Fans of the Halo series won’t be disappointed by “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary,” which delivers an incredibly loyal remake of the first game in the series’ history with an impressive graphical overhaul, and manages to add a little fan service without breaking the game.
“Halo: CE Anniversary,” developed by 343 Industries, is a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Halo franchise. Die-hard fans will appreciate the fact that this is exactly the same game they played 10 years ago, but with a pretty substantial face lift that brings the old game into the new generation nicely. The team literally used the game code from the original “Halo,” but added a layer on top of it that updates the graphics to fit in with current-generation games.
The downfall of the graphical updates comes in the form of sporadic frame rate slow down and some textures popping in late.
These slight shortcomings do very little to affect the gameplay, and can be easily overcome by a simple press of the back button on the controller, which activates what is probably the most impressive feature in the game – the ability to flip back and forth between the updated graphics and the original graphics in real time at any point in the game. This feature allows players to meticulously scan every inch of the game to see just how far the video game industry has come in 10 years, and to experience the first chapter of the “Halo” series in a whole new way.
The updates to the game don’t simply serve as eye candy, but also make certain aspects of the original game fit better with the current direction of the franchise as a whole by adding small nods to other areas of the extended universe.
Those who play through the game using the updated graphics also have access to terminals that give some background for one of the main characters, 343 Guilty Spark. The terminals also flesh out the story of the Forerunners, whom created the Halo on which the game takes place, and tease fans with hints at what is to come in the next installment in the series, “Halo 4,” which is slated for release next year.
The entire soundtrack, originally scored by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, has been re-recorded for this release by the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, the updated soundtrack skips and stops regularly throughout the menus, loading screens and during gameplay. This problem is avoidable, though, as players have the option to switch between the remastered and original soundtracks at any point during the game.
One of the more surprising features in the game is the ability for players with the Kinect add on for the Xbox 360 to issue voice commands during gameplay. Voice commands include the ability to switch between old and new graphics, pause the game and throw grenades.
The most interesting aspect of the Kinect voice functionality is the ability to scan enemies and objects, which adds information and a 3D model of the scanned object to a library that players can access from the main menu. Players without the Kinect add on do not have access to this feature, but they’re not missing much because the library adds nothing to the overall game aside from detailed descriptions of characters and weapons.
Unfortunately, actually using the voice commands is a challenge for anyone playing with their volume at a normal level because the sounds of gunfire and alien screams often drowns out the player’s voice. Even waiting until the fighting has died down isn’t enough to make the Kinect functionality worthwhile because it often takes several tries to get any of the commands to recognize.
Another ancillary feature added to the game is the ability to play the entire campaign in 3D for those players with 3D-capable televisions. I was unable to test this feature because I did not have access to a TV with 3D capabilities.
Multiplayer in “Halo: CE Anniversary” is the only place where the sense of nostalgia is lost because 343 Industries chose to run it within the “Halo: Reach” engine.
The developer included with the game a map pack for “Halo: Reach” that contains six visually reimagined multiplayer spaces that they believed to be fan favorites from previous Halo games as well as the first downloadable Firefight map.
Tweaks have been made to specific matchmaking playlists within the multiplayer component of “Halo: Reach” to emulate the same gameplay as “Halo: Combat Evolved,” but the changes don’t feel exactly spot on. The choice to use a different game engine for the multiplayer component of the game makes the single-player and multiplayer experiences feel distinctly separate, and dulls the nostalgic feelings that this game is meant to evoke.
“Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s” single-player experience hits all the right marks for fans of the original game while still managing to cram in some extra story for truly invested players, but the multiplayer side of things lacks the ability to bring players back to where they were 10 years ago.