This was originally going to be a very different preview. See I played Halo back at EGX and was, to be honest, disappointed. More than disappointed really, in fact I believe I called it “broken” on several occasions. The fact that it was only the multiplayer was even more disheartening, given that it’s just running on the Reach engine. I shouldn’t see motion blur or find it exceptionally difficult to navigate when a games uses an already proven engine. If it was using the new engine that the single player uses, the one that lets you switch back to the graphics from the original, I would perhaps have been more willing to overlook the issues, but on Reach’s engine? No chance.
However, since then I’ve had a second crack at the multiplayer and have even cast my eyes over the vaunted single player campaign. At The Gathering his past weekend (the same place I saw Hitman) Halo Anniversary was on show again. After playing it there I take back every time I talked about the game during EGX and called it broken. I don’t know if the TVs at the expo were set up incorrectly, or if there was just a glitch in that particular build, but everything at The Gathering worked well.
Of course it’s not the multiplayer that’s really all that interesting. Yes, you can play it over Live now (Microsoft’s online offering didn’t exist when the Halo: Combat Evolved first hit shelves), but still it’s not that exciting. Anyone who’s played Reach knows perfectly well what it looks like and how it runs, it’s enough to say that what was at The Gathering looked and played well enough.
No the single player is what people have their eyes on with Anniversary and, with just over a month to release, it certainly looked impressive. The first, and possibly most surprising thing, you’ll notice is how well the original Halo engine holds out for a launch title on the original Xbox.
That’s not to say it looks amazing by today’s standards, it certainly doesn’t, but there are still artistic elements that made me smile; the aesthetic decisions Bungie made ten years ago still hold out now. I would like to sit and compare it against the original game, I do have a copy and an Xbox to play it on, but from memory it looks like 343 Industries have created a faithful port of Combat Evolved’s engine.
The difference between the two graphics engines.
What really shines though is the updated version of the original’s engine that 343 and Saber Interactive have put together. For those of you who have forgotten this engine not only lets you see how the game looked running back in 2001 but you can also run the exact same levels and gameplay with updated graphics. The difference between the original graphics and the updated version is already stark, but the ability to switch between the two on the fly really shows it. The original may still hold up now, but this update brings everything up to date without sacrificing any of Halo’s character.
It’s not just up-resed textures though, those seem common enough in updates of this kind; when you switch into the modern engine everything changes. There’s more particle effects, more plants around you, more… well more everything. It’s quite clearly the same map, but literally everything else changes when you hit that button.
The question is does Anniversary’s updated engine look good in its own right or only when you compare it against the original version of the graphics? With so little time seeing the game it’s hard to tell, but in my opinion it’s looking good. It’s probably not going to set the world on fire when it releases in just over a month, but it’s not going to be lagging behind the competition either.
The bigger point for me is do I care if it’s a world beater graphically? No. It’s seemingly Halo: Combat Evolved but looking far, far better than anyone could have imagined ten years ago. More than that it’s well… Halo, and yes I know I can download it from Xbox Live or sit down and play the ten year old version on the console it launched. There’s just something that feels special about what 343 Industries have done with Anniversary, and I really don’t want to wait a month for it.