When the original Xbox launched in November of 2001, there was one title that quickly became the must-have game. Halo: Combat Evolved combined a thrilling campaign with groundbreaking multiplayer action. The exciting saga of Master Chief combined with 16-player epic battles made Halo into one of the best selling games in Xbox history.
Ten years later, Microsoft and developer 343 Industries have revived the iconic game and given it a fresh coat of HD paint as Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. While it is a blast reliving the first encounters of Master Chief against the Covenant, and playing updated versions of iconic maps brings back memories from a decade ago, the game that was classic then is only very good now.
For those that haven't played Halo in the past, the story follows a faceless hero, Master Chief, as he is awoken from a deep freeze and leads the United Nations Space Command against a race of aliens known as the Covenant. The Covenant take many shapes and sizes, from the swarming ankle-biting Flood to the elephantesque Hunters. Battles take place aboard human and Covenant ships, and on the gorgeously detailed namesake ring Halo.
Visually, the game has been given a massive update, as drab walls and floors that seemed epic back in 2001 now literally shine and glow. The visual overhaul applies to both the maps and characters. A neat feature allows players to press the Back button on the Xbox 360 controller at any point in the campaign, and after a quick fade out/fade in, players can view what the game looked like in 2001. You can play the entire game with whatever visual style you prefer, changing on the fly. It's a fun trip down memory lane, and something more remakes should offer. The award-winning musical score that accompanies the campaign returns and is still spectacular.
The campaign is exciting and filled with satisfying moments, but what became a staple of future Halo games still shows up in Anniversary since the campaign is a straight remake. Repetitive corridors indistinguishable from the next, backtracking your way through areas to give false pretense of larger maps, and the occasional trial-and-error level can be frustrating and exhausting. I spent more than 40 tries on the "Belly of the Beast" chapter until I got lucky with whatever ammo I could find that would defeat an invisible Hunter. These moments are rare, but noticeable and infuriating. It's worth noting that the campaign can be played cooperatively over Xbox Live, which didn't make its debut until a year after Halo first launched.
Multiplayer matches across LANs became moments of lore for friends and roommates alike in 2001. With the advent of Xbox Live, the same multiplayer madness extends to the Anniversary edition. However, with just six maps and an emphasis on the overpowered pistol, those new to the Halo way of doing things may spend more time than expected getting their feet wet. Later Halo additions, such as customizable online appearances and character boosts, are infused well with the maps: zipping around in a jetpack over the arch in Battle Creek while firing rockets at unsuspecting players below never looked better. Though 13 maps were a part of the original Halo, only six are available as part of the Anniversary Edition. Those who buy the game new can use a special code to import these six maps into 2010's prequel Halo: Reach for free.
Perhaps the best thing Halo Anniversary has going for it is the price tag. At just $40, Halo fans and newcomers alike can jump in at 2/3 the cost of other holiday season blockbusters. Whether reliving the groundbreaking campaign or firing rounds into opponents from across gorgeous online maps, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is highly recommended for anyone who has ever picked up an Xbox controller.
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