I can not say the Xbox One has been a great experience for me so far. At this time, I have bought two games for it total. The first was Destiny, which if you have read my review of that, you know I was not exactly thrilled with it. Still, I bought this machine to play with my brothers, and they immediately began getting excited about another game coming out, or rather four older games coming out together. Together, we pre-ordered Halo: Master Chief Collection.
We tried to play it day one, but as anyone who either has the game or looks at gaming sites knows, it did not launch in a respectable form. Any kind of multiplayer was fucked up beyond being playable, co-op or vs. And while Co-op seemed to work to some degree in a few weeks, it took about a month for vs gameplay to be worth anything. I would honestly argue this is the single worst launch I have ever seen, and I was one of the day-one purchasers of SimCity 2013. But things are finally starting to settle and it seems like the multiplayer is finally working well enough to use from time to time, so it was time to pop the disc in and play!
However, this review will be structured a little different then most of the ones I write. Normally, when I write something like this, it’s for a single game. But since this is not a collection where each game is on it’s own disc or otherwise can be run independently from each other, this is going to be four reviews in one. If you want to skip to a specific game, please follow the correct link below, but aside from that, it’s time to tell you how it was and if the collection is actually worth your time and money now that it’s actually playable.
Story: In this game we see the beginning of Master Chief’s story. For those of you not familiar with the man in green, he is a Spartan: A genetically enhanced soldier whose creation was made necessary due to the attack of the Covenant against all of mankind. While their issues against mankind are not fully known or understood, they have every intention of wiping the species out on their religious pilgrimage across the stars, and the super-soldiers made from this project has inspired the destruction of entire planets to destroy a single one. As of now, Master Chief is one of the very few remaining Spartan in existence.
Beginning with his activation aboard the Pillar of Autumn, a USNC space ship under siege by these aliens, it becomes Master Chief’s objective to assist the soldiers and fight back for the very lives of everyone on the ship. However, the ship itself is lost and soon, all involved are forced to land and continue this fight on a band-shaped artificial world. The Covenant take to this place as a holy relic and why will be revealed as you play. But that is not the only secret this ring contains, for an alien parasite also lies in wait for both those evacuating the downed human ship and the alien armada ready to wipe their “Halo” clean of the heretical lifeforms now landing upon it.
With this as your basic plot-line, you will run through a relatively simple story, but one with a few twists that hinge everything on the actions of your Spartan, fitting the theme of just how important he is during these four games to the universe they take place in and setting the framework for everything to follow. Still, the last line said in the end cutscene made me groan due to how many games use cheap lines like that to show everyone more games are on the way. It is, however, also more than forgivable for everything that happened during the game was wrapped up as a proper story should.
In addition, this version of the game includes the addition of terminals from the Anniversary edition on the Xbox 360, giving additional insight into the story and universe you are playing in. I wish this part had been implemented better, but we will talk about that later on in the overall review
Graphics: Halo is sci-fi First Person Shooter game which takes this definition to the extreme. Those things that are human or made by humans will be instantly familiar as they reflect the feel you get from everything military in a movie like Aliens: It will be grey or brown, it will be utilitarian, but it will look just futuristic enough for us to imagine it being a style 5 or so years down the road. The items to fall into this territory will generally be the ship you start in, human vehicles you will use along the way, and human weapons you will pick up.
On the reverse side of this image will be many of the buildings you see, any alien weapons you can pick up and use, and the alien enemies themselves. These tend to take a lot more colorful approach, using bright rich colors for the most part and taking a look that could be called nothing short of science-fiction pulp, and will look great most of the time doing it.
I have to say most of the time, because this game is a port of the Halo Anniversary edition released on Xbox 360 back in 2011, and one of the big features of this version of the game was the ability to switch at will between the updated graphics for the (then) newest system and the original graphics of the original Xbox release of the title from 2001 with the press of a button. This feature is very much alive and well, and you will find yourself wanting to switch every once in a while just to see what things were once like and how far we had gone.
As of for now, the newer graphics definitely hold up, though they are not as impressive as they once were. It looks clean, detailed, and fits the world they are trying to assemble very well, while the old graphics fail to do so. Compared to what we are used to today, they are very low polygon, resulting in incerdibly blocky characters with very little detail in the world made up of low resolution bitmaps. The difference is night and day, leaving the old graphics there more or less for a novelty’s sake.
