There are moments in each Halo game that stand out, and they’re different for each of us. A moment so vivid, so memorable, that while often the perception flatters the memory, it is the impact of the memory that remains.
The Silent Cartographer, 343 Guilty Spark, The Arbiter and Delta Halo. The anti-climax of Halo 2. Other memories like Tsavo Highway, The Ark, Cortana, the triumphant crescendo of Halo 3, Forerunner and Midnight. Blood Gultch, Hang-em-high, Lockout, Ascension and Zanzibar. Construct, High Ground, Cold Storage, Exile, Forge Island, Landfall and Monolith. Spartan Ops.
Each of these memories invokes a feeling, or a smile. A moment where life changed, or where you changed. Where you were someplace else. Someplace simpler and more fantastical than anything since. It is these memories; these moments of greatness where you were the hero, the last hope for humanity, that Microsoft hopes will drag you into the world of Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
To list all of the content included in the package would be bordering on madness, because HMCC offers unbelievable value, greater than any compendium, trilogy or re-master has done in the history of videogames.
The custom designed menu, while offering welcome eye-candy, is quick to expose itself as the conduit to this content, laying out clearly each game or game mode and the all-important extras.
Four games, over 100 multiplayer maps, behind-the-scenes documentaries, easter eggs, Halo: Nightfall and Halo 5: Guardians beta access. Microsoft could have sold Nightfalll as a TV download, and it could have created DLC packs for some of the maps, much like the original games. It could have not included the easter eggs, nor created all-new cut-scenes for Halo 2. It could have put so much less effort into HMCC, but it chose to aim for the sky. Microsoft and 343 Industries chose to curate and create the most comprehensive package ever assembled for a home console. And that’s before you’ve even pressed a single button.
The first time I pressed the right trigger on the original Xbox controller (yes, the really massive one), the feeling of power, and the excitement was incredible. The game that was to make console LAN parties a thing was yet to come out, and upstairs at my local game store, I was playing against three guys in my first real experience of multiplayer. It was the most amazing thing. Ever. I laid down £519 on an Xbox, four games, a media remote and a second controller. Sure, I played the other three games, but Halo; there was something about it. The other games were Project Gotham Racing, Dead or Alive and Knockout Kings. Not exactly the worst launch line-up, right? Still, Halo was constantly in my Xbox, and eventually, it would change my life, allowing me to write these words today is a testament to its effect.
It’s every bit as brilliant as you’d care to remember. It’s a little rusty now, but 13 years will do that to you, and the level of immersion offered by games today, including motion capture, dynamic audio and lighting – things were different then. Halo: Combat Evolved stood out from the crowd, and almost everyone marvelled at the amazing quality of its grass textures. In fact, that was one of the first things I checked out. That’s one of the memories I mentioned. Everyone has them, and they might be for different things – but they grab you, none-the-less.
At the press of a button, flicking between the original engine graphics to the remastered version shows just how much has changed, and how impressive the remake is. Try playing ‘The Library’ in the original engine, and you realise just how dark it was, pushing the limits of particle physics, and in effect, game design. Running both engines side-by-side is also a mammoth achievement, one that should be applauded, showcasing Sabre’s technical prowess, and ultimate love for the franchise.
Back then, Halo 2 was a little bit of a let-down. At the time, it felt like a big deal. The hype machine was in full swing, and Microsoft sold over $500m of Halo 2 in a few days. Nobody had done that before. Halo was a hit franchise, and on its own merits. It was one of the first online shooters on Xbox Live, topping the online play charts for years. It was, bar the slightly disappointing ending, the best single player and multiplayer experience most Xbox gamers had seen, and led the way as an example of a great product that consumers embraced – it set the standard for ‘what’s in the box’.
It’s also the game that receives the most love in this collection, receiving the full remaster treatment, and playing your way through the game, much as I did in the mid-2000s is as refreshing today as it was back then. For new players, there’s this incredible world to step into, and for fans, there was this place you wished you’d never left. Your nights were spent saying ‘swords on lockout? Yeah? Great!” Granted, there were more maps and more modes, but the feeling of grabbing the energy sword from a downed foe and running to the next opponent to begin a kill-streak was not to be sniffed at.
