dragging your Xbox to a buddies house, connecting via system link and playing Halo split-screen on a couch (and sniping people with the insanely over powered pistol) is undoubtedly a fond memory many gamers share.
Ten years later, the original Halo is a game that’s perfectly suited for an HD remake. It’s a classic infused with a lot of nostalgia, but it’s also agressively not-HD, and you can’t play it online. So it should be no surprise that on November 15, 343 Industries will release Halo Anniversary–a completely remastered version of the original Halo, including HD graphics, remastered sound, new collectibles, Kinect integration, Xbox Live co-op and 7 new multiplayer maps, all for $40.
It is, I think, a no-brainer business decision for Microsoft (hey Square Enix: paying attention?), and also something I think fans want. Sounds great, right? After spending an afternoon playing Halo Anniversary, I can confirm that it is pretty great. It is what it is–Halo 1 in HD with a bunch of other good stuff thrown in.
Graphics, Gameplay & Sound
It’s striking how not-HD the original Halo is. I recently fired up the original game on Legendary, and seriously. It is standard definition, and it’s proud. It’s all purples, blues and muddy textures, on top of the incredible art direction, physics and AI that have helped the game age relatively well.
343 designer Chad Armstrong reminded me that, at the time, everyone was blown away: “It was like ‘Oh my god, everything has bump maps! Even all the walls have bump maps? That’s insane. Bump maps are the future. This is almost real.’ 10 years later it’s like, no it definitely looks like a video game.”
To help bring Halo: Combat Evolved into the future, 343 Industries chose a “don’t mess with it too much” mentality. “Everything looks very much like the original geometry,” Armstrong noted, “except there’s this added layer of density that just wasn’t possible before. It feels more like a natural transition as opposed to a remake.”
So basically, all the walls are in the exact same place, they just have fancier textures and geometric grooves. 343 have basically taken the skeleton of old Sean Connery and sewn 60s era Bond over the top of it. The result: it looks and feels very much like the original Halo game, just prettier.
But not as pretty as the prettiest modern shooters, you should know. Some of you may throw tomatoes at me for saying this, but calling Halo: Anniversary “HD” doesn’t mean the same thing as when people call, say, Crysis HD. Or even Modern-Warfare-2-HD. It’s in a different league. It’s widescreen, sure, and the graphics are clearly far superior to the original. To see for yourself, you can push “Select” to toggle between Classic (2001) and Anniversary (2011) graphics live in-game any time, which is a really cool feature in its own right. Just don’t expect this to be Halo 1 with Metro 2033 graphics. It’s not. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be, either, but let’s just make that clear.
This isn’t to say it doesn’t look way better than Halo 1, because it really, really does. Colors are richer; grass has a more realistic physicality; character models have more depth; stuff just doesn’t look as “flat” as it did in Halo 1. For example, In the level “Truth and Reconciliation” for instance, when you look up at the skybox you’re treated to a spectacular Halo Reach-like view of the moon. Enemy models, too, have been reskinned with the richer, higher-quality art assets from Halo 3 and Halo Reach. Elites look meaner and more modern than they did in the original game.
Despite this serious facelift, the gameplay of Halo Anniversary is definitely true to the original. So true, actually, that there’s really not that much for me to report. It’s exactly what you think it is–the Halo 1 you remember, in HD. This a big positive to 343′s “don’t mess with it too much” development approach. The AI is the same; the physics are the same; the whole skeleton of the game is the exact same, so Halo purists should take comfort.
343′s approach is a double-edged sword, though, and there are definitely a couple of unfortunate visual eye sores. Character lip sync during cutscenes was what I’d call “pretty bad” throughout the time I spent with it. Additionally, there are ocassional (but not frequent) clipping issues, where it appears that character models are standing inside solid structures. One instance of this in particular occurred on the level “Halo.” When a Covenant dropship unloaded a crew of Grunts, for a moment it appeared they had merged with the dropship. You’ll also probably notice some graphical choppiness here or there, but really these issues aren’t deal-breakers. It’s the game you know and love, and it looks great.
Not only do things look better, they also sound quite a bit better with remastered audio. Gunshots sound “bigger,” as each shot packs a meaner punch and reverberates off objects in the environment more realistically. It’s the kind of thing you might not notice if you weren’t listening, but just watch this video to see how much better the sound is. The pistol used to sound like a cap gun.
Click to page 2 for more on Halo Anniversary’s co-op, collectible skulls and terminals.