Sound: If there is one thing Halo is known for and will always stand out on it’s own for, it’s the soundtrack: one so good in fact that a CD release of it came out for retail in 2002, making it possibly the first video game with a CD release for sale on it’s own ever, and one of the few to manage to this day. Marked for it’s noted opening hymn-like sound, the theme has forever etched itself into the history of gaming, and the orchestrated work around the rest of it oozes with either feeling of gravity for the events going on or to enhance the feeling of “badassery” that comes with being an unstoppable super-soldier.
Accompanying this frankly awesome soundtrack is a fairly impressive, if limited, voice work. It’s impressive because for a time when voice-acting was still pretty much a second thought for most game development, I am hard pressed to think of a single badly delivered line in the game. At best I can think of one speech by Cortana mid-way through the game that is more confusing than anything else. But the moment makes more sense shortly after with another event, making even this a minor issue.
At the same time, the voice acting is also limited in quantity. You will have about six voices in this game total: four will be specific characters, with the remaining two being random comments from the smallest minions you will fight and the elites barking out orders and random noises, so this is basically a situation of quality over quantity.
And with all this the sound quality, the sound effects, are probably the least notable in the game. They serve well and sound right for the most part, but there is just nothing that stands out like the voicework and especially the music.
Gameplay: As mentioned in the graphical section of the game, Halo is a first-person shooter. In fact, it is one of the big FPS games to standardize how the genre should work on a controller for console gamers. You will play the role of Master Chief, a super soldier woken up and attempting to protect the people who were forced to crash-land from the Pillar of Autumn onto the Halo. You will do this through the now common means of using your left analog stick to move around, the right one to look around, and the left and right triggers to throw grenades and shoot respectively.
These controls are explained for the most part via a tutorial at the beginning of the game and hints that will tell you what buttons do what as you first encounter the need for the various controls. In addition, the feel of these controls is surprisingly good thanks to Bungie using very subtle work around them to let the controls actually assist the player. You will likely not notice the tricks involved unless you are looking for them, but you will feel the fluidness of play they offer. Add to this a shield mechanic which goes with your health to ensure you are never just screwed you will feel the awesome of your character pretty much the entire time while running around on foot.
Vehicles, on the other hand, will prove a real weakness, particularly while using the Warthog (a 4x4 all-terrain jeep with a mounted turret in the back) or the Banshee (a flying vehicle of the covenant). When in a vehicle, you will find yourself using your look stick to drive, and while some of the vehicles feel floaty in this way, the Warthog will basically slide around, pivoting on it’s front axle and requiring a lot more precision to drive. Add to this the vehicle’s insanely likelihood of flipping over and requiring you to flip it to get back in to continue, parts requiring this machine will likely be the parts you pull the most hair out over.
The Banshee will be the second most hair-reducing section, as you will need it to fly between locations, but the vehicle is exceptionally delicate and it has an annoying habit of rolling backwards while landing. As a result, not only is being blown out of the sky for stupid reasons entirely possible, it is equally so to die by running yourself over during the landing animation.
Thankfully, both these machines are rarely actually needed, so they do not taint the overall experience. What does, however, is one of the key features of this edition of the game. While it is nice to go between where this game started graphically and where it was a few years after Halo 3 was released, it wasn’t done quite right. As a result, the new graphics do not match the geometry of the maps you will play in, resulting in objects that will be bigger than they appear from time to time. This seems especially prominent in trees as there were outdoor spaces that I personally could not use the new graphics to play because I would be able to count on watching missiles exploding on absolutely nothing if I did.
Now does this kill the game? Absolutely not. There is too much to enjoy throughout the experience. But it will be infuriating when you run into it, since it will potentially cost you a few cheap deaths.
Story: The Halo has been destroyed and Master Chief has made it back home to Earth with a lot more fanfare than he would like to accept. But the human race is still in a war for it’s survival with the Covenant, and right now, the people could use a hero to boost their moral. Unfortunately for everyone, he isn’t home long before a small fleet of the aliens arrive to attempt to wreck the planet itself.
And while all this is going on, a far less heroic homecoming greeted the Elite commander of the covenant fleet who had followed the Pillar of Autumn to the previous Halo and was unable to prevent the humans from destroying the “holy relic.” In disgrace, this elite came home to trial with the council demanding his head on a stick. But that was not to be. Instead he was given a choice: die in a public execution, or in a blaze of glory and honor in the service of the Prophets: the true leaders of the covenant in their holy journey across the stars. In taking the latter choice, he became the legendary figure of the Arbiter and his first assignment was to go eliminate the heretic elite who was trying to undermine that journey and calling out the Prophets as fools who will unleash doom upon the galaxy.
