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Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £28
inc VAT

A well-executed update of a classic shooter, and a game that everyone should play at least twice

Halo Anniversary not only marks 10 years since the release of the first game – Halo: Combat Evolved – it also marks 10 years since the launch of the first Xbox. Looking back it’s impossible to say just how much Microsoft benefited from this truly ground-breaking shooter, but Xbox sales certainly owe a huge debt to Halo developer Bungie.

Halo took the PC-centric first person shooter and reworked it brilliantly for games consoles, with all respect to the sterling work done by Rare on Goldeneye. Halo practically wrote the rulebook for shooters on consoles, a rulebook that hasn’t been deviated from even on the latest Call of Duty on Xbox 360. It’s place in gaming history is cemented then, making this commemorative edition seem more than justified.

Anniversary leaves the gameplay unchanged, instead providing a purely cosmetic upgrade. It’s a pretty impressive one too, with hi-res textures and plenty of new details layered over the now bland-looking original graphics – such as additional foliage and extra particle effects. You can switch back and forth at will to compare the two. We were surprised to see some dropped frames in cut scenes, but during play it was incredibly smooth. The game now runs in widescreen, and although this works fine we’d have liked the option to switch back to a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
Here’s a nice wide shot of the graphics from the original version of Halo – click to enlarge

The new graphics certainly won’t fool you into thinking this is a new game, the level design of the interiors are still to simple and repetitive, for that. However, it now looks sharp enough that modern eyes certainly won’t be offended – some achievement for a ten-year old game. There’s also support for 3D TVs if you really want to bring this old warhorse bang up to date.

With the shiny new graphics in place, Halo feels surprisingly well preserved for a game of its age. This is because it set the trends for first-person shooters for generations to come. Not convinced, well lets take a quick tour of Halo’s greatest innovations.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
And here are the updated ones, with plenty of extra texture detail, bump-mapping and even new (albeit incidental) geometry – click to enlarge

The big one has to be recharging health, now seen in practically every shooter, but before Halo most games simply gave you a big health bar that needed to be conserved. In Call of Duty your ability to miraculously recover from bullet wounds in seconds makes little sense; but Halo’s Master Chief has an energy shield. This can take a great deal of punishment before you must duck into cover to let it recharge. Halo does still have a small health bar, discarded in sequels, but even when its almost depleted you can complete any level relying solely on the shield. This gives Halo, and most modern shooters, their cover-to-cover style of gunplay.

Next up is the two-weapon limit, a radical move away from PC shooters where players often carried an armoury of up to ten weapons. In such games, the trick was successfully managing a large inventory of varying ammo types. Halo took a more streamlined approach, with just two weapon slots and one button press required to switch between them. The restriction proved revolutionary, forcing players to experiment with different weapon combinations.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Another masterstroke is the Master Chief’s instant access to grenades. Previously, most shooters forced you to select grenades as a weapon type before letting you throw one. In Halo grenades are plentiful and easily tossed using just the left trigger, which made them an integral part of the Chief’s armoury. The same can be said for melee attacks, which were powerful and easy to use – much like Modern Warfare’s knife.

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