In a world where HD remasters were becoming a dime a dozen, where they revolved around simply upscaling old games for new consoles, new company 343 Industries decided to try their hand at the concept. As their first entry as a company, replacing Bungie as the new Halo developer, they created this enhanced remake of the original Halo.
In order to make this game stand out as something special rather than ‘just another remaster’, 343 decided to completely redo the graphics for the game. The whole entire game is rebuilt in a new engine in order to take advantage of the improved hardware of the Xbox 360. The effort shows, with a beautiful new look at the (then) 10 year old game. The environments look better, the effects have more pizzazz, the models are more detailed and the textures are more intricate. Something to keep in mind is that this graphical overhaul works essentially like an overlay. What this means is that ultimately, the game hasn’t changed a bit. The game controls the same, the levels are the same, the enemy AI is the same, and the game is functionally identical to the original Xbox version. This ends up being good and bad.
First, let’s address the bad. The controls are the most glaring problem. The fact is, the original Xbox controller was not as sensitive and articulate as the 360’s controller. For example, the original Xbox’s analog stick has a certain range of movement and thus a certain limited range of X and Y inputs. The original game was designed with that range in mind, and specifically tweaked to reflect on this. This remake doesn’t take into account the increased range of inputs and thus you get a somewhat clunky control scheme that is difficult to get used to. This is especially difficult to get used to considering the extremely refined and precise controls of Halo: Reach (the previously released Halo game). On the other hand, with the lack of updates to any of the other functionality, the game is still playable. The AI reacts the same as it did in 2001, enemy placement is the same and Z-axis movement is the same as far as level design goes.
The good, as mentioned above, is that the game is preserved. The core game is the same, and hasn’t been tampered with at all. Besides some repetitive level design and sometimes bland environmental structure, the game holds up really well. It flows nicely, has a low-key story that screams of greater things to come but keeps things extremely grounded and most importantly: it is fun. The core themes of survival, mystery and wonder still feel right by today’s standards, and that’s testament to the craftsmanship of this almost 15 year old game. As another point of positivity, they remastered the audio and music in the game. The coolest part of all this is that you can press the Back button in order to switch back and forth between the classic game and the updated game. It takes a moment to load between the versions but it’s really cool to try it out throughout the game to see how much it’s been improved.
Another great addition is the ability to play the co-op on Xbox Live, a feature not available in the original. All the couch co-op and multiplayer is intact, but the ability to play co-op online is a blessing in this day of online connectivity. Unfortunately, this same blessing doesn’t transfer over to the multiplayer. 6 maps are beautifully remade using the Halo: Reach multiplayer engine and are playable here (4 maps from the original Halo, 1 map from the PC version of Halo and 1 map from Halo 2). While this is really fun and neat, you’re forced to play it in the Reach engine. This isn’t inherently bad, but it’s disappointing that we can’t play the multiplayer in its original state in a game that is designed to be a remaster of Halo: Combat Evolved. Besides those 6 maps, none of the other Halo maps are available in the game. On the bright side, a single new Firefight map (a wave defense mode) was designed for this remaster specifically using Halo 1’s concepts and themes. The new remastered maps and the Firefight map are ultimately fun, but they should have included the original multiplayer.
As a result of all these tweaks and updates, implemented with respect to the original vision, the game is ultimately a beautiful trip down memory lane. Even with the disappointing implementation of the multiplayer, the campaign holds up very well. The ability to unlock Terminals in the campaign which help elaborate the story and the addition of some fun and creative achievements help top off the package. As far as remasters go, this is definitely one of the better ones to be released that I can think of. If you are a Halo fan, or simply want to experience some of gaming history, this is definitely worth picking up.
- Teepu (Bowser05)