This dual story will have you alternating between playing as Master Chief and the Arbiter as both intertwine and ultimately meet on a new Halo the Prophets have found and plan to activate in their zeal to find the paradise promised long ago and race them to prevent the cataclysm this activation would unleash. The tale is well told and a lot more cinematic than the first time around, but it still does not have a lot of twists and turns, despite weaving the two plot-lines together effortlessly. Rather what it chooses to do is let you watch as the everything the Arbiter believed about the Halos, the Prophets, and his own culture is proven directly to him to be a lie through his portion of the story with Master Chief coming along for the ride because he already knows what the hell is going on and how much he better do his damndest to stop it. Suffice it to say, while the “Master Chief” is the star of the franchise, this game’s plot is really all about his Covenant counterpart.
However this game sadly fell into a trap that seems to have been made popular first in movies and then in video games as of late: The first game tells a complete story but with intentional openings to expand it into a sequel, while said sequel blatantly sets itself up to make the series a trilogy at the expense of actually finishing it’s chapter. When this game is over, you will be greeted with a classic “yeah, you won, but you really haven’t yet” ending for one character with the other’s story literally still mid-flight. Suffice it to say, this is really kinda poor.
Graphics: Much like Halo in this collection, the graphic-power you will see in Halo 2 is di-polar due to it actually being two completely different sets. When you first open the game, from the first cut-scene to where the credits would roll in the original XBox release, it is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, this is the only game in the collection designed with the new hardware of the Xbox One in mind. It is easily the best looking game here for this reason alone. You will be left wondering if the Xbox 360 could have put up the level of detail you will see.
And while this will completely blow away the old graphics, unlike Halo, you are in for a pleasant surprise here too, as the original game’s look still stands up! Yes, it uses less polygons by far then a modern game, and the bitmaps on the walls are lower detail, but at the same time, it was simply low enough to be noted as an old game that still looks nice and clean, if dated today. It should also be noted that a lot of the world when looking at the old graphics look rather dirty. I don’t mean to contradict myself, but when I say dirty I mean the game depicts the area as grimier in the old graphics then they do in the new. It may still be a novelty to use this time around, but it will be genuinely interesting to see how differently the artists took to the same scenes much more for this game then the last.
Both graphic will surround a game much like the original, however. You will be once again running around a first person shooter in which you will go between human and alien artifacts that starkly contrast against each other in color use and style (basically an Aliens style look to things vs a sci-fi pulp used to show off the advanced tech of the aliens and how different they are) as the war again rages on, but this time the Brutes will make a small change, as you will start to get a taste of the more brutal utilitarian side of the Covenant army as well as the clean and neon-colored forces you met in the original.
But this is probably the only game on this disc that needs special notice for the cutscenes, as these were one of the big draws to get old fans of this specific game to come back and play again. In the original Halo 2 (and you can still view them), all the cutscenes were done in-engine using the same graphics available back in the day for the game itself. The updated ones, however, chose instead to go the pre-rendered route as videos to play in and of themselves, and they are absolutely gorgeous and just shy of the point when they get real enough to be spooky. Seriously, a movie in a theater would be proud to produce results like this today.
Sound: Once again, Bungie worked their magic with the score of this game though I’m not so sure it was as successful as the first time around. Keeping with the themes started in the original, expect to hear the infamous opening notes, but it’s now become more of the standard of the series, and often will not stand out to nearly the same degree as it did in the first Halo. Still, like it definitely adds it’s part to the feeling of the game and was good enough to sell 100,000 copies as a stand-alone music CD in stores, so I have a hard time believing it will disappoint.
It is interesting to note though that when playing with the newer graphics on, 343 Studios took the time to include a remastered version of the music, allowing it to come through better and clearer than ever before, but leaving the old version intact to go with the old graphical form you can switch back to. The difference is clear as day, and adds a little bit more to playing this with the new graphics by being so.
Voice work this time around seems to also follow the way of the original game as well. You will have a handful of voices that basically tell the entire tail, though that number has definitely increased compared to last time. These voice actors deliver their lines perfectly to help create the determination, grit, arrogance, and disbelief that make the store unfolding before you and the orders barked around you as you play. If there is any dowside to this, it’s also in the battlefield, however, as your allies can have some very stupid lines, especially in retaliation to being shot (which is going to happen when the AI is dumb enough to run directly into your gunfire as you are shooting).
Sound effects, however are pretty much as you would expect, as this needed very little in the way of updates from the first game. It all worked well, but this time around, they did introduce you to a few new weapons which fit right into the world with the rest of it. Basically, if you have played Halo (and there is no reason you should not have before playing this since they are both in the collection) you know what you are getting here.
