Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary Xbox 360
Published by Microsoft Studios
Developed by 343 Industries
When the original Xbox console launched it was blessed with having the best console FPS to date. Halo: Combat Evolved wasn't the first console FPS by any mean but it was one of the first to feel right on a console. As a multiplayer experience it was a phenomenon of course but it was also a great single player game and one that has influenced so many great console shooters ever since. Unbelievably, that was now ten years ago and to celebrate this anniversary the game has been buffed up and re-released for the Xbox 360. It's still the same great Halo experience but there are some additions here that help to make it the definitive version of the game that started the Halo series and gave the Xbox brand its first true icon.
Just in case you aren't familiar with how the series began a little explanation is in order. The storyline is set in the year 2552 and the Earth has become over populated. Many humans have moved to other planets and contact has been made with a race simply known as the Covenant. The Covenant aren't happy with the appearance of the humans and see them as an insult to their gods. Longing to destroy the human race, they seek the Halo which they believe to be a powerful weapon which has the capability to be used against the humans. You'll take on the role of the Master Chief, a surviving subject of the SPARTAN-II project. Essentially he's a genetically enhanced super-soldier with the purpose of defending humanity.
The big question when playing a remake of a classic is whether the gameplay is as enjoyable today as it was when first released and in many respects the answer is a resounding yes. Yes, the Warthog still handles like a shopping trolley, the Flood are still one of the most annoying enemies I've encountered in an FPS and yes, the cut and paste nature of the level design is still a little irritating (although 343 have used some colour variation to make everything seem less repetitive which is certainly welcome) but there's a lot of fun to be had from driving a Ghost and getting into shootouts galore with the Covenant. It also seems very refreshing after years of increasingly stale World War II and near-future shooters that attempt to resemble real-world events to play an FPS that's pure escapism. The storyline and the gameplay (in single, co-op and multiplayer) still manage to cut the mustard and are as enjoyable as ever.
There are some key differences in this anniversary edition. For starters there are achievements to be earned and they are well thought out with some being quite challenging. There are terminals to be found when playing with the new graphics (which you will do by default) and when accessed these terminals display new cut scenes that add to the storyline. The multiplayer is essentially taken from Halo: Reach which some may like and some may disapprove of, as the more modern multiplayer experience makes the anniversary edition feel less authentic. You're getting six re-imagined classic maps in addition to a brand new Firefight mission. The multiplayer experience is still very enjoyable however and is still capable of soaking up many hours of your spare time. The game also comes with a DLC code for the maps and Firefight mission so that you can use them with your Halo: Reach game in addition to code for the Master Chief Avatar Armour and a Grunt Funeral Skull.
It goes without saying that this anniversary edition looks significantly better than the original. You can even press the Back button to switch between the original Xbox visuals and the updated visuals at any time other than during a cut scene. Of course the new visuals have to work on top of the geometry of the original game so in some respects you can still see the roots of the original game through the new visuals but there's no denying that 343 have done a great job at giving this classic an impressive facelift and there are times when you'll want to pause and switch between the two to simply marvel at the improvements. The cut scenes have been reworked (and some new ones added which can be accessed from terminals) and yet the spirit of those in the original game has been retained. There are some frame rate issues during some of the cut scenes but it's nothing problematic and the frame rate through the main game remains smooth. Those of you with 3D TV sets will be pleased to learn that the anniversary edition does provide an option to enable 3D (I can't comment on the quality of it however, as like most people at the time of writing, I don't have access to a 3D display).
The big problem with the original release of Halo was the absence of any subtitles. This robbed deaf gamers of the ability to enjoy the game's storyline in addition to missing out on the comments from Cortana and other key characters during the game. For that reason, my biggest reason for being delighted with this version of the game is the inclusion of subtitles. They are disabled by default but with them enabled you will be able to enjoy all of the dialogue in the game's cut scenes, communications from Cortana and important conversations from key characters during the main game. There are still some comments that aren't subtitled such as those from your companions and enemies during the course of the battles but this is the most accessible Halo game in the series to date and 343 deserve praise for adding the subtitles this time around.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is the definitive version of the game that kicked off the original Xbox console. Yes it looks a lot better but the big difference, at least as far as this website is concerned, is that the game has been subtitled this time around. At last you'll be able to enjoy the game's storyline and you won't miss out on any of the game's key dialogue which is a massive improvement on the original release of the game. The game is still as addictive and enjoyable as it was the first time around. Yes you will recognise that this is an FPS shooter from ten years ago and some aspects of the level design are as irritating now as they were back then but even with taking this into account, there's no denying that it's still a first rate single and multiplayer experience and ten years on that's no mean feat.