Continuing the Master Chief’s path to glory, this is part two of a four part review on the recently released Xbox One exclusive, Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: Xbox One Exclusive
Release Date: Out Now
As mentioned in part one, Halo: Combat Evolved was revolutionary for the console FPS genre, so anticipation for a sequel couldn’t have been higher and in late 2004 we finally had our prayers answered.
It was the 10 year anniversary in 2014 of that release on the original Xbox which influenced the release of the master chief collection and like it’s predecessor we have been treated to a graphical upgrade anniversary edition of Halo 2.
But this version wasn’t built for the Xbox 360, it has been built specifically for the much more powerful and game liberating Xbox One.
Set shortly after the closing events of Combat Evolved, Halo 2’s story opens with a look at the Covenant civilization with the trial of the condemned Elite commander Thel ‘Vadam, who failed to stop the destruction of the first Halo.
Meanwhile, our cybernetic hero the Master Chief is back home. During an award ceremony on a space station orbiting Earth the chief is thrown straight back into the action as a small Covenant fleet begins an attack on Earth.
Upon successfully ridding Earth of the Covenant invaders and chasing them into retreat, Cortana, the Chief and a new Earth ship, discover a second Halo installation. Knowing the destructive power of the ring, the chief is sent down to kill one of the leaders of the Covenant, the alien responsible for the attack on Earth known as Regret, who plans to activate the Halo.
One of the unique things about Halo 2 is that this isn’t just a Master Chief story, this is also about the redemption of the Elite commander.
Given the option of death in disgrace or a potential suicide mission, the Elite chooses redemption which will lead him on a path to defeat his enemy, the demon, the Master Chief.
Probably the best campaign story of all of the Halo games, if with a slightly abrupt ending, it’s told very well and at fantastic pace. The dual perspective story line which actually sees the player taking control of the Elite commander is nothing short of genius from the point of view of a sequel attempting to outdo its predecessor.
What enhances this story considerably is the new console hardware on offer and the graphical upgrades brought to the anniversary edition. We are treated to cut-scenes of such amazing animation detail that they wouldn’t be out of place in a big budget Hollywood movie. While this superficial upgrade doesn’t do much for the game-play it enhances the campaign story above and beyond what any Halo fan could ask for. Playing through the campaign becomes not just about living the story, experiencing and completing the story, these cut-scenes really do add a new level to really draw the player in to the whole experience. You’ll end the campaign thinking you’ve just watched an incredible movie while actually being part of the story as well.
Outside of the cut scenes, the graphical improvements are stunning. Much like the first anniversary game the levels have been recreated perfectly from the original but every inch has been given a modern face-lift, Halo 2: Anniversary certainly doesn’t look out of place on the Xbox One. The backgrounds have been improved, the character models have been improved, the draw distance has had a significant upgrade, everything looks better.
Now as any Halo fan will know, Halo 2’s gaming mechanics were developed with one thing in mind, bring everything in that couldn’t be added to the first game. The Master Chiefs armor was upgraded, the health bar HUD was replaced with the regenerative shield HUD, available weapons were increased including the fan favourite, the energy sword, a weapon used in Combat Evolved but never available to the player.
One of the most significant improvements and one that didn’t seem to stay in the core mechanics for later games was the ability to dual-wield any combination of the one handed firearms. This, in my opinion, made the action a little more high octane compared with Combat Evolved, everything seems faster, riskier and yet more fun when you’re running through a Covenant city carrying two Brute rifles.
The other major addition, and one that has stuck with the Halo franchise to this day, is the ability to board enemy vehicles while they are occupied, allowing the player to throw grenades into the engines and destroy the vehicle without the need for stronger ammunition.
While this sounds great, it did come with one drawback, the enemies have this ability too and as with the original game the AI are anything but predictable. Building on the amazing strength of both enemy and ally AI from the first game, Halo 2 continued this with awesome success.
In a time when the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare revolution was still three years away Halo 2 was producing enemy AI that make even today’s Advance Warfare look mediocre at best.
The newer anniversary edition brings all of this game-play into the modern gaming era perfectly, improving on the original and yet never drowning out its origins.
Outside of the single player campaign the original game offered players the first taste of true modern FPS multiplayer. What Combat Evolved did for the single player campaign, Halo 2 did for the multiplayer.
Matchmaking, something every gamer has experienced at some point, it’s integrated in almost every modern game, it started with Halo 2. This is not all the game did for the multiplayer functionality we now all know and love.
Many agree that Halo 2 made Xbox Live and without the game, the service could have easily have faltered. Halo 2 also helped make DLC popular on the Xbox console with the regular addition of new maps and resources for multiplayer made available as downloads.
That said, the multiplayer was anything but amazing to play. It was prone to glitches galore and many exploited these to attain high ranks, it actually took a number of years of patching to bring it up to a level more familiar to modern gamers. Even so, the PC version continued to be popular right up until 2013 so it definitely had something going for it.
The anniversary edition has done away with this version of multiplayer all together and instead integrated many of the environments from the original into something a bit more familiar to Halo 3 and 4 gamers. Unlike the loss to Combat Evolved, in my opinion this is a significant improvement to this particular game though its help in shaping modern multiplayer should never be forgotten.
Away from graphics and gameplay for a minute and looking at (or listening to) the audio, it’s amazing, simple as. Where the original soundtrack was beautiful to say the least the HD upgrade has served this game well. The improved quality seems filled with passion compared to the original, more power so to speak and it adds great value to the overall experience.
The new coat of paint isn’t without its flaws though, with advancement in technology comes the higher risk of glitches unfortunately and sadly Halo 2 is not immune.
One of the biggest achievements, technologically with the anniversary games is their ability to run two gaming engines simultaneously allowing the players to instantly switch from 2014 graphics back in time to 2004 graphics and vice versa.
While this in itself is a great addition for us older gamers who remember the original, it does sadly lead to the inevitable side by side comparisons. On the few levels throughout the campaign there are times on the newer engine when the lighting seems so poor I was forced to change to 2004 in order to complete a portion of the combat. Suddenly I was having flashbacks to the launch of the Xbox 360 and the issues surrounding a certain King Kong game and it’s darkness issues when ported to the new HD based system.
There are other points throughout my campaign experience which seemed a little rough around the edges. Enemies frozen in walls, brief sound issues and the same frame rate drop issues I mentioned in my Combat Evolved review.
That said, these are minor annoyances, some of which will likely be patched in the near future. The experience as a whole is superb.
There’s something about Halo 2: Anniversary that doesn’t quite match up to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Maybe it’s just the expectation associated with the Xbox One over the Xbox 360, maybe it’s the fact that the first game set the scene and done the hard work first.
Even so this is still a superb game that deserves the highest review mark possible. The minor discomforts caused by teething problems will be fixed in the not too distant future but even now they do very little to take away from the majesty that is one of the highlights in the series.
- The cut-scenes are truly amazing in quality
- Improved Graphics add quality without removing soul of the original game
- The soundtrack has been improved to great effect
- Occasional frame-rate drop
- A bit glitchy in places compared to Combat Evolved.
- Lighting is an issue on some of the graphically upgraded levels