Gameplay: Halo 2 is a lot like Halo in the gameplay department as well. You will run around in first person as you complete each mission in the plotline. However, this time your health has been ditched completely, making you rely on your shields with the ability to take maybe one or two light hights should they run out. In return, your shields are a little stronger and take a lot less time to regenerate, keeping the fight fair. In addition you will find a few new weapons available (especially on the Covenant side of things) and the biggest issue with the gamplay of the original has been improved tremendously. That’s right, the game’s vehicles this time around actually control well.
Still, this does not mean that things are always great in this game. There are a few specific places towards the end that will have you pulling your hair out in frustration, as they will face Master Chief against almost impossible odds, both in volume of enemies pouring on top of you and the fact that they will be backed by the dreaded Hunter Elite. I am specifically talking about two rooms towards the very end where part of how you get through will be luck due to how many you face in one room and how many enemies kill each other while you wait for the dust to settle in the next. It’s basically one big black spot in an otherwise very enjoyable game.
But the biggest change between Halo 1 and 2 is actually connected to the plot, as you will now spend about half the game playing Master Chief and half the game playing as the Arbiter. The Arbiter basically trades in some of the strength of his shield and the flashlight that no one will need to use when playing Master Chief in return for a cloaking ability, completely changing how you play the character and for many (myself included) making his parts of the game often the easiest to play. Since the cloaking ability works perfectly against enemies, it makes it a breeze to sneak around to an appropriate place and take out what you need before anyone even knows you are there. Of course the downside is if you do this or get hit, it ends right there (instead of when the timer says so) and the cooldown means you need to use it tactfully.
Story: Where Halo 2 left off, Halo 3 pretty much begins. The ship Master Chief used to get back to Earth has burned up on re-entry and left the legend himself to fall to the ground. He was found by Johnson and the Arbiter with his armor initially frozen, though he was quick to recover, and even quicker to assume the Arbiter is the enemy. After a tense standoff, the whole group moved out as they continue the hunt for the last remaining leader of the Covenant, the Prophet of Truth.
Chasing him down will lead this small band to find a portal to the final staging ground from which all the halos in the known galaxy seem to have been created and where they can be remotely activated, wiping out all life. It is now a race to prevent the Prophet from doing just that in his religious zeal to begin the great journey which will doom us all.
This was meant to be the end of the Halo story when it originally released, and it shows in how many loose ends finally get tied with the completion of this game. You will have no real remaining twists, but a finale that looks and feels as epic as the trilogy in total.
If I have any real complaints with the story it's that it feels like it's missing a chapter at the beginning. While Master Chief's position at this point feels like it's where it should be, we have no idea how the Arbiter and Johnson actually decided to continue to journey together after the deactivation of the second halo in Halo 2. We also have no idea why the Prophet is no longer on the ship where Master Chief followed him at the end of the previous game. It is to be expected, as there is a comic series called Uprising that actually takes place between the games and explains all of this, but if you are just playing the games, you will miss this part of the story.
Graphics: Unlike the first two games in this collection, there is only one set of graphics for Halo 3. It is not an anniversary edition that was updated. Rather, what you see is exactly what you saw then then game launched in 2007. As such, this title is going to look very dated compared to what you saw in the first two titles, especially as you consider the game looked fairly average when at it’s best at launch time.
I have to say at it’s best because while the environments look pretty good for the time and the enemies show a suitable amount of detail and fluid animation, anytime you have to get up close to anyone who’s face is human or capable of showing expressions on similar level, you will be convinced they were designed around people who have all had strokes. Especially after getting used to the level of detail offered by the updates to Halo 2, this is going to be a shocking experience to see. And considering how many of the cutscenes get up close and personal, this is definitely going to be the defining detail for most people playing Halo 3.
That said, just like the previous two games in the series, Halo 3 is a first person shooter where you will see the world from the point of view of either Master Chief or the Arbiter, and the world you will see varies quite a bit, but with three basic themes controlling it all: Lush outside environments (both on Earth or at the Ark), technological and yet spartan looking environments of the ancient race who made the Halos in the first place, and in now fleshy growth-covered rocks and mutating wastelands of where the Flood have taken over. All three have their own character and alll three environment types fit their design very well. Sadly, there is little to leave you completely wowed this time around, as most of this has been done in many other games to the same effect, both in and out this franchise.
As of for the enemies, this time around you will find the variety has been cut down from Halo 2, and for good reason, as story-wise there are no longer any enemy Elites, leaving you with three remaining basic enemy types among the Covenant to fight: grunts, brutes, and hunters. As a result, you will quickly see the game’s look as “been there, done that, let’s keep shooting” and the flood won’t improve this for long. But thankfully, this is not a game that exists on the graphical power alone like so many today, so letting them fall into the background when the action gets heavy may prove a nice change, but we will get to that in a little bit.
