It's been nearly a decade since Microsoft launched the original Xbox and with it, Halo: Combat Evolved. Originally planned as a PC and Mac title, Halo became an Xbox exclusive when Microsoft purchased Bungie. Though Bungie is once again independent, the Halo franchise has stayed with Microsoft, and it intends on commemorating the game's 10th anniversary with a remastered re-release of the console classic.
Sitting down with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the first thing you notice are the visuals. Map design may be straight out of 2001, but the textures, light mapping and special effects have all received a complete overhaul. The fresh coat of paint does the game wonders, with the world feeling fresh and vibrant. Halo Anniversary's biggest visual gains occur whenever you are indoors. Whereas the original had many walls and panels with fairly flat texturing, the details shown here make the world feel more alive. Outdoor areas have also received an update, but the difference isn't quite as stark.
The visual magic happens due to the way in which 343 has updated the Halo game engine. All of the bits having to do with gameplay and AI were left alone, according to 343. Instead, the team focused on the graphics, completely re-rendering everything within and "overlaying" it on the underlying technology. In this way, the Covenant forces still react just as they did 10 years back; they just look a whole lot better while they are shooting at you. If you happen to feel a pang of nostalgia while playing, never fear. Original Halo graphics can be brought back with a single press of a button.
Sounds have also gotten reworked, though the difference there isn't nearly at noticeable unless you're a hard-core fan. Most players likely won't notice the difference unless you do a direct A/B comparison with the original game.
Other additions include 3-D support (so long as you have a 3-D TV) and Kinect voice command support. The voice command allows you perform certain actions, such as reloading just by speaking the correct word. This is similar to how Dance Central 2 uses voice recognition to navigate menus and choose songs. You'll also be able to use voice commands to scan objects and add them to a library for later viewing.
For multiplayer, 343 considered implementing Xbox Live support into the original engine, but in the end, it simply wasn't feasible. As a result, the classic Halo experience is only available in the campaign mode. If you want to have it in deathmatch, you're going online with the Halo: Reach engine and a series of custom maps. In this way, it is similar to how Halo 3: ODST handled its multiplayer offering.
The custom maps are all re-imagined versions of classics, with necessary edits to make them work in the Reach engine. For example, jetpacks and armor locking weren't available in the original Halo, but they're present here. Much of the work went to ensuring that the new versions of the old maps offered up a balanced challenge while still fulfilling the right amount of nostalgia. Initially, these new maps will be exclusive to Halo: Anniversary, but they will eventually be made available as DLC for Reach owners.
Because Halo: Anniversary is essentially two games in one, it offers up more than just the standard Achievement set. You can earn all of the multiplayer achievements from Reach as well as the standard 1000 Gamerscore from Halo.
Releasing updated versions of classic titles has become something of a "thing" this generation. While the majority of those releases have been via XBLA, PSN and Steam, a few notable titles have gotten the on-disc treatment, including Ubisoft's Splinter Cell Trilogy and Sony's Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection. Next month, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary will be joining their ranks as Microsoft and 343 put forth their own updated offering. We already know that Halo: Anniversary looks good; here's hoping the campaign plays as well as we remember.
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