Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review

By Jonathan Deesing - Posted Nov 14, 2011

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is much more than a remake. Updated graphics and a great multiplayer offering present a tasteful and refined version of the original revolutionary title.

The Pros
  • Seamlessly switch between old and new graphics
  • Gorgeous redone maps from Halo: CE and Halo: 2
  • Campaign collectibles explore Forerunner history
The Cons
  • No energy swords in campaign
  • Campaign remains tedious in parts

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review

When Microsoft handed the Halo torch from Bungie to 343 Industries in 2010, fans of the series were distraught that their beloved franchise was no longer going to be in the hands of its creator. 343’s initial forays into the Halo universe--the Halo Waypoint app and the Halo Legends shorts--were met with a universal “meh.” After trotting out Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, however, it’s clear that with 343, Halo is in extremely competent hands.

Apparently, You Can’t Have Too Much Of A Good Thing

In 1998, when Gus Van Sant directed a shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, it was met with such poor reception that the entire idea of recreating films shot-for-shot was thrown out the window. In Roger Ebert’s review of the film he stated “it demonstrates that a shot-by-shot remake is pointless; genius apparently resides between or beneath the shots, or in chemistry that cannot be timed or counted.”

When I learned that 343 planned to use the same methodology in their remake of the original Halo, I was worried that it too would meet a similar fate. Thankfully, I was wrong. Perhaps 10 years is a perfect gap of time, wherein the game doesn’t feel too soon or too outdated. Perhaps Halo: Combat Evolved will never actually feel outdated. Whatever the case, Anniversary makes a solid case that more classic games deserve a makeover.

Anyone who played the original game will feel right at home in the campaign, which is so analogous to its source that by simply pressing the “back” button, you can toggle between old and new graphics without interrupting your game. While this may seem gimmicky--a feature you use for a chuckle at antiquity--I found myself using it more and more as I played the game. The toggle feature offers a glimpse into the past and an in-your-face display of just how long a decade can be for the video game industry. I found myself reloading checkpoints just to watch how some of my favorite cut-scenes have changed and how they used to look.

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Not Just A Pretty Face

The only downside to the toggle feature is that it ensures that Anniversary’s campaign remains religiously true to the original game. That means no dual wielding, no brutes, and, most disappointingly, no energy swords. Similarly, some portions of the campaign remain just as tedious (the Library, anyone?) as they were before. However, in these segments, 343 added little changes--such as directional arrows on the floor--that make it more tolerable. Still, the only serious divergence from Halo: CE is the inclusion of a number of collectibles scattered throughout the game.

These collectibles were one of my favorite additions, as many of them offer insight into the mysterious Forerunners. Finding a collectible activates a cut-scene featuring everybody’s favorite 343 Guilty Spark, or other characters, all of whom present a deeper understanding of the race that actually built the rings that pepper the galaxy.

With a complete graphical overhaul, I was concerned about clipping or drop-in issues, but I didn't encounter any of these problems during my playthrough. The game looks gorgeous throughout and plays with the same tight controls that made Halo an industry juggernaut.

Halo Anniversary

It’s Almost LANtastic

Seeing as it was the multiplayer that not only put Halo on the map, but Xbox as well, it’s fitting that the multiplayer in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is equally delightful. Using the Halo: Reach engine, the offline and online multiplayer features a number of the most beloved maps from Halo: CE and Halo 2.

For anyone who played Reach, Anniversary’s multiplayer will feel quite familiar. Features such as emblems, customizable armor, and weapon loadouts all remain and at times make Anniversary feel like little more than a Reach map pack. The game also adds another much-welcomed Firefight map, the depths of which I couldn’t even begin to explore. Containing ODST and marines--who I’m not ashamed to say I accidentally killed quite a few of--and a number of vehicles, the new map is rife with potential.

To me, Halo holds a special significance as one of the first games that converted me into a hardcore co-op gamer. I played the co-op campaign with the friend I first played the original with and was floored by déjà vu. Both of us surprised the other a number of times by switching back to the older graphics just to see favorite scenes and sets as we had 10 years ago. While the split-screen is well done, Anniversary now offers online co-op for those friends that may have allowed time to separate them by more than a couch.

Though the multiplayer doesn’t technically do anything past Halo games haven’t already done, the nostalgia it engenders is more than enough to keep fans playing over and over again. Though the graphical toggle option doesn’t exist in multiplayer, it’s not hard to feel yourself getting transported to a buddy’s basement LAN party when teabagging n00bs in Beaver Creek.

Halo Anniversary

I Think We’re Just Getting Started

With Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, 343 Industries has made clear their capabilities as the newest host for the Halo universe. With Halo 4 on the horizon, it seems likely it’ll be just as kick ass as its predecessors, because 343 knows and respects Halo.

While the game may be nothing more than a remake and a map pack on the surface, it’s still a remake of one of the most revolutionary games in history. With a lowered $40 price tag, it’s hard to argue against a game that does so much, though we may have seen it all before. I beat the original Halo countless times and spent far too much of my youth in friends’ basements playing the multiplayer. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be playing Anniversary up until the day Halo 4 comes out.