Ten years since the launch of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, and ten years since developers Bungie set the scene for a redefined console first-person shooter (FPS). A generation prior, RARE had proved that console FPS videogames could compete on an equal footing to their PC brethren, and on the original Xbox Bungie kicked-off a movement that saw console gamers claim the FPS genre as their own. Ten years has since passed, and the face of the FPS genre has changed dramatically since.
Sadly, in this re-mastering of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, we can see just how much the genre has progressed, and how far behind this ten year old production is. As much as 343 Industries – the new curator of the Halo franchise – has attempted to seal up the cracks, there’s no denying that Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary feels like a decade old videogame, and is not presented with the same nostalgic sense of pride as Duke Nukem Forever or the Nintendo 3DS remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Back at the beginning of the now global franchise, Master Chief was a faceless hero without any preconception. Of course, he’s still faceless, but Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s attitude towards its protagonist is arguably one of the most endearing aspects of the videogame. Simply placing the player in this husk and telling them that within it they will fight back the enemy invaders and save mankind was enough. The bigger personalities of Cortana, Guilty Spark and Keyes are left to push along the plot, with Master Chief reserved almost solely for the action sequences.
The gameplay takes place as successive bouts of combat between the wide open spaces and tight corridors that we all know and love, and while the open plan areas provide room for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary to throw more enemies at you at once than the original Halo: Combat Evolved, aside from a bit of minor weapon tweaking, this is the only detectable technical upgrade concerning the gameplay. The dramatic sequences in which the player must infiltrate enemy constructs while avoiding alerting enemies, the high speed combat tasking players to flit between grenades and side arms and the unapologetic need to dispose of your favourite weapon in favour of a new strategy are not present in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. The core gameplay experience harks back to the days when action-based FPS videogames still looked towards the QUAKE series for their inspiration, and as such, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary feels like a production that has simply ignored the progress made over the last ten years: it’s an anachronistic view of FPS gaming, and one that is likely to discourage casual Halo players from ever returning.
A number of technical advances have been made with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, including the introduction of online gameplay and the first use of Kinect for the franchise. The online co-operative gameplay is frankly a little disappointing. Unnecessary lag issues occur regularly and the rigidity of the format is likely to annoy: to-players only, and should one player quit its straight back to the menu. The addition of Kinect to the formula brings forth a number of interesting possibilities for the use of the device, with voice control being the basis for a brand new addition. The scanning mode is obviously borrowed from the Metroid Prime series, but is a welcome addition here just as it was there. Of course voice-recognition based gameplay is nothing new, but then neither is much else that has been incorporated into Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.
Adding stereoscopic 3D compatibility and high-definition visuals are nothing more than what would be expected in the present market, and the option to switch between the original visual quality of the Xbox videogame (also rebuffed in high-definition) and the modern reworking is a pleasant, but somewhat impotent design decision. With that visual aspect, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary offers a redressing of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, rather than a complete overhaul. It’s a makeover for a middle aged woman rather than a fountain of youth, and many will be disappointing because of it.
One of the biggest problems with the delivery of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is that the original Halo: Combat Evolved was such a widely respected production that it’s innovations have since become tradition for the genre, making it hard to view them as anything but par-for-the-course in a modern FPS release. The only true innovation Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary offers is in that of its new Firefight map: an interesting proposition that is undermined by its lightweight presentation. The competitive multiplayer gameplay is labelled ‘Halo reach multiplayer anniversary’, and boots directly into the Halo: Reach engine, including the same loading screen and menu presentation. Players will surely know what to expect in this regard, and the visual quality of the multiplayer mode immediately puts that of the campaign to shame.
Unlike other remakes that have offered more than just a visual tidy-up, to purchase Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is essentially a second purchase of that same videogame you bought ten years ago, only now in high-definition. There’s little else Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary offers besides unnecessary bonuses of Kinect and stereoscopic 3D compatibility, Achievements and a new Firefight map. Far from being it essential, it almost feels as though Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was given the green light simply to fill a hole in the Xbox 360’s release schedule.