Do you remember 2001? What a year; it felt like the future had arrived, despite the lack of hover cars.
Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter began their ownership of cinema goers’ hearts, Russell Crowe dominated the Oscars, we saw the launch of Wikipedia and the death of George Harrison. Fittingly, then, it was also the year Halo was released.
Halo Combat Evolved was, I’m told, a revelation in console gaming. It became so popular that it was declared by many in gaming as the Xbox’s first must-have title, kick-starting the franchise that would propel the Xbox brand into super-stardom.
Now, 10 years later, it’s time to revisit this ancient classic with Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary (CEA). Yes, it’s a remake.
Normally I’m not a fan of remakes, but Halo CEA is more of an education than a remake. It’s a Halo education. Did you know games used to be much, much harder in the past? They did. The further back you go, the more difficult they get. They do! Try playing through Mario 3 again but this time without trying to punch your TV.
Halo CEA is a temperamental first person shooter, dripping in the Xbox 360’s now standard high-definition graphics. It’s a paced, long, plot-heavy game punctuated with a slightly clichéd, video game-typical back story that, even the most hating of Halo haters would admit, has been highly influential.
In the far future, when humans are out populating the galaxy, a huge ring in space is discovered. This ring, or ‘Halo’ is apparently very powerful and the Human race needs to stop its enemies, the evil and highly religious Covenant, from uncovering this power first.
You are the Master Chief, who is (amongst) the last of the Spartans – a questionably-bread army of super-duper mega-soldiers; taller, faster, wiser, manlier than normal Earth soldiers.
Details are a little hazy after that. There’s something about sentient artificial intelligences and the Master Chief is some kind of last hope.
Regardless, you have to shoot your way through fields and corridors (with emphasis on the corridors) until you stop the covenant from doing whatever it is they’re doing. It’s a Nolan-style approach: the more complicated it is the cleverer it is.
Games like the Halo titles work on two levels; you like the story or you’re not bothered by it. Halo CEA plays the same as its offspring; controls, mission objectives, level design, these are now standard throughout the franchise. They’re solid and logical making Halo CEA easy to get into but perhaps only for Halo fans.
If you’re new to the whole Halo thing, start with Halo Reach – the plot will make more sense and it’s a far more forgiving gaming experience.
Halo CEA still plays like a 2001 title, influenced by old school games. There are huge gaps between checkpoints and you spend most of your time surrounded by giant metal walls blasting varying mixtures of aliens to progress.
If anything, it’s a testament to how much games now pander to the weak-minded, lazy gamer or, if you prefer, how games have evolved their challenges beyond simple level progression and boss fights. It’s a frustrating title, far more so than Reach and it’s long. So, so long.
Yet these are testaments to what Halo has done for console gaming and grown as the Xbox’s Alpha first person shooter series. If nothing else, Halo CEA proves how well evolved this gaming franchise is.
Crucially, this is the first Halo title to be developed by 343 Industries before next year’s Halo 4 and not the award-winning, franchise owning Bungie who gave up all things Halo to work on new titles. They’re probably sick to the back teeth of all the Spartan this and Master Chief that.
Still, 343 Industries should be commended. They haven’t tinkered too much with what made Halo so popular, even with the addition of lobbing grenades by shouting at your Kinnect sensor.
It’s a pure conversion that, had Bungie done this instead, would have had a number of charming executive decisions thrown in to bring Halo CEA properly up to par with its successors, changing the original just enough to make it different. Something only Bungie could do with its matured sense of gaming humour and its over-familiarity with the franchise.
343 were wise in changing pretty much nothing but the presentation. This is apparent in the multiplayer especially. Halo CEA comes with a slice of Halo Reach multiplayer, giving you a bunch of new maps based on this updated classic populated with the armour, physics and game modes of Halo Reach. Genius.
You don’t need Halo Reach to play this, it’ll just give you more playing options if you do. The last thing us Halo fans need is to waste time ranking up all over again upon every release. That’s what Battlefield is for.
Thankfully, Halo CEA is an unhampered slice of gaming past presented for fans that have shown loyalty with their wallets and dedication with their free time. Please, though, don’t play Combat Evolved Anniversary if you’ve never loved a Halo game before now.