Halo 2 isn’t the best halo game, but it is a great remaster, again showcasing the love and attention shown by 343 to make this something memorable. Something to help you remember, and something for a new generation to experience for the first time; to create memories.
Both Halo 3 and Halo 4 receive the full 1080p, 60fps treatment, and they’re both to be applauded for different reasons. Halo 3s release on Xbox 360 was a watershed moment. It was Bungie’s last Halo game in the series, and their exit from under Redmond’s wing would follow soon after Halo: Reach. What the third story in the series did, was finish the fight. Kind of.
I’m not going to go into the story of Halo 3 and Halo 4, because you can, and you should experience them both for yourselves. 343s take on Halo, Halo 4 is incredible on Xbox One. The upgrade from Xbox 360 is marked improvement, and while no cosmetic assets have been remade, the 1080p resolution really shows off how amazing the studios artists are. Each of the levels is brought to wonderfully clear and beautiful life.
In Multiplayer, there really is too much to go into. There’s over 100 maps –and while some are a little weak, Bungie’s strengths were easy to see, and its ability to create a competitive multiplayer experience across a number of maps is replicated in a number of ways in HMCC.
HALO: CE has all of the maps from the Xbox and the PC version (created by Gearbox, no less), while HALO 2’s online elements remain intact on their original engines for authenticity. However, 343 has created the Anniversary element of Halo 2, creating a new engine with new assets designed to bring back the much loved maps from the original, but expose them in a modern light, showcasing their undeniable quality to a whole new audience.
Much the same can be said of Halo 3 and 4s experience, adding more maps as you journey through the playable elements of the collection, planting a solid flag into the ground of Xbox Live and shouting that it wants its place back at the top. While we all dream of living over again, HMCC has the chance to do that, reminding old fans of the impeccable multiplayer, and giving new fans something different to the stylised trappings of Advanced Warfare, TitanFall and Battlefield.
Halo: Nightfall begins the new content, releasing each week for five weeks after launch, it’s a mini-series that fills the gap between Halo: Forward unto dawn and Halo 5. We haven’t watched it, nor has anyone, and we’ll reserve judgment until it arrives. Spike Lee is making it, thought, so don’t expect it to be rubbish. Expect gritty and awesome. That’s what we’re hoping for, anyway. A cross between Starship Troopers and Mass Effect would be brilliant, but we’ll see what happens.
The final piece of the jigsaw is Halo 5: Guardians beta access, which runs from 29th December to 17th January. It’s going to be incredible, we hope.
All that’s left is for us to give Halo: The Master Chief Collection a score, and it’s something we’ve been battling with for a couple of days. Quite simply, HMCC is the most complete package ever delivered of one franchise, and the sheer amount of content is unprecedented, but these aren’t new games. Bu then these Xbox One versions aren’t of just any game, but arguably of the most important franchise in the short history of Xbox.
There is no filler in HMCC, because the games are proven to be great games – to be games that spanned two generations and drove a community that numbered into the tens of millions. You could play each of the campaigns back to front numerous times and still not see everything.
Microsoft and 343 have succeeded in bringing back to life on a new platform, a franchise that is so rooted in the lives of so many gamers, but enabled a whole new audience to relieve our past, our memories, and wear our smiles, but experience them all for the first time. As I write, the reprise to Halo 2 builds to its conclusion, and it feels like victory all over again.
13 years ago, Halo: Combat evolved changed everything. It made shooters work on console, and it spawned not just a series of videogames, but allowed a whole genre to explode into life. The success of HMCC is in its ability to bring not just the games to life, but your memories of it. To retell the stories you grew up playing, and to make you remember what you were doing in when you first played. I believe Halo: The Master Chef Collection has the ability to forge new memories once more, not just for fans, but for those who haven’t experienced the rising swell of Marty O’Donnell’s score. To those that haven’t lost themselves in Joseph Staten’s stories.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection breathes new life into an old friend, and it is most welcome, because a collection of four games from over a decade of development could just end up being the game of the year.