Halo hasn’t just defined a generation of console shooters, influencing all that came in its wake. It’s not simply the epitome of a brand or the manifestation of a philosophy of console gaming. To millions of fans of the right age and console choice, Halo is their Star Wars. It’s sci-fi that has not only influenced the medium that it dominates – across all means of consuming it – but permeated the mainstream and stretched its influences out to the broader audiences of cinema, television and literature. Halo has been – continues to be – a phenomenon.
This latest release in the series is a celebration of the lasting power of the main Halo games. It packages up Halo: Combat Evolved’s Anniversary Edition, along with a similar treatment for Halo 2 and the Xbox 360 versions of Halo 3 and Halo 4, all multiplayer is touched up to run at 1080p and 60 frames per second, and all but Halo 2’s campaign mode runs similarly. They’ve even tweaked some of the lighting in the latter two titles, so as to spruce it up for this new platform, although that’s much more difficult to notice than the treatments they’ve given to Combat Evolved and Halo 2’s Anniversary editions, obviously.
The Master Chief Collection offers 45 campaign missions of modern sci-fi classic in one box and it is just about the best way imaginable of paying tribute to this behemoth of modern console gaming.
It’s possible to play any of the four games, and to jump into any mission within each game – sometimes even choosing a checkpoint to start from, right from the start. The Master Chief Collection is like a playable library of Halo.
I immediately started jumping around the games, looking for the missions that were most memorable to me. The opening missions of each instalment. The Arbiter mission from Halo 2. That bouncing, careening Warthog escape at the end of Halo 3. The introduction of the Flood. Classics like The Silent Cartographer or The Library, Gravemind or Floodgate. 343i is obviously well aware of the power of nostalgia around certain missions or mission types, as they’ve bundled together preset playlists that collect related levels from all four games to play by yourself or with a co-op buddy. They’ve even put together playlists that run all four games’ 45 missions end-to-end for a non-stop run through Master Chief’s story, from start to finish.
There’s an almost overwhelming array of options, all playable at any difficulty and with any combination of bonus-awarding skulls to turn on or off before you start that alter the gameplay to varying degrees. You might take a score boost for turning off aim assist, for example, or you might just want headshots on Grunts to cause a little cheer and confetti explosion. Each mission also has a “Par Time” and “Par Score” that you can try to beat – there’s a switchable option to have the score and timer on your in-game HUD. You can choose between traditional or tweaked controls for the earlier games and for the two anniversary editions present, you can choose to play with the original visuals (and sound mixing for Halo 2) – even switchable at any time with a press of the controller’s View button.
The remastering of Halo 2 is fantastic too. The in-game visuals are impressive, probably similar in quality to those of a decent Xbox 360 game, with slightly better lighting and particle effects. Firing energy weapons down a corridor is a neon-pulsing delight, for example. But the real star of the show are the cutscenes. Each one is a gorgeously rendered bit of CGI that is unrivalled anywhere on console – old generation or new.
It’s somewhat odd that Halo 3 is now the least attractive of the four games on offer, but in some ways that’s also an important part of this package. To see the difference between the classic look of Halo: CE or Halo 2 and its remastered version is interesting and impressive but it’s equally as interesting to note the leaps and bounds made between Halo 3, coming towards the beginning of its hardware generation, and Halo 4, which arrived at the end.
Just as comprehensive a resource is the wealth of multiplayer options within this package. There are 99 maps, from all four games. That’s 19 from Combat Evolved, 25 classic and 6 remastered from Halo 2, 24 from Halo 3 and 25 from Halo 4. Each can be played online and with local split screen and many are available for the Forge mode, which allows you to remix and edit maps. That isn’t available for the classic Combat Evolved maps but it does work with all 6 remastered Halo 2 maps, plus three new maps called Skyward, Nebula and Awash. Forge also works with all maps from Halo 3 and 4.
Theater mode is present too, allowing you to replay any of your multiplayer exploits and capture the action from any angle. The Xbox One’s GameDVR and Upload Studio should help avid Theater creators to easily get their proudest moments or most well-planned machinima online for us all to see too.
While it’s always difficult to comprehensively test online multiplayer before a game’s release, I spent a few hours exploring everything and playing offline in split screen modes without any issues, aside from finding the time to work through the sheer amount of maps and options. Matchmaking data struggled to download and it wasn’t always possible to jump right into the kind of game I was looking for, presumably because online populations were so low but joining via friends lists (custom matches) was possible and we can reasonably expect all the matchmaking to be up and running before launch.
You can create custom modes using the ones that were present in the original game. Combat Evolved gets all the maps that weren’t on console or released with the Anniversary Edition a couple of years ago, all the DLC maps are available where applicable too. Modes are all present and correct to each game’s history, as far as I can tell. Regicide is there for Halo 4, for example, with VIP in place for Halo 3 and Ricochet there for Halo 2. Halo 2’s 25 classic multiplayer maps are present and there are a smaller range of updated versions behind an “Anniversary” selection that all have upgraded assets and game engine, with new weapons and boosts that weren’t present in the original and aren’t in the classic multiplayer mode.
Many of the multiplayer modes have further delineated types of game within that mode. So that you can play basic Slayer mode or you can specify that you want to play it using only sniper rifles or Energy Swords or with active camouflage for everyone. You can even set it into specific team dynamics within the basic premise. There’s so much depth and such a wealth of choice that it is initially overwhelming but it seems to be a complete package which will doubtlessly appeal to the most ardent Halo aficionados as much as it will entice the less well-versed in the Halo universe.
Pre-release, the Halo Channel content was not quite functioning properly but this accompanying application is accessible from the game’s Extras menu and will eventually be home to the upcoming Halo: Nightfall series as well as plenty of videos on the Halo series of games. It should all come online with the Halo Channel’s launch on Monday 10th November but at present, there are options for Terminals from CE, 2 and 4 as well as a Halo 2: Anniversary Documentary and the exceptional remastered cinematics. This is the evolution of Halo: Waypoint though, so I would expect there to be much, much more after launch, with ongoing rollout of content too.
Also missing at launch are the Spartan Ops story continuation missions from Halo 4. This set of cooperative missions is due to be added to the package in mid-December, completing the content set for every main line Halo game to date.
The Master Chief Collection is a collector’s edition box-set for Halo fans. It features so much game content that it is, perhaps, the best value for money release we’ve seen for the latest generation of consoles but it’s more than just a bumper compendium of games from one of the best series of the modern age.
The Master Chief Collection is a lovingly pieced together, faithful collection of games that changed the industry and multiplayer modes that created a new way to play. The attention to detail is a delight and each game still holds up, especially with the remastering of the two older titles, so there’s potential for this release to introduce Master Chief to a whole new generation.
For those of us who have grown up with him, this collection feels more special than that: it feels like important preservation work that’s valuable for the whole medium, not just for this series.