Finally, an anniversary you won’t forget

While most of you instantly associate the name Microsoft with console gaming, this wasn’t always the case. You see, many years ago, in a galaxy not so far away, a certain industry giant was on the outside looking in, and many of us graybeards can still recall the odd mixture of excitement and fear that came calling when Gates and co. announced they were bringing the fight to Nintendo, Sega, and Sony in typical MS fashion.

For those of you who haven’t kept up with their general MO, think of the unpopular, slightly annoying kid in high school with the only fake ID in town. Yes, it was instantly evident that the big green planned to buy their way into our collective hearts,  spending a metric f***ton of money on snatching up top developers, securing exclusive rights to well-loved properties, and plastering their new brand wherever they could until you couldn’t help but be curious.

The biggest acquisition, of course, was the computer-gaming powerhouse Bungie Studios, whose recently unveiled Halo franchise—a first-person shooter with jaw-dropping visuals and the studio’s patented air-tight gameplay that promised to rewrite the book on action gaming—was on the fast track to stardom as the crown jewel of the Xbox launch lineup.

Obviously, you know the general gist of the story’s remains, as Halo went on to become a cultural icon, spawning countless sequels and a massive multiplayer following while solidifying Microsoft’s place under our TVs for years to come. So, it came as little surprise when Microsoft announced an HD remake of the original Halo: Combat Evolved to coincide with the storied series’ 10-year anniversary—but would it be worth your while?

That depends on where you’re coming from, honestly.

A compelling $39.99 package that includes a complete visual overhaul, 3D support, Kinect voice control, and Halo: Reach multiplayer on classic Halo maps, Anniversary is far from your average HD cash-dash, but thanks to 343’s unwavering reverence for the source material, the game itself definitely shows its age. Character animations are noticeably clunky, driving a Warthog still sucks, cutscenes suffer from unexplainable stutters, and the control schemes arrogantly ignore advances in FPS gaming like iron sights with little thought to the consequences, all of which will undoubtedly annoy fans of modern shooters with no real ties to the original.

But Anniversary’s two biggest features are some of the best on display in this age of remakes, starting with the addition of cooperative multiplayer through the campaign. A major boost from the splitscreen original, this feature’s a huge addition that’ll strike a strong chord with fans, allowing both participants to enjoy the game’s revived visuals in all their glory.

343 followed this up with the innovative ability to seamlessly swap between this new coat of paint and the original graphics engine, which simultaneously speaks volumes to the considerable work that went into this remake while constantly flooring us at how far we’ve come. Remembering how cutting-edge this was at the time is a constant source of humor, as the game seems so flat and ugly by modern standards, but fans will definitely get a constant kick out of this innovative trip down memory lane, as well as tip their hats to the overhaul, which—while failing to match the likes of Reach or Halo 3 on the graphics front—still struts its stuff with admirable style.

It’s an amazing piece of gaming history, to be certain, but a purchase decision still comes down to this: If you’re a fan of the series who loved or missed the original, it’s a no-brainer. This is one of the best pieces of fanservice our industry has ever produced, and you need to go buy it. On the other hand, if you’re an FPS fanatic trying to decide between this or Rage or Deus Ex, you may want to think twice before dropping 40 bones on a shooter that doesn’t quite stack up to the competition. It’s still worth a look, but there’s only so many bullets in the clip, so to speak. Fire at your own discretion, soldiers.

SUMMARY: A fantastic piece of Halo history with a solid feature set, Anniversary’s a must-own for series fanatics, but less of a slam-dunk for folks who have tough choices to make this holiday season.

  • THE GOOD: Online co-op, reborn classic MP maps, visual enhancements.
  • THE BAD: Lack of enhancements to nonvisual elements.
  • THE UGLY: The thought that “classic” mode visuals used to be considered hot s***

SCORE: 8.5


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