Sound: This franchise is known most for it’s music, and Halo 3 is no exception. From the piano rendition of the main franchise theme that greets you as the opening cutscene begins to the last epically orchestrated note as you flee for your life in the last scenes of the game, the music will fit perfectly, hitting all the right tones to be noticed and enhance the world during the highs of your adventure.
The sound effects along side this music will also server pretty well, though it is not the standout the music is. Your weapons will sound appropriate with some sounding particularly meaty among the human weapons, but most of your Covenant weapons are energy based and sound like it. But by this point in the collection, you should be used to the sounds as they pretty much do not change between the games.
Gameplay: Like mentioned in the graphics section, Halo 3 is yet another FPS game in the franchise. As such you will once again assume the role of either Master Chief or the Arbiter, though this time the level you are on will not decide this so much as if you are playing multiplayer, and if so, if you are the first player in the game or not. Nor will it matter so much which you play as, for this time around the Arbiter is basically a clone of Master Chief starting with covenant weapons instead of human ones. Since you will likely replace these before long while playing any given level, this is not a very substantial difference.
However, unlike the previous two, the fact that there is a designed and fleshed out “player 2” suggests this game was designed with two players in mind and allows for four where as previous titles stopped with allowing two but were clearly designed for one. This is further enforced by how many of the vehicle portions involve machines designed for one player to drive while the other mans the onboard weapon. That is not to say that the game is going to be impossible or irrationally hard to play alone, but you will probably get more out of it when playing with a friend this time around.
And finally, the level designs here have improved tremendously when compared to the previous titles. Where the first one was notorious for how much backtracking you did despite how linear the game was (basically re-using maps only going through them in the reverse way) and both previous games had a few levels that were repetitive as hell, Halo 3 keeps the game a lot more varied when possible, and using vehicles to allow you to push along through the longer inactive areas. The end result is a game that keeps the pace moving forward a lot better then most games manage and keeps you entertained from beginning to end. So far, this is the best of the series, so relax and enjoy.
The only concern you might have is if you play this game with more then two players. There are a few places in the vehicle sections where if the first vehicle rushes ahead, anyone two far behind might as well put down the controller as they will basically be killed by the environment. As mentioned before, this was designed with the idea of two players and one vehicle between the them when one is needed, so this is probably to be expected, but it is something to be aware of.
Story: When we left Master Chief at the end of Halo 3, the Covenant leaders (known as the prophets) have all been killed before they could start “the great pilgrimage” and in the process, wipe out all life in the galaxy. However, our hero paid a hefty price. He, simply put, never made it home. His ride aboard the Forward Unto Dawn was cut short when the half he was in broke off in the wake from the exploding Ark, the central control system of the Halos. With no way home and floating in a wrecked ship, he climbed into one of the hyper-sleep pods he found with the last words of the game directed at his AI companion Cortana: “wake me when I’m needed.”
Four years later, Cortana found that need. Floating through space, she detected the ship was being boarded. And while she could not identify the source, she knew the odds that this was not going to be a good thing and woke the Chief so they could find and handle the situation. This was only the beginning, however, as it turned out Covenant forces were boarding the ship, armed for war, and backed by a battalion just outside. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the fight only lasted long enough for the wreck to be drawn into the gravity well of the metal Forerunner world called Requiem, crashing our hero and his AI companion directly into the surface with it!
Surviving the impact, Master Chief finds himself stranded on a strange artificial world that, if he expects to survive, he needs to find a way off of. Making this doubly important, Cortana takes this moment to reveal she has outlived the life expectancy of an AI and is literally burning out. If the Chief wants to save her, he’s going to have to get off the planet in a hurry. And as if this isn’t bad enough, this planet held an actual Forerunner called the Didact imprisoned. And when he wakes up, his first decision is to find and wipeout all human life! Against all these odds, you will take the role of the Spartan soldier and find a way to escape back to Earth both for your own survival and to get help for Cortan while doing your best to keep the Didact away.
The plot from here is actually surprisingly deep for the series from this point on. It doesn’t really throw you any twists and the end is not a huge surprise, but along the way, this title instead focuses on Master Chief and Cortana. You get a lot more of the connection these two share as they struggle to keep alive and get her the “medical” help she needs. You hear every ounce of concern and at times desperation of the Spartan to save the one presence that has been with him since the beginning, and in the meantime, you see and hear the slow descent into gibbering madness Cortana is suffering in your display, in hers when she is not inside your helmet, and the audio issues she has from time to time as the game moves on. It almost lets the threat to mankind fall to the wayside of this central theme until absolutely necessary to move the arch of the story forward. And while the game’s ending seems to be made to allow 343 Studios to bring Master Chief back if they wish in the next title, the story in total is perhaps the best one in this collection. Well done and well told.
