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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

Next 16
 

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary   Xbox 360 

Graphics Evolved    4/5 stars

If I were to award an MVP trophy to a video game series going back to 2000 (essentially the start of the PS2/GameCube/Xbox generation) I’d be hard-pressed not to award it to Halo. Halo: Combat Evolved was truly a reason to buy the original Xbox, and almost the only reason not to opt for the more-established PS2 or the latest Mario-Zelda-Metroid delivery system, the Nintendo GameCube, especially early in the Xbox’s life. Halo 2 launched in 2004 and took the original Halo’s juggernaut local multiplayer and put it on Xbox Live, making Microsoft’s subscription fees a fact of life for many Xbox owners, all but cementing Live’s success.

It’s appropriate then, to celebrate the game that started it all with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. This is a high-def remake of the original, with a couple extras thrown in for good measure.

There’s an important distinction that needs to be made right off the bat concerning this game: this is a total graphical update of the original game, as opposed to just a 1080p port. All the models in the game - weapons, characters, levels, etc - have been updated with more polygons and sharper textures. If you find yourself feeling nostalgic for the good ol’ days, you have an option to play the game in “classic” graphics mode, which IS just a 1080p port of the original.

Throw in an update of the original score and sound effects, and we’ve covered most of the updating done to the game. Each level features some sort of video log hidden away that will tell some detail of the Halo story not covered by the actual campaign, but you may or may not find any of these.

All this is well and good, but the game is really, REALLY similar to the one from over a decade ago. So instead of a traditional “review” of a game that’s been reviewed to DEATH, (except on Melted Joystick) how about we take a more “how does it hold up” approach to the review?

Now, a “how does it hold up” analysis doesn’t mean anything without an understanding of the impression the game made originally. I have an extremely short (compared to my recent reviews) review of the actual original, so feel free to read that. The long and short of it is that while Halo really didn’t do anything new in video games (and this has been talked to DEATH, so please let’s not start a discussion about it) everything it DID do, it did very well. As far as FPS games go, it was a good example of “easy to learn, difficult to master”, which really played to the sometimes-inexperienced fanbase that helped turn it into a video game powerhouse.

Undoubtedly, part of Halo’s initial success was (much like Final Fantasy VII) that many people who fell in love with it maybe hadn’t kept up on the state of video games over the last decade, came back to the hobby, and saw a game with a sense of storytelling, cinematography, good music, characters, and so forth. Basically discovering that since the last time they’d checked in, video games had actually grown as a medium and could be about more than collecting 100 coins for an extra life.

So, how do all these aspects still hold up? Pretty well, honestly. Halo’s popularity forced the FPS genre to collectively step its game up, and the net effect is that while the production value of Halo doesn’t stand out quite like it originally did, that doesn’t make it any worse in terms of overall quality. The updated graphics are a stark contrast to the world of brown and grey that much of the genre has devolved into, as they often feature clear, blue skies and bright colors. The Halo theme still stands out as probably the most recognizable new piece of video game music from the last 15 years, and for good reason. Cortana especially is still a great character, though it’s interesting seeing how much more fleshed-out and vocal Master Chief (the main character) is in later games than in his first adventure. I think the developers knew they had a hit on their hands and decided to play the Chief up as the series became more popular.

The action has aged… oddly… since Halo was first released. When it was first released, it was a straightforward FPS, but it somehow managed to strike a good chord with the flow of combat thanks to frantic pacing and seamless gun/grenade/melee controls. No more switching to the grenade or melee option… all these existed simultaneously alongside your current gun. But at it’s core it was never something new, just something better. Halo has always felt extremely smooth as you play it, which has been one of its strengths.

Fast-forward to today and… I asked myself when the last time I actually played a pure FPS was. Turns out, it was the last time I’d played a Halo game. Nearly every FPS these days (Far Cry 3, Borderlands, Bioshock…) has turned into some sort of FPS-RPG hybrid. I didn’t even notice people hardly even MAKE straightforward FPS games until I was like halfway through this Halo remake. No upgrading skills or weapons. No unlocking new abilities. No open world. It was a little eerie. So once again, Halo’s action kind of stands out against the competition, only this time as a reminder of how the genre used to play.

Not everything has aged well, however. Let's talk level design. Good grief, I’ve never played a better game with such bland layouts. The level design wasn't good before, but seems even worse by comparison now. The art design is excellent and the graphics are clean, but… even having played through this game 3-4 times already I find myself wandering around trying to figure out which way I’m supposed to go. The “indoor” sections of the game suffer from this the most. These levels feel copy-pasted to a simply ridiculous degree. Hallway of control panels, room with enemies, hallway of control panels, room with enemies, hallway, room, hallway, room… they all look nearly identical, and some are so cluttered with obstacles that it’s easy to get turned around and forget which end of the room you came in from. Or even FIND the door you need to leave through. Sometimes, arrows on the floor point in the direction you need to go. Except for the levels where you specifically need to go opposite those arrows. Other times, the game will employ a waypoint system on your HUD… but for some reason not all the time. There are lots of times when a waypoint would fit the situation perfectly, but your AI helper doesn’t see fit to give you one. Why the developers would put this into the game and then not leverage it to speed up the game is beyond me. As this is a remake, I won’t go so far to say as this should have been addressed, but it definitely feels out-of-place in today’s industry, as well as when compared to the rest of the Halo library.

The other part of the game that hasn’t aged well at all is the length of levels. Maybe I just had more time on my hands when I played previously, or maybe I’ve just gotten spoiled by newer games being more forgiving with their savepoints, but this time through I felt really annoyed by having to play for 2 hours before I would reach a point where the game would automatically save. There are plenty of checkpoints in the levels allowing you to restart from there if you die, but when it comes to being able to shut the console off, you’re out of luck. Many of the levels feature numerous places where a sensible person might expect a save and the 10 levels could have been converted into 20-25 shorter ones with more frequent saving. Alternatively, an improved save system would have been an appropriate addition for the remake.

There’s a suite of multiplayer material as well… I touched none of it, because that’s just not my jam. The one thing that DID stand out to me though, was the inclusion of a Firefight map for Halo: Reach. Firefight mode was a multiplayer mode introduced in Halo 3: ODST and was a huge hit with my friends and I, so having a new map to play is a nice treat. This game also allows fans of the original to play the story campaign coop over Xbox Live, which would be a nice treat if you’re feeling nostalgic with someone who lives in a different time zone.

All in all, I’d say this was a good game for the Halo die-hard, or a good grab (at $40 when it launched) for anyone who missed the original Halo. There’s not enough extras to make it a must-have, but the original was a solid enough game that there’s still a place in this world for Halo: Combat Evolved.

 

 


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