Master Chief has become as iconic as Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man, Gordon Freeman and the like. The launch of the original Xbox back in 2001 saw Microsoft entering unknown territory and in desperate need of a hero to call their own. Enter Bungie Studios’ supremely hyped and formerly Macintosh exclusive Halo: Combat Evolved. The unfolding saga of the Spartans, the Covenant, Master Chief and the fate of humanity has loomed large in the minds of gamers for years. It has been compared to Homer’s Aeneid and hailed as a watershed moment in console history. Bungie, and later 343 Industries, managed to redefine the entire first-person shooter landscape with what has always been known as the Xbox’s “killer app”.
The original Xbox rode the Halo horse all the way into the living rooms and dorm rooms of enthusiasts everywhere and the console market has never been the same. The rise of Microsoft as a player in the gaming industry can be directly tied to Bungie Studios and Master Chief. It is only fitting that, on the eve of Halo 2’s ten year anniversary, that 343 Industries bring the games that kickstarted things to the current generation. Not only will you get the original Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary but also Halo 2, 3 and 4. The second game in the series, the original Xbox’s highest selling title (6.3 million copies sold in the United States alone), gets the same treatment Combat Evolved got a few years back. The visual overhaul afforded the first game also includes a completely re-recorded soundtrack courtesy of the San Francisco symphony including a 28-person children’s choir. Blur Studios revisited every single cutscene for and the resonance from a decade past is still just as strong today. That image of Master Chief giving that bomb back to the Covenant remains one of my favorite images of that time in video games.
343 Industries has clearly devoted a lot of time and sunk a lot of love into restoring and maintaining the legacy of Halo. Their entry into the series (Halo 4) was reverent to the canon of the universe built by Bungie while striking new ground. Their approach with Halo 2 is similar. Nostalgia tends to allow players to forget just how much the original games have aged. It is, of course, unfair to disparage a game from two generations prior for not looking so great these days. 343 has, however, managed to take a fine comb to every nuance, nook and cranny and offer an experience that is not only true to the original but, frankly, lives up to the high standards set by today’s titles.
If you’re a purist and want to experience the original games as they were at release then, by all means, do so. Much like the original Anniversary edition of the first Halo game there will be a one-button toggle available to switch, on the fly, between the original and the MCC version. There is no waiting for the switch to occur and it provides an immediate glimpse back in time to when things were more blocky, more jagged and better? It will also transition between the original soundtrack and the re-recorded one made specifically for Halo 2. One of the best scores in all of gaming can be found within the Halo franchise yet
Audio director at 343 Industries, Paul Lipson, went one step further and recorded over 5,000+ new sounds for everything from the infamous energy sword to how the big man, Master Chief, sounds when he walks. The near impotent sounds of the originals, by comparison, are blown away by these new recordings. Even the ridiculous Jiffy Pop noise that used to be associated with the SMG has been replaced with something far beefier and fantastic. Lipson and his crew went to the Tacoma Police Department offices and fired off every weapon imaginable with 20 different microphones set up at varied distances.
Though Halo and Halo 2 got the brunt of the special treatment the remaining Xbox 360 entries have, as well, been bumped up to 1080p and 60 FPS. The visual differences between the original and the newly enhanced version of 3, in particular, aren’t as pronounced but the lighting is most certainly leaps and bounds above what we originally got. 4, the youngest of the bunch, appears as though it was made for the One. The visual prowess on display during the 360 days has only been amplified further with the hardware of the current-gen and it shows. Both versions, however, lack a toggle between the original and the new as, well, there weren’t so many drastic changes made.
The amount of craft going into the restoration and, ultimately, the preservation of one of gaming’s biggest titles doesn’t extend only to the audio/visual side. Every single map imaginable from all the titles will be made available and they’ve been retouched and re-imagined in exciting ways. It is time, yet again, to grenade some noobs in the ancient ruins of Sanctuary again.
All the maps you know and love — Blood Gulch, Coagulation, The Pit for example — can be tweaked in Forge and among them are six remastered Halo 2 maps. It is clear that 343 are not only dedicated craftsman but huge Halo fanboys themselves is evident with these retouched maps. All the jump points, tricks and wrinkles that players know and love are still present but presented in higher fidelity and with minor touches here and there to improve playability and so on.
Not only do you get all four of the original Halo titles bumped up to 1080p and 60 FPS, remastered cutscenes and maps for a scant $59.99 but you also get guaranteed access into the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta. The Master Chief Collection is proof-positive that not only is worth revisiting one of gaming’s storied franchises on the Xbox One but that the house that Halo built is definitely big enough to hold it still. The complaints of slow combat, not being twitch enough? Nonsense. Even in a crowded scene full of big name titles there is always room for a little Halo.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection will be released on November 11, 2014. Only on Xbox One.