Graphics: While not the best looking game on this disc (that honor goes back to Halo 2 when using the updated look), Halo 4 is no slouch. I remember when this game came out for the Xbox 360 visiting my brothers while they were playing it and being absolutely floored. What I saw on that TV outshined just about everything I had seen on any platform and pulled every ounce of performance anyone had seen yet from the console. It would nottill be the next year when the bar of “best I’ve ever seen” would be raised yet again. (If you are curious, that would take Crysis 3 on my PC to happen.)
Fast-forwarding to today, and the game still looks amazing. No longer top of the top, it still ranks up there and still looks better then many games being released today for the more powerful platform this collection is on. Most of the game will see you in one of three environments: a very well detailed Forward Until Dawn wreck, a combination of rock and metal structures on the surface of Requiem, and inside it’s alien-tech tunnels and chambers. Each of these will also give a bit of it’s own feel through well worked and well-detailed locations, though the general tone struck here is a forlorn and sterile one.
The biggest change from the previous games here are the enemies and weapons you will find. The covenant will floor you at first as their characters have taken on a much more organic look, especially the grunts, but they will quickly be overshadowed by the new forces used by the Forerunners. Clearly made with far more advanced tech, these will generally come in the form of knights, dogs, drones, and turrets. The knights and dog carry a skeletal-alien tech feel about them that just looks amazing and quickly found there way to be some of my favorite things to see on screen. Cool, sleek, and savage all at once. Meanwhile the drones and turrets look like they belong with the tech, but are automated pieces of it… basically a new skin on the same things you have been fighting since Halo when Guilty Spark finally gets mad at you.
And the weapons you pick up also run this gambit. With only a smattering of human weapons available, you will find most of your pickups are either Forerunner or Covenant. And while the Covenant weapons are still the brightly colored alien artifacts that you remember from before, it is the Forerunner gear that takes center stage. When you first pick one up, it doesn’t just get pulled up from the bottom of the screen, but literally assembles itself around Master Chief’s hand, forming a very mechanical alien machine of death. It is frankly impressive as hell the first time you see it, and remains a great looking piece afterwards.
Sadly, this game does have one serious flaw about all of this. For how great the game looks, variety is very much lost. As mentioned before, other games in this collection would make many maps feel like part of the same thing, and yet different enough to be different locations. Most of the places you go in Halo 4, however, blend together with little, if anything, to really make them feel like they are any different from where you just were. The only places that really stand out are in the beginning and end of the game while you are still on the Forward Unto Dawn, when you find the core of the planet, and while you are flying into the Didact’s ship in a much smaller one. Enemies and weapons do not do much better here, but we will get to that in the gameplay section.
Sound: It seems when Bungie left Microsoft, they took a lot of the score with them. As such, the music for this particular installment did not stand out on quite the same tone as the original trilogy. Rather, the tones struck a bit more of a generic tone, but that does not make it any less effective. 343 studios used this soundtrack masterfully to go with the tone of the events as they occurred within the game.
And this type of planning showed a lot more in the sounds you will hear while playing, and it won’t take long to surprise you with just how much went into this. This time around, you will take notice the grunts are not speaking English and crying out about “the demon” being there, but nothing the Covenant says is translated from their own language, adding to the alien feel they probably should have had since the beginning of this series. In addition, the weapons fired by, at, and around you for the most part sound exactly as they should. Sadly, there are a few weapons I did not pick up and try while playing since I found other favorites I wanted to use instead.
But the voice acting this time around is really where this game shines. As I mentioned before, 343 studios completely redid the audio of the Covenant this time around and the results are simply awesome. You no longer hear the enemies speaking in English, but in their own language, adding to the alien feel they have this time around. In addition the few times you work with fellow marines along the way (you are not the only ones to crash before the game is over) you will find some personal touches among their communications as well. There is one point where enough marines dying on the field will result in a request before moving for an evac to get the dead bodies out.
But aside from that there only a few voice actors since most of the game focuses on times when Master Chief and Cortana are alone, meaning they are going to be the voices you hear the most as you play. But what is here is also really good and a constant reminder of how much personally is at stake.
