I have played the original Halo I don’t know how many times, and Halo 3 probably even more than that. I’m not a huge shooter guy, but the fuzzy nostalgic memories of struggling through the opening levels of Combat Evolved over and over and over again (I was definitely too young to play it when I did, but I don’t think it broke me too badly) have drawn me back into the Halo pool repeatedly, enough that in comparison to other shooters I’m actually pretty good at it.
So, Halo is my shooter of choice.
Or was, I should say.
Like many others, the Halo franchise lost me somewhere between Halo 4 and the botched launch of the Master Chief Collection, and so when 5 rolled around, I was out. To this day I’ve not played a second of that game, although I did once download it through Game Pass only for it to refuse to load and when I found out the only fix was to uninstall and reinstall the 90+ GB game through my poxy countryside internet, I truly gave up.
At this years E3 Microsoft had everyone’s attention. Sony was MIA, now was the chance! Exclusive games, big showings from their key franchises! Some surprises, maybe? Well Keanu was a surprise, so congratulations, but the key franchises? The big games? Let downs. The Gears showing was mediocre and over-long, and from Halo: Infinite we got naught but a tease.
But…I was teased. Teased enough to feel excited for Halo again, teased enough to get back in the saddle and reinstall the MCC and play Halo: CE again.
The opening two levels of the game are flawless. The Pillar of Autumn is an ideal tone setter, essentially following the traditional corridor shooter formula but with Master Chief’s unique weight and physics which make him so playable with an actual controller, over a keyboard and mouse. You get your eye in, get your hands firmly on the wheel, and then, you eject from the ship and crash on the ring and holy mother, what a game. What a moment it is when you feel the vastness of the level and hear the rise and swell of the genuinely legendary score. This is a shooter unlike other shooters. Even now it captures a feeling few games, including Halo 4 and 5, have managed to snatch.
But I must admit, I can’t be wholly positive. The MCC version of Halo: CE is the anniversary edition and so has the enhanced graphics which can be switched with the old (but not original) graphics at a touch of a button. The new visuals are shiny and all, but I can’t help but feel something was lost in translation. The new coat of paint makes Halo look far more generic than that original trilogy ever was. In the older, rougher around the edges style, the world feels weirder, the aliens more vibrant, and the blood more plentiful.
I recommend sticking with the old look.
But that old look is worthy as criticism also because it is not the look of the original Xbox version. It is the look of the PC version, ported by Gearbox, and most certainly a lesser form of the game. A lot of the bugs which existed in that sub-par PC version still exist now in the Master Chief collection, but a worse crime is the loss of artistic choice from the original. Cortana no longer changes colour in anger, nor do Jackal shields pulse red when struck by gunfire, and this is all down to Gearbox fluffing the translation of transparent surfaces in the port.
For more details on exactly what is so wrong with the Gearbox version I suggest watching this insightful video from Late Night Gaming.
Playing on Heroic and Legendary also brings out some AI annoyances, which I can’t say for sure is down to the port or just the game – it is getting a little long in the tooth. When death is always so close, and also so frequent, it is frustrating to be run down by a marine who has valiantly hijacked a Ghost.
It is also quite funny, but c’mon. C’mon.
But for all that I still love Halo, even in this watered-down form. The combat loop is satisfying, the enemy variety is excellent, and the music is just so unbelievably good. Oh god it’s so good. And the online for the MCC is finally as good as it should be. Matchmaking is quick, and there are plenty of playlists to choose from. I’m a big team battle guy myself as the 8 v 8 modes tend to be absolute chaos and win or lose it is always a good time. Or strip it back for some free for all SWAT BR’s and get wrecked by that one guy who has been playing Halo, and only Halo, since they were prepubescent.
Plus, you know…nostalgia.
You can’t beat it.