Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Preview [X’11]

Walking through the doorway into Microsoft’s X’11 Preview Event in Toronto was like entering a gamer’s heaven. A stylish nightclub had been transformed into a gaming lounge, with three hallways full of fun separated off of the main bar. Each hallway was set up with a group of white couches, big screen televisions and, of course, an XBOX 360 with an anticipated game running inside of it. To say the least, the gaming giant really went all out in an attempt to demo its biggest holiday titles in grand fashion.

Being that it was my first time attending one of these events held by Microsoft, I was both overjoyed and overwhelmed. There were a ton of games available for preview, and only a limited amount of time, so I did my best to play (or watch) absolutely everything I could during the event’s several hour long runtime. My time was spent going from game to game, playing for a little while, asking some questions and meeting some nice PR folk. Though, it was hard to stop playing some of them. I could have sat there until sun up, glued to the television sets, playing some of those titles.

In addition to the screens in full view, there were behind closed doors demos. The one that I was lucky enough to see was Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary – the upcoming XBOX 360 remake of the company’s most popular title. It’s the one that started it all and, as one would expect, the folks at 343 Industries have been giving its transition a lot of love and care.

The curtained off area containing Master Chief was well-hidden in the back of the venue and, getting inside required a fair bit of waiting after an appointment was set. Though, the wait was well-worth it. That was obvious once I got a chance to sit down on the couch in front of the large television where two members of the title’s development team gave us a ten minute preview of their hard work and effort. To say that it was really cool and a Halo fan’s dream would be an understatement. Fans of the universe and first-person shooters themselves will be in love when this one hits on November 15.

The demonstration was completely hands-off, consisting of a several minute-long preview of one of the game’s early missions. We got a chance to see Master Chief kicking ass in a forested location, where the minions he faced were nothing but bullet fodder (especially when the hillside turret was used). This gameplay harkened back to what we all played a decade ago, but it looked great with new details and a high-definition gloss. The team at 343 spent a lot of time bringing the game up to today’s visual standards and it really shows. In fact, the transition is pretty jaw-dropping.

One of the coolest things about this title is the fact that players can choose the version they play. What this means is that, those who want to remember the game for exactly what it was when it originally released, will have the chance to play it with that version’s visuals. Though, at the press of a button, the new look/remastered visuals can be brought to the forefront.

At any time during the game, this transition can be made at the press of a button. The two folks who demoed the game for us certainly used this to their advantage to show off just how much work went into improving the core visual assets that were the foundation of the original title. They kept things the same, but really brought in the detail, a bit of expansion with the foliage work and some new textures.

After the first part of the mission demo ended, we were then asked to take a pair of glasses from inside of what I originally thought was just for decoration: a Spartan head sitting on the coffee table. As you now know, these glasses were of the popular 3D type. Yes, you heard that right – Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary is in full 3D for those who have a television that supports it. Furthering that, I can comment and confirm on the fact that it looks exceptional with the added depth.

Perfect for the unveiling was the use of the needler, which had its pink needles sticking out in every which way, aiming towards us at different angles. When it shot or an enemy shot at Master Chief, the resulting fire would feature some impressive 3D depth effects, whether it was coming towards us or going away. I’m the type of person who views 3D as a bit of a gimmick for most things, but it works quite well here and is quite cool.

Lastly, the folks from 343 had us move up close to the television and its adjoining speakers in order to watch and listen to a brief video from the game. What it happened to be was a terminal video, as it was announced that those hidden secondary objectives will be making a return for this outing. The team is responsible for the entire franchise, including its games and novels, so they were sure to inform us that a lot of hard work has been put into making everything fit in well together. The Halo universe seems to be getting larger by the day, so there’s quite a bit of behind-the-scenes work going on there, I’m sure.

Based on what I’ve seen from this upcoming reboot of one of gaming’s most beloved titles, I can easily state that it will blow Halo fanatics away. It’s incredibly obvious that a lot of blood, sweat, love and care went into revamping this project. Though I didn’t get to go hands-on, it seems like all of that was well-worth it, culminating in a great upgrade to a well-loved game. There’s only about two and a half months left until we can all go hands-on with Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary, on November 15. For many, the wait will be slow, but I assure you that the end product will be worth your anxious anticipation.