Gameplay: Just like the other games in this collection, Halo 4 is a first person shooter in which you will run-and-gun your way through the levels offered. This time around, however, the setting has changed drastically. Rather then running around Earth or earth-like environments on the various Halos populated by human cities and alien structures that all look fairly similar, you will be for the most part running around a rocky surface burying a very high-tech world of tunnels and chasms full of anti-gravity and geometric platforms that seem designed specifically to look artificial and measured. It’s actually quite a nice change to differenciate itself.
But the game takes itself further by instead of playing against the Flood, making you play against the Forerunner’s knight army, a skeltal robotic group which will face off with you using advanced tech including energy guns, teleportation devices for quick escapes, launching drones which will shoot at you, fly around, and sometimes even heal enemies, or just let loose their literal hounds of war as equally skeletal dogs. The results of this is a truly new feeling enemy that fights in a completely new way, something sorely needed by the time this series finished game three.
Unfortunately, new does not mean varied, which is a problem this game has in general. Almost all of the game will have you fighting either these same four enemy types or usually two covenant ones (grunts and elites). Occasionally when fighting Covenant you will find jackals in the mix and in a few rooms, they even use vehicles, but when fighting the ForeRunner’s forces, these four types are all you will get. They will be cool, they will keep you busy, but you really have to hope future games will expand on this army. As cool as what is here is, it is exceptionally limited.
And while this game offer every bit of tight gameplay you would expect from the Halo franchise, I do have to make a note about the last level of the game. It may not be a big deal for many, but it’s a pet peeve of mine when a game completely changes it’s genre for the last level, and while it’s only the start of that level, it did sort of rub me the wrong way to suddenly be playing what boils down to an arcade flight game only with a lot less clarity in where you are supposed to go to dodge it. These kind of changes almost never live up to experiences like them in other games designed around doing it, nor do you ever get to practice the skills needed to finish them. Thankfully, as I noted, it’s a short part and really not so much hard as unclear, so it wont ruin the experience for you like other games have doing this. It’s just something to be aware of.
But overall, Halo 4 is a lot more of what you expect in Halo action, but with a breath of fresh air over the whole thing thanks to a nice change of location and a desperately needed change of enemies.
In addition to the single player games, this collection also contains a few multiplayer modes to play with. For those eager to dive in, there is the Fine Game option, which will give you a menu of eleven PvP game types you can choose to play and a single button press will put you in the queue to find a game and start playing. These types separate themselves out either by the type of vs match you are about to enter or the game the maps come from, and you are never stopped form looking at the maps in a play-list.
However, that is not to say even at this level the game even looks perfect. A quick scroll through the game types will reveal in the description of almost all of them the words “Ranking coming soon.” This is a game that has now been out almost four months as I write this, and there is still no ranking options. Competative game fans will likely be very dissappointed. They will also be dissappointed in how long it can take to get into a match, as this can take long enough to try many gamer’s patients who chose the “Find Game” mode to get in quicker to begin with!
Once the game is on, you will be given a selection of three maps, each with their own gameplay mode (assuming you chose a type by game mode and not game the maps will be from). All the players will vote for the map they want and majority rules. This does tend to mean if you chose based on a game, expect to play a lot of Team Slayer (aka team deathmatch).
But for those who want to bring a few friends and have a little more control over the game, there is also a custom mode in which you and your party will control everything. The downside to this mode is that you also will not be able to play with anyone not in your party.
To go with this custom game, the collection also includes Forge, in which you can create multiplayer maps for use with Halo 2-4. What this you and a team of friends can select one of the multiplayer maps and add/remove/move objects around within it. You will not be doing the kind of level editing you might expect if you come from a PC background as you can not edit any of the architexture of the the map, but instead, you will find this mode resmebles more like a Garry’s Mod game, except there is a limit to what you can add based on funds available. This amount seems relatively high fir the cost of objects, so I do not believe it will limit you as much as you would think, and it could be almost a gametype on it’s own to play with some friends.
And finally, the game also includes the Spartan Ops mode from the 360 release of Halo 4. This mode of gameplay, you will either team up with friends or play alone through 10 episodes of new “story-line” missions taking place shortly after Halo 4’s completion. Each episode is a handful of “chapters” long, where each chapter is basically a level you have already seen with waves of enemies being dropped on you. It is a fairly boring addition to the gameplay to be quite honest, and left me feeling like I was playing a much more “arcadey” version of the main Halo 4 title.
And sadly, it seems the reason to play through these parts is reduced in this package due to how they are delivered. In the original release, the episodes would include the opening and ending videos to show you the story long as you go. This time around, these videos are shown completely separately as a set of videos you can access at your will via the Halo Channel the game likes to use for terminals, which will tell you the story.
