If there’s one franchise that has managed to change with the times while holding onto it’s core identity, it has to be Halo. What was once an Apple exclusive during the early days of development quickly became one of the flagship franchises of Microsoft and its burgeoning Xbox division. Halo: Combat Evolved was simply put, the reason to own an Xbox when it launched way back in 2001. Fast forward more than a decade, and that one game has spawned sequels, spin-offs and various other additions throughout a range of media.
Not bad for a game starring a mostly mute goliath who punctuates his sparse sentences with bullets. Between 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved and 2012’s Halo 4, times have changed. The fall of Reach was chronicled in Halo: Reach, players got to drop in from orbit in Halo:ODST and original developer Bungie handed the series over to a new studio that was set up with a specific mandate to produce Halo games, 343 Industries. With that handover, we’ve also entered a new era in the life of Halo and the Master Chief.
Now more than just a mere super soldier, Master Chief became a mythic legend hardened by battle and bearing the mantle of the Reclaimer, as Halo 4 arguably fleshed out the story of this universe in ways that Bungie never dared to. Drawing from sources such as the official Karen Traviss books and the web series Forward Unto Dawn, Halo 4 shed much necessary light on the mysterious Forerunners who came before. It also made for a bold new direction for the franchise, which leaves the Xbox 360 behind for newer hardware with the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians.
But it all had to start somewhere, and that’s what the Master Chief Collection does. Trimming the fat of the other Halo games, Halo: TMCC is a slick, sleek and sexy repackaging of the core quadrilogy that goes back to the series roots and gets it ready to stand on par with what’s to come.
To keep the review rolling, I’ve hyperlinked our original reviews where applicable in the header titles, so that we could focus on the real meat of The Master Chief Collection. So let’s get started with:
Halo: Combat Evolved
From Xbox, to the Xbox 360 and now the Xbox One. Halo has indeed come full circle. There’s no mistaking just how much Halo has contributed to the more contemporary side of gaming. Health regeneration disguised as shields, run ‘n gun action and a multiplayer side that complements the core game.
It’s amazing to see just how relevant Halo: Combat Evolved still is today, but at the same time, the game is also incredibly dated. While the core gameplay is still a blast and feels oddly familiar, there’s no denying that some aspects of the first Halo feel unnecessary. Ideas such as a lack of direction and vehicle physics that feel pulled from the depths of a very special circle of hell accentuate that archaic sense of gameplay, but other than those small gripes there is still a fine game on offer here.
Don’t expect this version of Halo: CE to be too upgraded however. This version is more of a revised port of the 360’s CE than anything else, with the action keeping to a buttery smooth 60fps at 1080p for the most part, with the fascinating option to switch back to the classic view and sear your eyeballs with the visuals of 2001 kept intact.
Developer Saber has done an otherwise impressive job with this particular port, scaling up textures and terrain to boast new distinct details and designs that are a signature part of Bungie’s original vision for the game. There is some juddering here and there while the frame-rate occasionally dips, but it’s nothing that distracts from the otherwise rock-solid gameplay of the original game which paved the way for the entire franchise.
With this specific collection, Halo 2 has received the lion’s share of care, love and attention. It’s not just a port of the original game, but a remastering that includes brand new assets that are bookended by breathtaking new CGI movies that move the story along. It’s an exciting port to say the least, as Halo 2 defined the series when it was released back in 2004 with a gun in each hand and a bigger scale that drove the story forward. Saber has also been busy updating this classic for the Xbox One, which has an updated resolution buffer that sits at 1328×1080 and upscaled filters that allow players to once again switch between classic and modern day engines at the flick of a button.
But it’s the cut-scenes that will sell this particular Halo. Blur Studios have crafted some quality cinematics here on par with anything that Squre Enix or Blizzard Entertainment can cook up. They’re magnificent, gap-bridging pieces of cinema that can also be reverted back to the 2004 original in-game cinematics if you so choose to, as Saber pulls double-duty on the engine. It’s also a damned big game, with Halo 2 taking up half the install if the entire Master Chief Collection package. So brace yourself, because as we mentioned previously, each game had to be downloaded entirely without any pauses or shut downs whatsoever, or the client would reset. And at around 20-25gb in size, Halo 2 is a bandwidth demon.
