Halo: The Master Chief Collection Review

Halo and Xbox go hand in hand. One could argue that if not for the success of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft would have thrown in the towel on the industry and chalked it up as a failed experiment. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and the original title and the sequels that it spawned have all gone on to receive almost universal praise and the series has today become one of the best known and respected in the industry. Now, for the first time on the Xbox One, players will be able to step into the shoes of Master Chief once again and take on the covenant, forerunners and flood in an epic yarn spanning four games with Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The Master Chief Collection focuses on Halo’s leading man, the eponymous Master Chief and as such, the collection features the four games that he has been the star of. These include stellar (or is it interstellar?) ports of the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition, Halo 3 and Halo 4, all of which are great games in their own right, however none of those three have undergone any real significant changes. That changes with the newest piece of content and the real draw-card to this collection – the brand new Anniversary Edition HD remaster of Halo 2.

The Anniversary Edition of Halo 2 is, like its predecessor’s Anniversary Edition, sublime. It features digitally remastered audio, vastly improved textures, some impressive lighting upgrades and the mid-mission cinematic cut-scenes have been completely overhauled to bring them up to Halo 4 standard. In addition to the much improved visuals, the Halo 2 Anniversary remake also incorporates a number of excellent features to play around with including new and returning Skulls to modify gameplay, online leader boards and scoring. Perhaps the most impressive of the new additions though is the seamless transition between new and old – pressing the menu button at any point during the Halo 2 campaign, will have the visuals shift between original Halo 2 visuals and the remastered visuals. This is an excellent touch and one that gives players additional appreciation to just how far gaming has come in the last 10 years.

As with Halo 2’s remake, each of the other three games have also had a Halo 3 style scoring mechanic incorporated into them. Every campaign mission in the collection now has a par score and par completion time and players are able to customise from the menu from a number of different timing and scoring HUDS. The collection tracks yourself, your friends and everyone else playing online to keep active leader boards of your best efforts and compares them with your friends and to those of the best players around the world to add a competitive edge and add hours of replayability to the story-based proceedings.

In total, there are 45 campaign missions which can be undertaken either in single player or cooperatively with up to three other friends. All of the missions are unlocked from the very beginning, allowing you to jump into any mission that you choose and blast through it. Whilst I can appreciate why they have done this, as it allows players to immediately jump into their favorite levels and blast away, the decision also robs players of a sense of accomplishment.

The multiplayer aspect of the Master Chief Collection is huge and easily the largest offering the series has offered at any one time before. It includes every map from all four vanilla Halo titles, all of their subsequent map packs (from both PC and Xbox Live) and several re-mastered Anniversary Edition maps for Halo 2. Together, that brings in excess of 100 multiplayer maps across the four games to the package, which is a lot in anyone’s language! The usual game modes return with the classics such as: Slayer, Capture the Flag and Oddball, among others and the typical Halo custom game creator has been included with hundreds of options allowing players to create and share an almost endless number of variants.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer section of the game it can be a little confusing upon start up, as due to menu options, there is not one but four individual multiplayer games. As such, players need to select the game they want to play and then the multiplayer map that they want to play on. A single entry point to the multiplayer with set playlists for each of the different game’s multiplayer options might have proven a little more refined. Fortunately, when you reach it the Halo online experience, as with the campaign is tight, polished and absolutely rock solid. Playing your Halo game of choice in 16 player online battle has never felt so sweet.

The much improved and feature rich Forge mode from Halo 4 has also returned and can be used to fiddle with and customise maps in Halo 2, Halo 3 and of course Halo 4, with only Halo: Combat Evolved missing out. Whilst this is a little setback, despite the exclusion you still have a huge number of maps to mess around with so there is really not a real reason to complain. The game also includes Theatre mode so that you can watch back and relive your biggest gaming triumphs or despairs as many times as you like whilst having the ability to take screenshots, and to upload and share.

Presentation has always been one of the Halo series’ strong points and the new package has managed to keep that tradition well and truly alive. All four titles have been modified to incorporate much improved lighting, as well as being up-scaled to 1080p resolution and having them all run at the silky smooth frame rate of 60 FPS. Halo 2’s new and improved cut-scenes are a fantastic inclusion and the iconic Halo soundtrack has been completely remastered with all of the fan favourite themes, level tunes and action music sounding better than it ever has previously.

Unfortunately, there are a few issues that blemish an otherwise fantastic effort with the collection and first and foremost would have to be the main menu – there are so many tabs, so many options and way too many steps between loading up the game and actually playing the game that it can feel incredibly cumbersome. There are four different menu options for the multiplayer alone! The effect of having everything unlocked from the get go takes away the sense of accomplishment that comes with meticulously working your way through the title and although additional nameplates and customisation options are unlocked through progression, unlocking these just doesn’t have the same appeal as levels and gameplay variants.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the collection though, was the decision to focus on the Master Chief alone, by extension excluding Halo: Reach, which in my opinion was the best Halo game in the series and Halo 3: ODST which was atmospherically strong, if not quite as memorable as the other titles. Without these titles, the collection feels somewhat incomplete and by excising these games from the library, the enjoyable wave-based Firefight mode has also been excluded. Having said that, four massively entertaining games, hundreds of hours of gameplay and enough content to keep anyone occupied for a very long time sure does go a fair distance to making up for it.

In addition to the hefty chunk of content present at launch, the developers have stated that Halo 4’s Spartan Ops co-operative mode will also be joining the collection sometime later this year in the form of free downloadable content. The Master Chief Collection will also act as a launching pad for the Halo 5: Guardians beta which is expected to roll out in late 2014/early 2015 with all owners of this collection being eligible to participate. Huzzah! It seems that The Master Chief Collection is the compilation that just keeps on giving, at least for a little while.

This collection is an extremely easy package to recommend to anyone. It features remastered versions of three of the best first person shooter games ever made (and Halo 4 as well) and for a package valued at the price of a standard game it is a no-brainer for the vast majority of Xbox One players. With more than 40 epic campaign missions and in excess of 100 multiplayer maps, this compilation of games features an abundance of content that sets a new quality and quantity benchmark for what can be expected from collections and remakes. This is the first must have title for the Xbox One and if you consider yourself a gamer, I would highly recommend picking it up.

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