When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was first revealed, I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about it. While I do love me some Halo, and have spent god knows how many hours playing each outing in the series, I was hoping that the franchise’s maiden voyage on the Xbox One would be a brand new experience. As more information on the compilation was released, however, my anticipation for the package continued to grow. Remastered Halo 2? Full 1080p and 60fps for all four titles? It may not be brand new, but there’s nothing wrong with sticking to what works, right?
Set in the 26th century, the Halo franchise centers around the adventures of the super soldier known as Master Chief. A product of the SPARTAN project, Chief is awoken from cryogenic sleep in order to lend his assistance to the human race in their battle against the Covenant. This war serves as the basis for a majority of the first three games in the series. The Covenant aren’t the only thing to fear, however, as the parasitic race known as the Flood presents a dangerous threat as well.
After teaming with the Covenant elite known as the Arbiter, Chief and his A.I. partner Cortana are able to save the day. With that section of the story wrapped up, Halo 4 introduces a brand new set of enemies and a new major foe, the Didact. Besides having to fight off his Forerunner nemesis, Chief also has to deal with the increasingly rampant Cortana. Obviously, there is much, much more to the story of Halo, but I imagine that most people who are interested in The Master Chief Collection already have a general idea of the plot.
While I have always been a fan of the Halo franchise, the series’ storyline has long been one of my least favorite aspects. I do respect the amount of effort Bungie put into fully fleshing out its world, but the space opera has never fully clicked for me. Part of this may be due to the fact that Master Chief and company just aren’t that interesting to follow around, but I think the real problem is just plain old sloppy storytelling. This is particularly noticeable in Halo 2, which has a ridiculous cliffhanger ending that is just as dumb now as it was a decade ago. Halo 4 is almost as bad, as the characters seem off, the villain is never fleshed out and the conclusion is severely underwhelming.
Luckily, while the storylines may be a drag to get through, the actual single-player missions are still a blast to play. The fact that the original levels in Halo are just as entertaining and memorable as they were 10+ years ago just shows how ahead of the curve Bungie was at the time. Sure, part of this is due to the excellent gameplay and controls, but the designs and layouts of these levels still feel so expertly crafted.
Another factor that makes these levels such a blast to play through is the fact that you can tackle each campaign with a partner. That more titles don’t embrace co-op campaigns is something that will always be lost on me. There are few things as satisfying as taking down Covenant with a buddy right by your side.
When I initially got my hands on The Master Chief Collection, one of the first things I wanted to see was how the gameplay of the first two entries in the series held up over the years. Back when they were first released, these games were considered the cream of the crop in the console FPS genre. Since then, however, numerous other titles have advanced and improved upon their basic formula. After sinking a ton of time into this collection though, I can safely say that even if it is a little dated, the gameplay still holds up incredibly well.
For as old and dated as it is, the original Halo still features some of the most satisfying gunplay and controls that you’ll find in a console shooter. It may lack the bells and whistles of its successors, but blowing away grunts with a zoomed-in pistol is just as satisfying as it was all those years ago. Halo 2 is equally as enjoyable, mostly because it sticks to the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. Of course, dual-wielded weapons and swords were excellent additions to the basic formula as well.
The same can really be said for both Halo 3 and Halo 4, as they retained the same basic formula but added different features to keep things interesting. For example, the third entry added larger melee weapons, while the fourth entry introduced a new species’ weapons. Making things even more enjoyable is the fact that the basic gunplay is complemented by the excellent vehicle controls. Flying around and blasting enemies in a Banshee is still as addicting as you remember it being. For the record, though, the Mongoose is just as useless as it always has been.
While the Master Chief Collection is a compilation of four games from two previous console generations, that doesn’t mean that 343 Industries simply ported over each title. The most noticeable improvement can be seen in Halo 2, which has been completely remastered for this go-around. While the gameplay doesn’t look as good as the graphics of a current Xbox One title, the remastering job was handled incredibly well here. You may not notice how much better it looks right away, but when you switch back and forth between the original look of the game and the Anniversary Edition, you’ll really see the difference and the hard work that the developers put into it.
The most impressive part of the package, from a visual standpoint anyways, comes from the remastered cutscenes of Halo 2. Redone by Blur Studio, the team that did the cinematic trailers for the Batman Arkham franchise, these cutscenes are some of best visuals that I have ever seen on a console. I know I said before that the series’ plot is kind of lame, but when the cutscenes are this beautiful, I’m going to watch them regardless.