Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Hands-On Impressions -- Combat Evolved...EvolvedBy G4 Staff - Posted Aug 26, 2011
Microsoft and 343 Industries’ pre-PAX 2011 Halo Fest press event wasn’t just a cornucopia of Master Chief love (although, the numerous full sized statues and warthog as well as full on Halo toy store certainly did nothing to minimize this fact). It also gave us and other members of the press the chance to try our reimaginging-loving hands on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s multiplayer and Firefight offerings. Several of us G4 staffers spent some quality time sniping each other out of the sky and running each other over with Banshees to see how the updated take on the beloved shooter is…well, evolving.
Eric Eckstein: It's been a long while since I've played the original Halo. Friends keep threatening to break out the Xboxes and System Link it for a megathon, but daily life always interferes, and any time I offer "Well, you can play Halo: Reach and..." I get dirty looks. You can't really blame them, they know new Halo is not old Halo. So playing the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary multiplayer modes was a little strange. In most ways, it didn't feel at all like what I remember from the original Halo. How can it, when people are flying around in jetpacks and engaging Armor Locks to avoid dying? If no one told me I was playing on a revamped Timberland or Prisoner map from Halo 1, I wouldn't really have noticed. It's not like I had those maps burnt into my brain.
Still, playing Slayer matches was fun (owning Jake "Jimmy/Ratjar" Gaskill even more so!), so clearly, the Halo recipe for addictive gameplay is in place. And the maps DO look good, a significant upgrade from their original. Now, they've been redesigned to allow for better matches, more cover, or better use of the armor abilities. I also played the new Firefall map, Installation 04, which boasts AI marines at your disposal... but I found that they were literally at your disposal in their current form. Hopefully, future improvements to the AI algorithms will make them better teammates but having the ability to play Firefight solo is a fine, if not slightly sad, addition to the game.
So I'm on the fence as to how ultimately an old-school Halo fan is going to feel. It's great to have the Magnum back, sure, but the game has advanced so far in 10 years, that it's really difficult to see the old game in the new one. All that said, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has certainly excited me to play the single-player game again, the one that started it all. Not just so I can clean up some achievements or watch the retooled video terminals (that shed light on Halo 4!) but because the level and graphic design has been overhauled so significantly, that it's like playing Halo for the first time. And how can that be a bad thing?
Nikole Zivalich: Team Slayer is where the magic happens in Halo. Halo: CE Anniversary will have the option to play an updated version of a classic map and a version that has been tweaked to better handle new perks. Basically, 343 read my mind, knew I always go for jetpack, and redid a bunch of classic maps with more ledges, caves, and anywhere else I could boost up and hide. Camping is legitimate strategy. And using your jetpack to get to those camp spots is just smart. This is why I win wars, people.
Even though I grew up on Team Slayer, my heart will always belong to Firefight. Playing co-op is my gameplay mode of choice since I often get my ass handed to me when I play multiplayer. When I found out Halo 1 HD (which is easier for me to say than its actual name) was going to feature Firefight I was thrilled. The icing on the cake was now I don't need real friends to play. While at PAX 343 announced AI space marines were being added to balance the game.
Jake Gaskill: To be honest, I haven’t played Halo multiplayer since Halo: Reach launched, so I was a bit nervous jumping into HCEA to face off against my fellow editors. Thankfully, it only took about 24 seconds for me to feel right at home again. The first map we played was the newly revamped, frozen-themed Solitary (Prisoner Anniversary), with it’s crisscrossing walkways and towering ceilings perfect for all manner of aerial insanity. And the energy lifts make for the perfect escape plan from the furious and chaotic close quarters combat.
Ridgeline, the updated version of Timberland, was an entirely different animal with its wide open and undulating terrain carved with mountain streams and canopied by tall, lush trees. This map in particular did a great job of showing off the Reach engine’s capabilities, as demonstrated by the ridiculously intense Banshee/Warhog showdowns and open area magnum sniping duels that unfolded across the maps vibrant terrain.
I’ve never been a big multplayer fan (despite being good enough to give Eric “Goose” Eckstein a run for his money), so I have zero attachment to the classic versions of either of these maps, so I can’t really say how they compare to the originals. What I can say is that there seemed to be enough of the original layout DNA to make diehard fans smirk with fond reverence, but for anyone without these maps etched on their corneas, they’ll most likely just seem like new Halo: Reach maps, especially when the jetpacks start firing up and people start throwing down energy shields. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I had an absolute blast. I’m just wondering how much of the fully deserved and understandable “Hey, look! Isn’t it cool how we updated and improved these old maps to make them fit more modern gamers' sensibilities and expectations?” excitement and pride the developers feel will translate to average players looking to jump in for a quick Halo multiplayer fix.
I also played a round of the HCEA’s Firefight mode set one of Halo’s most iconic and memorable settings, Installation 04. The big addition to HCEA’s Firefight is the first time inclusion of AI ally support. I played with three other human players, so I didn’t get to see the AI troops in action, but it was a blast seeing the classic setting in its new form and fighting alongside other players (my multiplayer mode of choice) hit all of the right notes and made me anxious to play more.
Leah Jackson: If there is one thing I love about Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, it's being able to use the jetpack in old, classic maps that I grew up with. With all of the new ledges to fly up to, places to camp from, and areas that max out the jetpack's full potential, it really helped the re-imagined maps shine and come to life in a way I only dreamed possible. For example, the guns in Timberland are exactly where I remember them being, but if I fly up to new heights on the map, I can find new weapons and places to hide from my competitors. That said, all of the maps that we got to play look simply gorgeous compared to their classic counterparts from 10 years ago. It's pretty amazing what 343 has done to spruce up the title, and I'm sure that fans of the original will be extremely impressed with how much better the game looks and how much smoother it plays.