The chief is back, and there’s a lot of him to go around.
Stepping up to review Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a difficult task. On the one hand the sheer number of features and titles and multiplayer options and the upgraded presentations merit a huge amount of in depth coverage.
Contrariwise, the summation is simple – this is a whole lot of Halo and its one of the most impressive collections ever put together by the hands of mere mortals.
The Master Chief Collection brings together 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved, 2004’s Halo 2, Halo 3 from 2007 and Halo 4, which arrived in 2012. The venerable first game comes in its remasteered 2011 form, the second in a newly commissioned (and pretty incredible) restoration and Halo 3 has had some lighting work done.
In addition, each game in the series now runs at 1080p (ok Halo 2 is a little lower) and 60 frames per second, bringing a smoothness and sleekness to the titles that makes them feel all the more at home on the Xbox One.
It’s an incredible package any way you look at it, and all the more so with the extra work that has been done each and every game. it’s clear that publishers Microsoft and developers 343 Industries have a genuine love for this series and wanted to preserve and present it in its best form possible.
Halo 2 is the real centerpiece of this collection, benefiting from entirely new graphics in addition to remastered and re-recorded sound – from the assault rifle to the epic score. And the result might not look like a 2014 game but the expanded level of detail in textures and levels is pretty astonishing.
It’s made all the more impressive because you can simply press a button at any time to swap between the classic and remastered version of the game. it’s amazing to think that both are running (at 60fps no less) at the same time and I was constantly flitting back and forth to get an idea of the work that has gone into this version.
343 also took a look at Halo 2’s in-engine cut scenes and decided on another course of action – hiring CG masters Blur Studios to craft entirely new versions of these story moments. And Blur hit it out of the park, adding a sense of scale, personality and sheer beauty which the original versions totally lacked. But of course you can swap back to the old versions any time you like.
Halo 3 perhaps unsuprisingly looks the most dated, 7 years is a long time in the gaming world. But the extra bit of polish makes a bit of difference and it will always have my love for featuring members of the Firefly crew in voice roles.
Halo 4 may have debuted exactly 2 years ago but it still looks great, especially with the resolution boost. After a couple of years away, Master Chief staged a return with meatier gunplay and a solid story and it still works brilliantly today.
Halo has always prided itself on staging a massive sci-fi story but what this collection shows more clearly is the increasingly intimate nature of the narrative. Master Chief’s relationship with Cortana quickly becomes the beating heart of the franchise and their connection at the end of Halo 3 and into 4 is often close to heart-breaking.
As a single player series, Halo has its high moments (Scarab attack) and its scenes of drudgery (did someone say Flood) but you can’t fault its ambition. And laid out in this form you also get to see how important the franchise has been for the development of the first person shooter genre, while also noting the numerous tweaks and changes which came from Bungie and 343 over the years.
Just for these elements alone, the MCC is well worth seeking out for any fans of the franchise and basically essential for anyone who missed out on Halo so far. In fact, I almost envy those Xbox One users who will get to step into the boots of Master Chief for the first time with such impressive presentation and without having to wait years for cliffhanger endings to be resolved.
But wait, there’s more. Inside the sometimes convoluted menus you’ll find a host of new and familiar experiences. For example each and every mission is unlocked from the start – perfect if you want to replay your favourite moments without having to brute your way through numerous tutorials.
There are also playlists – curated selections of levels which follow certain themes across individual titles and the whole franchise. So maybe you want to just play the entire Arbiter (Keith David ftw!) sequence in Halo 2 or ---- - insert thing here – it’s all available with just a few clicks.
Transitioning from one game to the next isn’t the easiest thing – while there are universal control options available each game plays quite differently. As a test, just try out the warthog in Halo 1 and bask in the gloriously unrestrained physics!
Other extras include videos which can be found in Halo 2 that build on the mythology and history of the game and a bunch of content available through the Halo channel including the upcoming Halo Nightfall mini series – which looks very cool indeed. The app has to launch for video to play, which is awkward in game. The MCC also includes access to a multiplayer beta for Halo 5, which launches on December 29th 2014.
Speaking of multiplayer, that’s another area where this collection excels. For those who were disappointed that Halo Anniversary Edition didn’t include the original maps (it went with versions created in a new engine) you’ll find every legacy arena on here.
The same holds true for Halo 2, with all of your favourites intact and made a good deal prettier, with the second game also getting six classic maps entirely remade for extra deliciousness. Halo 3 and 4 retain their original multiplayer.
All in all, that’s over 100 maps at launch with no doubt more content on the way – including Halo 4’s Spartan Ops co-op mode which launches for free in its entirety before Christmas. It’s kind of amazing to think of these game types and arenas being hosted once again for live matches, with Halo 2’s matches going silent all the way back in 2010.
The sheer amount of content is incredible on paper but I must admit I haven’t had a chance to test the multiplayer, as matches weren’t ready ahead of launch date. I’ll update this review with impressions when I can but the Halo series has a long history of incredible online fan service and reports from outlets who gained access earlier have been very positive.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is an incredibly generous offering. Not only do you get remastered versions of two of the most significant first person shooters ever made – one which revolutionised the genre and another which brought multiplayer to the masses – but you also get two other full length games and more online shooting action than any other title on the market.
For old fans, the sense of nostalgia is particularly apparent, but you get to experience these classic games with a fresh coat of paint. And for new players it’s an unprecedented opportunity to get hands on with one of the most influential video game series ever made. Hail to the chief.