Gaming for Grown Ups
14th November 2011 14:06:00
Posted by Andrew Phillips

Halo Anniversary

Microsoft Xbox 360 Review

The HD remake is a fairly new concept which is currently seeing a lot of mixed interpretations. It all really kicked off on the PS3 (a format which to date has seen the most HD remakes) with The God of War Collection. Perhaps a bold experiment, the GoW Collection raised many an eyebrow with gamers and by the looks of things publishers alike. Now fast forward about roughly two years and you can see a release schedule littered with them, both as boxed retail games or as simple downloadable titles. At first glance this is a good thing, old favourites given a new lick of paint and sold out at what is usually a reasonably price but sadly this new genre is not without its problems.

It would seem that developers and publishers have differing opinions on what a HD remake should actually look like, in some cases these opinions are so far apart you could drive a bus through them. At this moment in time there seem to be two schools of thought on what the HD remake product should be?
  • Quick and Dirty - Upscale it a bit (720p or so), change very little else and make a quick buck
  • Do it right! - Remaster everything using modern technology, add new features and take the time to make it special
Over the last few months the first option has been used excessively and has met with much disdain from reviewers & gamers alike. The quick and dirty method has made good money as people who loved the original game will probably still purchase and others who missed it first time around will be tempted to see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately it’s not really the same as seeing an old favourite brought back to life, being given the love and attention required to allow an old title to stand proud alongside modern day releases. Now and again though a release comes along which falls in to the second category, seeing a publisher go that extra mile in an effort to make something a bit special, both for the fans and for new players.

Now and again though...

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The majority of Xbox 360 HD remakes have been downloadable affairs but Halo is too big a franchise to simply pimp out on the XBL marketplace, that said whilst Halo Anniversary is a retail release it is a tad cheaper than almost all of the other new releases out this year.

For those new to Halo, firstly where the hell have you been and secondly be prepared to understand fully what all the fuss is about. The original Halo was genre defining, a game that effectively put the Xbox on the gaming map and sucked many hours out of FPS lovers lives exactly 10 years ago. So good in fact were the scores awarded to the original Xbox release that it is quite pointless assessing the game itself for this HD remaster. Suffice it to say that the title sits proudly as one of the biggest games of all time, spawning many sequels and standing tall with a 97/100 Metacritic rating. If you are new to Halo though, perhaps a little bit of background wouldn’t go amiss.

Halo takes place far in the future where mankind is locked in a brutal war against a race known as the Covenant. Wiping out planets one at a time, these guys are the real deal and they play for keeps. So fast in fact are they are wiping out entire civilisations the humans didn’t see it coming and failed to react. As the aliens near the human planet of Reach the clock ticks down to complete annihilation. A massive battle ensues near a human planet and there is only one ship that survives, The Pillar of Autumn. In one final brave act the ship’s commander attempts to lure the Covenant away from Reach, deciding to jump to a random place amongst the stars - anywhere will do. The Pillar of Autumn arrives above a gas giant known as Threshold which has a single moon simply known as Basis. Nothing particularly odd here aside from the giant floating ring construct that is floating between the two! Sadly, the plan worked too well and the entire Covenant fleet followed the lone ship and aims to wipe out every living soul on board.
The game begins with you neck deep in a space battle and the Pillar of Autumn is not long for this world. That odd floating ring is Halo and its secrets may just hold the key to winning this war......enter Master Chief.

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If you are a Halo veteran then you know what to expect and if you are new to the franchise, in summary, Halo is a science fiction first person shooter with high production values, a story to rival any novel and fantastic gun play.

This Anniversary edition does little with the actual gameplay itself but the amount of other changes are not be underestimated. With all HD remakes the focus is on the graphical work done and Halo passes the HD remake test in spades. The work done here by Saber Interactive, working with 343 Industries, shows a level of love and care that other HD remake teams should take note of. The world of Halo truly comes alive when viewing the remastered version of the game and everyone involved can be truly happy that they have completely re-created Halo. Utilising modern day technology Halo is created anew...this is no cash in and the bar hath been raised.

The ability to flick between the old and new versions using the back button can lead to several laugh out loud moments, particularly for those who view the original through rose tinted glasses but it also serves as a constant reminder of how much work went into this remake. No stone is left well, as it was in the original and even during the first mission it feels like playing a new title not a revamped ten year old one. This also highlights just how good the original Halo was from a gameplay and story perspective. Here in the anniversary edition we are treated to completely new cut scenes, breathing new life in to the story and characters, further emphasising how this title could easily pass as a modern day game.

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The audio has also been fully remastered and booms through your speakers during the heat of battle. All manor of in-game sounds, including the epic soundtrack has undergone a full transformation providing up to date audio on a par with the majority of releases out this year. Mix this audio feedback with the improved graphical feedback on something like the assault rifle and it is sublime.

If this isn’t enough for you the entire campaign is now completely playable in two player co-op. Not available ten years ago technology has moved on and the whole campaign is playable via Xbox Live. It’s been said a million times “everything is better in co-op”, and in this case it’s never been more applicable. Co-op works perfectly and for Halo fans the ability to relive some of their favourite gaming moments is an absolute delight.

The campaign has a few small additions to mention, not least of all the terminal collectibles (cheevs!) and the much anticipated never before seen back stories told in motion graphic form that foreshadow new mysteries in the story of Halo 4.

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Not content with JUST remastering both the graphics and the audio plus adding full co-op for the entire campaign along with some Halo 4 back story, the team at Certain Affinity were drafted in to add yet more content to this already stellar package. Six, yeah count em, SIX original Halo multiplayer maps are included (via an XBL code) fully remastered using the Halo Reach engine. To top it all off, if you have long traded in Halo Reach, fear not, the full Halo Reach multiplayer is included on the Anniversary disc (including Firefight). The package includes six maps inspired by Halo and Halo 2 along with one new firefight map...
  • Damnation
  • Beaver Creek
  • Prisoner
  • Timberland
  • Headlong
  • Hang ‘Em High
  • Installation 04 (Firefight)

To round off the package there is some minor Kinect integration, simply the ability to reload your weapon or throw a grenade using the speech function and more interestingly the new “Analyze Mode” which allows players to scan items of interest into their own personal library, effectively creating their own encyclopedia of Halo.

This package is brimming with content and really does set the bar for future HD remakes. With so many planned for next year on both Xbox 360 and PS3 we can only hope they have as much love and attention given to them as seen here with Halo Anniversary.
Halo fans delight, you have not been short changed, this is not a cash in and for you it’s a must buy. If you missed Halo first time around you are forgiven and with Halo Anniversary offered the opportunity to enjoy one of the greatest games of all time beautifully remastered for your pleasure.
Details and Specifications
Review Platform: Microsoft Xbox 360

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Developer: 343 Industries

UK Release Date: 2011-11-15
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