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Ten years ago, Halo: Combat Evolved helped shape the future of first-person shooters. Bungie's launch title for the original Xbox has seen Halo develop into one of the most successful video game franchises there is today. With the ten year anniversary just passed, does the remake of one of the most successful games of all time still create the same wow factor as it did back then?
As the screen loads up and that all familiar blue loading font works its way across the screen, the sense of nostalgia is incredible. The main menu looks no different than its predecessor's, though it comes with the added bonuses of a firefight and multiplayer mode. Putting these to a side for a moment, I eagerly throw myself into the campaign mode to see how dramatically a time passage of ten years is about to alter my playing experience.
First impressions are grand. The guy in front of me is telling me to look from left to right, and from looking at the different points I catch my first glimpses of new surroundings. 343 Studios have done a brilliant job of re-mastering the visuals, and due to the new game engine in the campaign, a quick press of the back button allows you to switch back and forth between the original graphics and the re-mastered ones. This allows for constant comparisons throughout the campaign which will see you finding a beautiful looking landscape, hitting the back button to travel back ten years, and then again to give yourself a comparison of how much better the visuals in this game look.
Unfortunately, the graphics can take a turn for the worse, and I did sometimes find myself feeling almost alienated due to the change of the color schemes in the game. Maybe this is me being a cynical bastard, but I’m sure the UNSC wouldn’t have gone through the effort to hand paint so many of the frames in The Pillar of Autumn a shade of bumblebee yellow. It may be a petty thing to pick up on, but I found myself surprised at how slight alterations to something as simple as a ship’s color scheme can take me out of my comfort zone.
The sounds in the game have been dynamically improved and the changes are extremely noticeable and impressive. Through the re-mastering of the game’s original soundtrack to the alterations to sound effects from weapons and explosions, everything sounds flawless. The shotgun now sounds like a small explosion coming from your hands, and the grenades sound like nothing short of an explosion from a cinematic masterpiece. It’s also worth adding that the game is now fully supported by 5.1 surround sound; you will feel a lot closer experiencing this game properly in comparison to the original.
As well as the game's support of 3D visuals and Kinect, 343 have made a reasonable amount of changes in order to make your replay of the original Halo experience better than ever before. With the addition of the Kinect, you’re allowed to scan and analyze items, allowing you to view them up close from different angles in an almost theater-mode kind of fashion. A limited use of the Kinect, but a cool feature nevertheless.
Moving onto the multiplayer, I was somewhat disappointed. Having speculated on previous rumors of the flood being available in the game’s firefight mode, I was saddened to see their absence, and also the lack of choice for maps available. Adding to this disappointment is that CEA’s multiplayer is effectively nothing more than a Halo: Reach add-on. Clicking on the multiplayer option from the main menu sends you into a brief wait, and then transports you to a lobby no different than the one in Reach. CEA comes bundled with six revamped maps from the original game. The multiplayer mode also switches from the campaign’s game engine and reverts back to the engine used in Reach. Being a fan of Halo: Reach, this isn’t something that bothered me too much, but I can’t help but think that the inclusion of a new engine would have helped shape the way forward for a new multiplayer experience, which in return could have shaped possibilities for the upcoming Halo 4.
Overall, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a must-have for fans of the Halo series in general. If for some reason you never had chance to play the original game, then Anniversary offers newcomers a brilliant insight into the game that helped shape the Halo games into what they are today. If, however, you were expecting a completely new gaming experience like anything never before, or something to fill the time until the launch of Halo 4, then perhaps it might be worth finding something else to bide the time. Whilst Anniversary opens up a brilliant door to those who might be new to the series and will almost certainly satisfy die-hard fans, it’s unarguable that its main point of focus is the campaign. Even with the inclusion of online two-player co-op, its longevity is questionable, especially if you’re hoping it will keep you busy for months to come. With a retail price of £35 ($40), bear in mind that once you’re done with the campaign, there’s only a short firefight mode and six multiplayer maps to keep you busy.