As we all know, next-gen remakes that only upgrade the graphics and add-in the add-ons are usually not worth buying if you’ve already played the original games. But while that’s still true for the Halo The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One) if you’re just into single-player, for those who prefer to play with other people, especially in Halo 2, this collection might be worth the double dip.
For those who missed them, the four games included in the Halo The Master Chief Collection — the 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved, 2004’s Halo 2, 2007’s Halo 3, and 2012’s Halo 4 — tell the ongoing saga of our titular hero as he tries to stop a collective of aliens from destroying the Earth and a lot of other places. Which means shooting a lot of people from the first-person perspective while wearing power armor.
In terms of the four games’ campaigns, the versions included in Halo The Master Chief Collection are just better looking versions of the originals. In the case of Halo: Combat Evolved (which is the Anniversary Edition that was previously upgraded to Xbox 360 standards), Halo 3, and Halo 4, the differences are small but noticeable, since all three have their original graphics intact, but are now presented in 1080p and running at sixty-frames-per-second, which makes everything slightly cleaner and smoother.
In the case of Halo 2, however, the visual upgrade on the Halo The Master Chief Collection is more dramatic, since the graphics have been redone to take advantage of the Xbox One’s power. Even cooler, all of the cut scenes have also been redone, and in some cases expanded, and now look utterly spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, that I really hope Microsoft hires the people who made them to do a CGI Halo movie.
As good as these visual improvements may be, though, they’re ultimately superficial, since they don’t change anything about the gameplay. Which isn’t to say the campaigns in Halo The Master Chief Collection are presented perfectly. After you beat each mission, there’s a post-mortem. Which is fine for people who enjoy performance reviews (or if it was an option you could turn off), but for those who enjoy the cinematic nature of these games, these bits just ruin the flow of the stories far more than the original’s loading screens.
Then there’s the option that lets you jump to a specific mission of any game, regardless of whether you’ve played it before in this collection. You can even play thematically-link missions from one game, or even all four, in a mode called “Playlists.” which thematically pairs together missions from a game. In “Wheels, Wheels, And More Wheels,” for instance, you play the vehicular missions from Halo 3, while “Flooded” has you taking on those alien parasites in missions from all four games. Why would you do this? No idea. Because while it does mean you can skip the parts of Halo 2 when you run into that stupid talking plant from Little Shop Of Horrors, but it’s still like randomly skipping around a movie or book.
Still, despite these complaints, all of the campaigns in Halo The Master Chief Collection hold up rather well. So well, in fact, that sitting down to play Halo: Combat Evolved for what was supposed to be half-an-hour after The Daily Show turned into the familiar Halo scenario of realizing I’d instead played for hours, and where the hell are my pants? Sure, some of the old problems remain — like why, when he’s using two guns John Woo style, can’t Master Chief toss a grenade or whack someone upside the head without dropping one of his guns? — but for the most part, these are the Halo campaigns we know and, apparently, still really, really love.
In some ways, everything you can say about the story mode in Halo The Master Chief Collection also applies to its online ones. For the most part, all four games’ multiplayer modes are exactly as they were before, assuming you’ve bought every map that was every released for each game. Again, this means that for those who want to play Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary Edition, Halo 3, or Halo 4 online, this collection isn’t a big deal, since you can still play the original versions on 360. But for fans of Halo 2’s multiplayer, this is a godsend, since Microsoft shut down the servers for that game a few years ago. Not only does it have all of the maps looking the same as they did the last time you played, right down to the menus, but they even work the same. Which yes, means the sword is still overpowered.
Even cooler, there’s also a special Halo 2 Anniversary mode that features six Halo 2 maps that have been slightly reconfigured and given spiffy new graphics. “Sanctuary,” for instance, now has some hidden gravity lifts as well as a waterfall that covers one of the temple entrances. Though they did, for some unknown reason, add a kill cam to this mode that has a cheesy, ’90s look about it.
There’s also a problem in both the single- and multiplayer modes of Halo The Master Chief Collection that’s so common these days that I just cut and paste this paragraph into every game review I do (and I’m getting a little tired of it): some of the type is to small. Unless you sit really, really close to your TV — y’know, like your mama told you not to — you’ll have a hard time reading the button prompts in Halo: Combat Evolved, who got a kill streak in Halo 2 Anniversary’s multiplayer, and the captions in the Halo 4.
In the end, Halo The Master Chief Collection — like similar HD upgrades — doesn’t offer enough for fans of these games’ single-player modes to make this worthwhile, even if these game do still kick some serious alien butt. But by reviving the much beloved online of Halo 2, and adding a couple cool new-ish maps for it, they’ve made this compilation worth getting if you play well with others.