Bugs: To say playing this series was not a bug-free experience would be an understatement, and considering how central a lot of these bugs are to the gameplay of all the modes in the collection, it is an outright travesty that many of them continue to this day. We seriously need to talk about this.
- Network issues: Whether in vs gameplay or a co-op game, you can expect to have issues in your game far more often then is acceptable for a game now several months old OR a console over a year old.. So far in my attempts to play with my fellow writer Joe and a few others I have been:
- Kicked randomly due to a loss of connection to the server.
- The collection deciding a specific game in the collection is just not available for co-op right at that moment and kicking whoever is the game leader out while loading.
- Lagging gameplay so bad that the game is almost unplayable.
- Kicking the host-player mid-game causing the game to freeze and ultimately end
- Terminals Not Always available: While the game will give you your achievements for finding terminals in the Halo games that include them, they will not always work since this release opted to not include them on the disc, but as streaming videos accessed by the game pausing and running an additional app called the Halo channel. For the first and second games, you can watch them on your own later via this same app, but this is yet another issue related to the network connections of this game. And if this happens to you in Halo 4, you are just not getting to see it, as the Halo Channel will load the chapter the terminal is in, found or not.
- TERRIBLE Vehicle AI: If you are playing with friends, this is more a nuisance that you can ignore then anything as you will likely ALWAYS beat the AI to any vehicle available, but in any of the titles here, if you are playing the campaign alone and driving a vehicle is involved, BEWARE. There are few vehicles you will bring with you in this game that can be used by one person, meaning that when you need one, either you will have a moron driving or shooting. Knowing this, the first game was fairly easy to deal with by basically using the warthogs as mobile turrets while you run around on foot, but with each game the times you NEED to be in a vehicle to do anything increases, and so does this aggravation. In my time playing all four games, I was impressed ONCE as the AI was smart enough while playing Halo 2 to drive up to me, invite me on and we rampaged a group in a warthog. Then… I died and at the checkpoint, watched the moron run around without a gunner basically stirring up everyone with no way to shoot back. He then ran me over rather then repeat his actually intelligent actions. This level of stupid is very commonly the situation, so be ready to pull a few hairs out.
However, it is while playing this game that I stumbled on issues with the system itself that should also be mentioned. These do not reflect on the game, but I still feel they need to be discussed since they effect key functionality of the machine itself. And since I am not inclined to review the Xbox One itself, I thought I would just include them here.
- Controller crashes: I wish I was kidding, but this officially the first platform I have ever owned where not just the machine, but the input device connected to it can crash on it’s own. I have thankfully never had it happen during gameplay, but there have been several times now where the controller would simply become unresponsive randomly, and the only solution was to turn it off and back on. The system still was running fine… but not receiving anything from the controller. If I was in party-chat at the time, the last sound in the chat would stutter like a skipping CD-player until I did this.
- System functions stop working without a hard boot: This one also floored me. Let me be up front here. I am a PC gamer and I have never seen anything like this since we were playing DOS games short of a single game being so badly-written at launch that crashing it forced me to hard boot to get my desktop back (Hello, Star Trek Online). The Xbox, on the other had, has needed it multiple times now “just cause.” In most cases, this issue didn’t show itself outright until I was trying to use the party-chat function. At which point, I would connect to the party, see everyone’s name, but no one could hear me and I could hear no one. Worse still one time it let me hear everyone even as I couldn’t chat, so I had no idea there was an issue till I realized the person everyone was looking for was me! This, for a system that sells on being a multuplayer experience, is unacceptable in any means.
- Portions of Xbox Live are often down: I can’t even tell you how many times a night of continuing these games has been broken down by the Xbox LIVE service at this point. Several nights we were simply unable to see who was on to even try go get a game going. I originally planned to include this bug in the Networking issues list, but as I thought about it, it was technically not a bug with the game but an issue occurring with the system itself, so it didn’t really fit.
Overall: Individually, there really isn’t a bad game in this collection. Sure each titles has their own quirks and strengths but the series is undeniably a strong one. Unfortunately this release of them can not have the same said about it. From bugs to outright broken multiplayer at launch and still has functions that do not work right months later, this is an absolutely terrible disc. Add to that requiring internet functionality to watch any of the extra videos you find in game by the Halo Channel application and even those have been screwed over by having to hope that works and it becomes an even tougher sell.
If you have played Halo Anniversary edition on Xbox 360 as well as the original releases of 2-4, you should probably stay away. The only things you haven’t seen before are the updated graphics and the new terminals in Halo 2. Everything else was already available playing on your 360, and much more reliably. But if you only have the new Xbox One, it’s worth dealing with the downsides of the collection to play the games within.