Halo: Combat Evolved blasted onto the scene in early 2002 (late 2001 in North America), setting a benchmark for console shooters and competitive gaming. While this remake of a decade-old classic offers a fascinating look at the evolution of graphics over the past decade, Anniversary presents a rather aged first-person shooter. While its added multiplayer maps are certainly a bonus, this remake is nothing more than a visual treat for diehard fans of the original. That said, Anniversary’s ode to a genre-defining classic propels it past many other HD remakes, and co-developer Saber Interactive has added a shot of life to a surprisingly dry and dire 2001 world. Halo: Combat Evolved is still a FPS masterpiece no matter how old it is, but it certainly falters when compared to contemporary refinements in the genre.
Visual treat for fans – Anniversary’s campaign offers nothing new on the gameplay front aside from Kinect voice support and some co-op implementation. On the presentation front, though, Saber Interactive’s ‘Saber3D’ graphics engine gives new life to this decade-old classic. While it doesn’t stand up next to the generation’s most visually appealing, Anniversary at least attempts to bring the original game into a contemporary setting. Environments have more life and detail, which is quite clearly evident whenever switching between 2011 and 2001 visuals with the press of the Back button. The team at Saber hasn’t simply gone over environments with a brush: it’s added considerable colour and depth to environments, giving both interiors and exteriors more visual appeal. Walls now have grooves and pipes, a far cry from the original game’s dry gray look, while a look up into space will reveal a beautiful vision of stunning moons, worlds and stars. Combat Evolved has never looked so good.
Terminals and Skulls are a great addition – The cryptic terminals that first made an appearance in Halo 3 have been included in Anniversary, offering short animated clips offering some backstory to the Halo universe. Alongside this inclusion are the added collectible skulls, which were first introduced in Halo 2. These skulls alter the way the game plays, from how challenging it is, to how quickly you consume ammunition, to what sort of blood spews out of enemies when you shoot them. These added collectibles add depth to the experience, and while they don’t actually change up the core gameplay mechanics, they certainly add some value.
Ambitious Kinect implementation – It’s hardly perfect, but Kinect’s introduction to the Halo series much be applauded. The hardware offers voice commands in the heat of battle, allowing you to direct the use of grenades or fire in a specific direction. It can also be used at Terminals to pause or play a video, although this level of implementation is an afterthought seeing as how little an affect it actually has on the gameplay. There is a downside though: commands don’t always register, and you’ll often need to shout loudly in order for Kinect to register the command. If you’re playing on the higher difficulties this can make things difficult, as the momentary lag for the command to actually happen can definitely hurt you and your squad mates in the heat of battle.
Balanced gameplay – While the gameplay isn’t quite as inventive or deep as one might expect from a contemporary shooter, Anniversary showcases just how ahead of its time Combat Evolved was. When a ten year old game still offers such well-balanced weaponry and combat, it goes to show just how revolutionary it was at release. As far as console shooters go it’s clear just how ahead of the pack Halo was, with some exciting battles and lengthy gunfights to compliment a wide variety of unique and intriguing weaponry.
Solid co-op and classic map remakes – The ability to play through the entire campaign cooperatively adds plenty of value alongside the game’s added Achievements system, Terminals and Skulls. The game’s multiplayer component is built using Halo: Reach’s multiplayer engine, with some fan-favourite maps from Combat Evolved and Halo 2 added to the fold. The multiplayer component doesn’t have quite the same charm as the original game’s LAN offering, but it’s still great to play through some classic maps in new HD environments. You can choose to play these new maps in the old-school environments, which makes for an interesting experience amidst Reach’s Achievements, customization options and XP system.
New look, same problems – Anniversary brings with it the same issues that plagued the original game ten years ago. Battles are often confined to tight corridors and interiors, and the game often does a poor job of directing you where to go. Interiors look the same from area to area, making getting lost essentially a surety, even for CE enthusiasts. Vehicles still handle like a chore, so don’t expect the same level of tweaking as we got with the likes of Halo 3 and Reach. You’ll get the same level of control in Anniversary as you did in 2002’s Combat Evolved, so don’t expect any refinement in that regard.
Multiplayer doesn’t feel the same – Anniversary’s multiplayer component is more an add-on for Reach than it is a remake of Combat Evolved’s LAN offering. The added maps are really no different to classic map remakes in the likes of Halo 3 and Reach, which makes it difficult to separate what’s on offer here to other games in the series. If you’re expecting a full-on Combat Evolved multiplayer experience that you loved ten years ago, that isn’t quite what you’ll get. While it’s great that some truly classic maps have been added alongside Reach’s great multiplayer features, it isn’t especially Combat Evolved-esque. Disappointingly, the maps included in Anniversary are actually available as a separate map pack for Reach, which only further showcases how far removed the multiplayer offering is from CE’s original competitive element.
Halo enthusiasts will love returning to Combat Evolved, if not to remember how well-balanced the combat and weaponry are, then to see the game in an entirely new light. The new HD graphics engine brings the game into this generation, although the presentation on its own certainly won’t blow you away. The multiplayer offering is fun but it might not be what you expect, and diehard LAN players of the original might not see how a Reach multiplayer component can act as a remake of a ten-year old game. That said, Halo: Combat Evolved is still an enjoyable and accessible shooter.