But other than that, it’s the Halo 2 that you know and love so much. Two-fisted action and a bigger scope, all lovingly realised in one remastered game that is part of a bigger picture.
The penultimate offering comes in the form of Halo 3, a game which is now seven years old if you can believe it. Handled by Ruffian games, Halo 3 may not boast the CGI visuals that Halo 2 has, but it more than makes up for it with a game that finds its stride in a full 1080p package running all those 60 frames per second at full speed. It’s actually surprising just how smooth the game is, with Ruffian’s port being some quality work that doesn’t skimp or compromise on Bungie’s vision. Backed up by new textures, new-gen technology and a smoother appearance overall, Halo 3 blows the original out of the water completely.
This extra horsepower also translates better to the core gameplay itself, making for an altogether quicker and better paced entry that gives the original trilogy the send-off that it deserves.
The last core offering in this list is Halo 4, easily the most important game out of all four. This was the first game from 343 Industries, and it didn’t disapoint when it was released in 2012. The first chapter in the Reclaimer Saga, Halo 4 pushed the Xbox 360 to unheard of graphical limits that no other game on the console could replicate. There were some caveats to those visuals, but they’ve been ironed out in a refined version of the game on the Xbox One.
The game is now running on par with its older sibling at 1080p 60fps, the edges have been smoothed even further and the stunning lighting effects feel warmer and more natural. It is essentially a smoother game overall, with visuals boosted in a manner where the small issues that were present in the Xbox 360 version, are now long gone. Halo 4 was stunning on Xbox 360. And it’s simply drop-dead gorgeous in the Master Chief Collection.
If you’ve owned an Xbox, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve played some Halo multiplayer in the past. It’s what sold the system, and defined it in the early years. But the competitive side of multiplayer is changing. And Halo is struggling to keep up. Take Halo 4 for instance. When the game launched, the online component peaked at over 400 000 players who experienced that side of the game. A couple of weeks later, and that number dived down to record lows thanks to Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2, as these charts from NeoGAF will prove.
That is a worrying statement right there, and something that needs to be addressed before Halo 5: Guardians arrives. Now make no mistake, Halo itself is well aware of this. After all, Bungie’s Reach and 343’s Halo 4 attempted to incorporate new elements into multiplayer that would appeal to other mainstream audiences. Some of these ideas were good, some of them were terrible. But the point is, is that evolution is happening here.
In The Master Chief Collection, players can pick from the multiplayer of all four core Halo games. That’s a lot of Halo, a lot of playlists and a lot of maps. All your old favourites are there in upgraded glory, with a beta for Halo 5: Guardians arriving in December as further enticement.
And that in itself paints a picture for the future of the franchise and its multiplayer. I think Halo 5: Guardians will be a massive departure from series norms, with the Master Chief Collection being used to sift through what made that multiplayer so great and incorporate it into whatever plans that 343 has for the series. With less than a year to go before the game arrives in the predicted slot of November 2015, that also allows 343 plenty of time to sift through the data and incorporate that into the new game. And they’re going to need that much time, because the multiplayer is as good as it ever was.
That multiplayer has stood the test of time, with each suite having a unique flavour that mixes good old-fashioned death matches, CTF and King Of The Hill sections with newer visuals and leaderboards. The core Halo games are already going to eat up plenty of your hours, but with a multiplayer section that has a stable netcode and perhaps too much content to tide players over, you might never emerge again to experience natural light. Clearly, Microsoft and 343 Industries want to make Gears of War a reality by actually creating the Locust.
This will most likely be the last time we experience this kind of multiplayer under the Halo brand, but I’m more than happy with that, especially if the game is going out with this kind of bang for your buck. It’s a return to basics that I adore, where the playing field is far more level and the customisation feels limitless as the past paints the way for the future.
There’s more than just a game available here. There’s an experience in a slick package, with access to both the history of Halo, it’s present in the form of Halo: Nightfall and it’s future with Halo 5: Guardians’ upcoming multiplayer beta. It’s a lengthy collection, packed with goods for Halo fans. And it’s still damn good fun.
Last Updated: November 7, 2014