Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review
The game’s multiplayer is also imperfect. HCEA includes new versions of classic Halo 1 and Halo 2 maps, created by series collaborator Certain Affinity. Surprisingly, these renamed remakes — Prisoner becomes Solitary, Headlong becomes Breakneck, etc. — all run in the Halo: Reach engine. You won’t, however, need a copy of Halo: Reach to play them; in addition to the two single-player engines it already ships with, HCEA includes a strange, hamstrung version of Halo: Reach.
As described in my Multiplayer Preview, HCEA’s seven maps preserve the distinctive architecture of Halo’s best-known multiplayer arenas, while adding sharper visuals, slight layout changes, and current-gen physics technology. One grenade I threw bounced back at me off a tree branch so thin that Halo: Combat Evolved wouldn’t even have bothered to depict it, providing an explosive reminder of the new game’s modern collision detection. Most of the time, 343 knew better than to change a good thing, leaving almost everything in place, right down to the weapon spawns.
Nevertheless, even if you select the “Classic” playlist, you’ll be constantly reminded of the fact that you’re actually playing Halo: Reach. Halo veterans who have returned after time away from the series will have to acclimate themselves to new weapons and new gametypes. Guns, especially the distinctive pistol, sound completely different — this is more disconcerting than it might seem. You can only carry two grenades of each type. Loadouts, a crucial feature in Reach, add some fun, unexpected dimensions to old maps — the use of jetpacks on the vertically oriented Prisoner/Solitary level quickly begins to resemble the kind of mid-air kung fu popularized by The Matrix. But If you’re hoping to replicate the glory days of System Link Halo fragfests, be prepared — a lot of HCEA’s multiplayer content will feel unfamiliar and strange.
The title also includes a brand-new map for Firefight, Halo: Reach’s version of the “try to survive escalating waves of enemies” mode which is now de rigeur in all AAA shooters. Entitled “Installation 04″ — alter ego of the first game’s eponymous, ring-shaped space station — the map charges you with defending a towering Forerunner structure, set on a majestic cliffside. It’s a fun challenge, and a clever extrapolation on the site’s singleplayer roots, which were almost a proto-Firefight. Halo veterans will recognize the area from “Halo,” the original game’s second mission, in which you have to defend the structure until the trustworthy Foe Hammer swings by to pick up some stranded Marines.
Microsoft is charging $39.99 for HCEA, which puts it about halfway between a full-length boxed title and a downloadable novelty. Gamers who also own a copy of Halo: Reach, however, can download all the remastered multiplayer maps for $15. This values the new singleplayer at $25, a steep price considering the fact that the backwards-compatible Xbox original is available for $2.00 + S/H on Amazon. As a corollary, this also means that the stunted version of Halo: Reach included on the HCEA disc is also worth $15. These mathematical gymnastics expose the game for what it is: an expensive bundle, marketed as a full-fledged title.
One wonders how the developers perceive their ideal customer. Halo super-fans will be interested, certainly, but will no doubt migrate quickly back to the more robust multiplayer options and higher populations provided by the Halo: Reach core game — if they don’t just buy the map pack and skip the new singleplayer content entirely. Nostalgic gamers looking to relive the early aughts might balk at the price-point, especially if they’ve got a copy of the original kicking around somewhere. Fresh-faced initiates are probably better off buying a full-fledged, cutting-edge AAA title to satisfy their FPS jones. Presumably no one in his right mind is that interested in throwing grenades using the Kinect voice controls (although if there is such a person, imagine having to be his roommate during a hectic game of King of the Hill).
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is an impressive technical accomplishment and a fitting tribute to a once-in-a-generation game. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t offer enough value for the money: the singleplayer feels too similar to the original game, and the multiplayer feels too different. Gamers love having their past experiences commodified and sold back to them (cf. 48 million Google hits for “Mario T-shirt”), but they should approach this title with some skepticism.
- New campaign visuals clearly a labor of love
- Bonuses for enthusiasts like new story content and hidden Skulls
- Xbox LIVE support for co-op and multiplayer
- Too expensive
- Short-lived appeal
- Singleplayer hasn’t been changed enough to distinguish it from the original
- Multiplayer has been changed too much, thanks to Halo: Reach
Final Score: 67/100