Halo: The Master Chief Collection / 13th of November 2014
Remakes have become the mainstay of our entertainment diet these days, from the ever increasing array of beloved films transformed beyond almost all recognition for an audience too dim witted to appreciate their original forms, to the videogame rehashes and cash-ins that now populate a burgeoning, annual release schedule. With Halo: The Master Chief Collection, however, Microsoft have created a finely honed, misty eyed package, and arguably the finest piece of nostalgia since Sega unleashed Sonic Jam back on the Sega Saturn, perhaps proving once and for all, that despite the relatively young age of the industry, there can still be room within it to fondly reminisce, and preserve, its past glories.
This, it would seem, is something that Microsoft take very seriously indeed, and rightfully so. There can be no denying that the original Halo was something of a revelation in console gaming; forging a star turn that saw the first person shooter come of age, whilst simultaneously birthing a multi-billion dollar IP for its curators. Beyond its cultural significance, Halo-as a series-is undoubtedly a system seller, which makes Microsoft’s strategy for it look like a very smart one indeed, seeing the company utilise the selling power of the franchise to make their Xbox One platform appear to be a very sound investment for the next year and beyond. To that end, the budget for this Halo museum surely spiralled into the stratosphere, but the results have more than justified this outlandish expenditure.
So just what exactly have Microsoft paid for? Well, the bulk of the package here is devoted to improved versions of all four, Master Chief helmed Halo titles, mostly running in native 1080p at a super smooth 60 fps. One of the primary goals of the whole project, of course, is to allow gamers to switch-on the fly-between the original graphical quality and their remastered versions, this, however, is where the problem arises for Halo 2. Due to the fact that the console is having to simultaneously run the original graphics engine, along with that of its Xbox One anniversary edition, replete with vastly improved textures and lighting, the remaster only runs in a native resolution of 1328x1080, which still yields, as one would expect, a massive increase in visual fidelity. The two Xbox 360 games represented here, Halo 3 and Halo 4, it may surprise, are also given rather significant, noticeable, visual improvements with their resolution bumps, both of which are certainly more than welcome.
Such changes would have perhaps warranted the modest price of admission alone, yet there’s more, much more. Playlists, for instance, allow gamers to indulge in sequences of thematically arranged content taken from one or more of the four included games, and it’s not simply campaign content either, which brings me rather neatly onto multiplayer. The original Halo: Combat Evolved has had its multiplayer component reinstated, and not only that, it’s actually playable across Xbox Live for the first time ever, whilst the ground-breaking Halo 2 sees the return of its own multiplayer, including a separate mode that sees six of its most beloved maps-Ascension, Coagulation, Lockout, Sanctuary, Warlock and Zanzibar-given a major graphical overhaul, along with a variety of other tweaks that bring them entirely up to date. Yet despite this, it is likely to be the original Halo 2 that will take up the bulk of most gamers’ time here, testament no doubt to the power that the game had upon its original release back in 2004.
A weakness in your average videogame remaster is typically the array of cut-scenes that the game features, yet this too is an area where Microsoft’s 343 Industries spent a great deal of time, addressing this potential problem by completely overhauling all of the sequences from Halo 2, creating some of the most stunning CG substitutes that they possibly could, whilst addressing some of the issues with the original game’s narrative in the process. To create these magnificent cinematics, Microsoft employed the award winning visual effects, animation and design team, Blur Studio, the guys behind the space sequences in James Cameron’s Avatar. Needless to say, this was money well spent.
As if this wasn’t more than enough though, owners of the game will also be given access to Nightfall, a stunning ten-part series helmed by executive producer Ridley Scott. Nightfall has evidently had a fairly substantial budget put behind it, it looks great, and more importantly, it provides some much needed narrative links between Halo 4 and the company’s upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. And speaking of which, purchasing The Master Chief Collection will also give players access to the forthcoming Halo 5 beta which is scheduled to commence next month, rounding off a rather ample package, which is perfectly brought to life with a rather sleek interface and wholly revamped audio content.
There’s certainly plenty of substance to be found, and thoroughly enjoyed within this compendium, and it will undoubtedly provide the most ardent of Halo fans with months of entertainment, a great deal of which will likely be spent simply marvelling at the fine job that 343 have done in curating this fantastic monument to the evolution of the popular series. According to the Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, “it takes a huge effort to free yourself from memory”, yet as Microsoft have just proven, it also takes a mammoth amount to stay in it; Halo is back, brilliant and relevant, and arguably the best value for money that gaming has ever seen.