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Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2014


Xbox One Preview - 'Halo: The Master Chief Collection'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 10, 2014 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Halo: The Master Chief Collection bundles Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4 on a single disc, featuring remastered graphics and running at 60fps.

When Microsoft released Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary for the Xbox 360 three years ago, it didn't hold back. The game got the full remaster treatment and showed all of us that Halo's gameplay really did hold up over the years. For Halo 2's 10-year anniversary, Microsoft is collecting all four of the main series games into one remastered collection: Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has been ported to the Xbox One; Halo 2 is getting the full anniversary treatment; Halo 3 and Halo 4 are getting smaller improvements, since they are already running in HD on the Xbox 360.

Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach are NOT included in the collection due to space reasons; however, a Microsoft rep told us that updates of the two games are under consideration.

As the main title in the collection, Halo 2 Anniversary is getting all of its visual assets redone, and audio is getting re-recorded. At first, redoing the audio might not sound like a big deal, but given that surround sound systems are much more prevalent today than in 2004, the update is well worth it. Sound effects are more positional than in the original game, offering up a better sense of location. The improved fidelity means both music and effects should provide more aural depth.

Just like the original Halo Anniversary, the Halo 2 outing features both game engines running simultaneously while playing campaign. You can swap between them on the fly, viewing an up-rezzed version of the original or enjoying the new version with all of its graphical bells and whistles. Regardless of which you prefer, the actual gameplay remains unchanged. Shooting, movement, maps: They're all here, just as they were a decade ago.

Also updated are the cut scenes. A full 53 minutes of cinematics have been completely redone and rendered by Blur, specifically for the updated collection. Microsoft showed off a few minutes, and they look really good.

Moving into multiplayer, things are slightly different. Although all of the Halo 2 multiplayer maps are available (yes, that includes all of the maps that were available through Xbox Live, on the Multiplayer Map Pack expansion disc and in the PC "Windows Vista" version of Halo 2), not all of them have been given the full anniversary overhaul. In short, if you want to play the maps, they're all here. If you want to play them in remastered glory, you only get to choose from a handful. There is no on-the-fly graphics switching in multiplayer, so the mode you pick is fixed for the match.

We started our multiplayer session with a few rounds on an updated version of Zanzibar, a map that should be instantly recognizable to Halo 2 veterans. This is an open map, with half it on a beach and the other half inside a power plant with a massive windmill wheel. Banshees are available on the beach, while various small pockets at different levels inside the plant provide a number of sniping opportunities. There was a bit of a learning curve, as Halo 2 multiplayer feels a lot slower than most current games, but before long, we were back in the groove. Going back is much like riding a bicycle; you never really forget.

The second remastered map we played is an updated version of Ascension. This one is a smaller map, with two towers on either side, a large central area, and a number of walkways around the edges. Notable is the dynamic shield that can be activated in the center area of the map. Turning it on allows for close combat without worrying about being sniped from afar.

The third, and final, map of our play session was an updated version of Lockout. It was also my favorite of the three due to the fact that it is more vertical than the other two choices. Narrow corridors force players to always be alert, as the close quarters make it easy for someone to sneak up and get a kill with the energy sword. One nice touch is the large stalactites on the ceiling. They can be shot from afar, and if they crash onto an opponent, it is an instant kill.

Neither Halo 3 nor Halo 4 were available for play, though we did see a short snippet. These games didn't get the full anniversary treatment, as they were already running in HD, but the team did tweak the visuals, so there is an improvement over what was seen on the Xbox 360. According to Microsoft, both Halo 3 and Halo 4 are running at a full 1080p/60fps.

In addition to the games, the release of the Master Chief Collection will coincide with the release of the Halo Channel companion app. Looking like an evolution of Halo Waypoint, the Halo Channel is designed as a central Halo Hub for the Xbox One. The app is integrated with Twitter and offers original content, news, a wiki-style reference on Halo lore, and an e-sports section that links to live TwitchTV Halo streams.

The Halo Channel is where collection owners will be able to view "Halo: Nightfall," the episodic, live-action Halo production that promises to bridge the story gap between Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. Because of the integrated nature of the Halo Channel, "Nightfall" episodes can offer links to extra features, similar to what you'd see on a Blu-ray.

Speaking of Guardians, the Master Chief Collection does come with a guaranteed beta invite for Halo 5. Enough said on that.

While some may dismiss it as a simple cash grab, Halo: The Master Chief Collection has received the same level of care from Microsoft that a movie studio would apply to a director's cut of a favorite film. We'll have a final verdict next month, but so far, things are looking good.

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