Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Campaign Hands-On PreviewBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Oct 24, 2011
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is meant to be a nostalgia trip from the moment you fire it up, but I didn’t truly feel 10 years younger until I was about 70 minutes into the campaign. You might remember the set-up: there’s an opportunity to board a Covenant battle cruiser but between you and that gravity lift are a few waves of enemies.
Hopefully, you and your partner had the foresight to man the turrets in anticipation of the incoming Covenant. On Heroic difficulty, these enemies still put up a fight, to the point that my media colleague found himself exclaiming “Dunno if I’ll make it!” The memory of repeating this area over and over as a single player 10 years ago was pretty clear to me, and I wasn’t inclined to experience that again. This compelled me to reply, “We are NOT dying in this area! I’ll retreat to the previous area to respawn you if I have to!” For me, that area was even more of a hassle than the infamous Library, but whatever your traumatic memory, 343 Industries has taken the Bungie code and is nearly ready to serve us a much prettier helping of the original Halo.
In a year that has already seen its share of ports, remasters, and HD remakes, Halo: Combat Evolved is one of those few titles that just might have that fanbase willing to pay $39.99 for an HD overhauled version of this 10-year old game. Make no mistake, it visually doesn’t have the grittiness or polish of Halo 3 or Halo: Reach but this Anniversary edition is graphically updated enough that this might very well be considered the "definitive edition" to many. Purists will be pleased to know that the Warthog still fishtails like crazy and the pistol is still overpowered, much to the disappointment of the often-pistol-whipped Unggoy.
As we’ve previously reported, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary features the rare option of switching back and forth between the HD enhanced version and the original game. By simply pressing the Back button, you can toggle between the two modes on the fly, with a two to three second black screen loading time in between. If your photographic memory doesn’t go back 10 years, this feature is obviously ideal for comparing the improvements. There’s a lot to be impressed with, especially the little things, like how much easier it is to read the mess hall menu as the Covenant are invading the Pillar of Autumn or how much better the sniper scope looks when you’re not looking directly through it.
As one who was impressed with the circular narrative of Halo: Reach (ending where the first Halo started), it’s a great opportunity to get reacquainted with the start of Master Chief’s story in high-definition. This of course also includes a reintroduction to the crew of The Pillar of Autumn right before the Covenant attack. It was pleasing to see that 343 Industries did not limit themselves in just enhancing the original cutscenes but also made some minor additions beyond the original storyboards. And call it an act of respect to Halo fans or a way to save time, but the game also skips the controls tutorial that originally occurs after Master Chief awakes.
This anniversary package is as much an extension of Halo: Reach as much as it is a Combat Evolved game. That’s because the multiplayer runs on the Reach engine, so much so that it also utilizes your Reach profile. The map/mode content is robust enough that I couldn’t get through all the combinations in this preview session, but I certainly got more than a mere taste. Starting off with Slayer, we took the Halo 2 remake map of Headlong, now renamed as Breakneck. It’s an urban map that is larger than it initially feels. You get a better sense of scale when you man one of the many vehicles in the map. Like many well designed city-based multiplayer maps, it’s also satisfyingly vertical with many strategic opportunities for players who know how to take advantage of a scoped firearm.
High Noon was the map we returned to the most, having played Slayer, Capture The Flag, and Crazy King. The map was originally Hang ‘Em High from Halo: CE but has now been given a Halo 3-influenced backdrop. It’s a gorgeous re-imaging of the map where the “tombstones” that litter the ground level give the map a convincing arena feel. I didn’t think I used those tombstones to my tactical advantage enough in any of the three modes, maybe because the map also has so much going on above ground level. The elevated platforms made the map a fitting challenge for Capture The Flag where you most likely have to drop down three stories worth of elevation before climbing up that same height to plant the captured flag. Crazy King, with its movable hill format, was the most entertaining of the three modes and works extremely well for this map. It’s just as fun trying to anticipate where the hill will move as it is just trying to survive a free-for-all amongst five other opponents in a tight hill area.
Even a map from Halo PC also has a chance to shine and actually turned out to be my favorite out of all the maps in this preview session. Originally called Timberland, Ridgeline is one of the more wooded areas. It features a mix of short tunnels, minor elevation changes, and enclaves for many strategic opportunities. I managed to get carried away driving a Mongoose, as I played prey to a player piloting a Ghost who was pursing me for a good two minutes. It made for a...ahem...wild mon’goose’ chase, if you will.
So whatever became of me and my partner with the gravity lift at the end of Chapter 3: Truth and Reconciliation? Well, I thought we had taken care of all the Covenant, though when I made it to the gravity lift, I was rudely reminded that there were two pieces of business that we still needed to take care of, namely the two Hunters who dropped down beside me, ready to give me a beating. Thankfully, my friend was still in a turret and started to distract one Hunter while I backpedaled away from the other. Yes, we survived without having to restart that section. Our session lasted long enough for us to make it into the ship with our fellow A.I. marines. I’ll just have to wait to continue the fight when Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary ships on November 15.