DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Halo. If there is one name that is synonymous with the gaming industry, both for gamers and non-gamers alike, that is it. Since the release of Halo: Combat Evolved on November 15, 2001, the series has found its way into the lifeblood of the industry, and made Master Chief a familiar face in popular culture. With such a dedicated fan base and a brand that has become irrevocably linked to both the Xbox systems and Microsoft itself, the concept of re-releasing the series on the Xbox One seems an obvious one. With The Master Chief Collection 343 Industries, the inheritors of the series from its progenitor Bungie, brings the four numbered titles in the story of the titular Spartan into a single package, complete with the multiplayer experience also well loved by the Halo Nation, for the greatest deal in gaming history next to The Orange Box. Giving players new and old the ability to either relive Master Chief’s narrative or experience it for the first time as well as allowing players to experience the revolutionary multiplayer which changed the FPS genre forevermore, there are plenty of reasons to experience the sci-fi saga once again on a new generation of console.
At the heart of the Halo experience is Master Chief himself, despite the high popularity of the multiplayer experience. From exploring the first Halo ring in Combat Evolved and trying to make sense of the rich lore the writers provide, to taking the reins of the Arbiter in 2 and exploring the other side of the conflict, to finishing the fight in 3 and finally to seeing the history of the universe come alive once more in 4, these campaigns together form one of the greatest stories told in an FPS, and even in the industry itself. Managing to provide key action set pieces such as escaping an exploding Halo ring, taking down a gigantic Covenant Scarab, and pursuing the enemy to Earth itself, while also managing to add horrific tension through strolls through the Forerunner Libraries, Gravemind infested ruins, and the Forerunner planet of Requiem itself, the narrative offers a wide range of emotional experience for players to live and fight through. The cost of war, the nature of the Covenant civil war, the relationship between Cortana and Master Chief as it develops through the series, are all themes explored and expanded upon throughout the four campaigns. Each game offers the help of AI squadmates, which vary in their usefulness, as well as offering the appropriate range of difficulties from pea shooter Easy to frustrating and challenging Legendary. The ability to set one control scheme for the entire series is beneficial, if not a little buggy, though each game still keeps their built-in tutorial level.
Though the enemies remain relatively the same, with the core of Grunts, Jackals, and Elites ever present, along with the oft seen Flood, the addition of new species such as Brutes and Prometheans as the story unfolds adds new challenges for players to tackle. In addition their tactics and environments change as do their allegiances and rank, and in turn playing through the entire story allows players a variety of combat encounters to tackle. In offering cross-game playlists 343 smartly bleeds the entire narrative into one roller coaster story experience, whether players choose to play all of the campaign missions as a whole, or to only take say vehicle or Flood specific levels head on. Though at times the sheer ambition of the story line loses some greatness on the finer points, and some twists and turns of the plot are either unearned or unsatisfactory, there is no doubt that the expansive wealth of novels, comics, live actions films, and other mediums which combine to create an Expanded Universe rivaling Star Wars, show the true narrative prowess in following Master Chief’s journey from Alpha Halo to Requiem and beyond in the game’s own rich universe. Every character from 343 Guilty Spark to Tartarus, Johnson to the Didact bring their own flavor to the story and make it that much more engaging.
And the way in which 343 has repackaged these narratives is incentive in and of itself to pick up the Collection, truly showcasing the power of the new console generation with 1080p/60fps gameplay. Though Halo: Combat Evolved is thirteen years old, the Anniversary treatment given to it makes it look like it belongs well within recent memory, and also adds new Terminals which add to the story. Previously released on the Xbox 360, the updated graphics provide a sleek edge with which to explore Alpha Halo anew, while also allowing players to experience the original graphics in the best form they can be with the press of a button. The biggest draw, however, is a similar Anniversary treatment of the decade-old Halo 2. 343 went all out on this one, redoing every cutscenes via Blur Studios, resulting in a stunning, gorgeous new way to see the story unfold, looking more like a CGI Halo film and certainly more enjoyable to watch. The only downside to this also admittedly expensive choice is leaving players with the desire to see the same treatment done for the cutscenes in the other games.
Halo 2: Anniversary also allows players to seamlessly switch between the new updated graphics and the sharpened original graphics, showcasing the sheer amount of leg work put into making the games look as authentically new gen as possible. Halo 3 keeps the same graphics from 2007 but upconverted to the visuals the package offers, and Halo 4 looks as if it could be a current gen game, while already pushing the limits of the Xbox 360 only two years ago, and the enhancements of the Collection only make it even easier on the eyes. When the Halo 5: Guardians beta begins at the end of December, it will truly be able to showcase the potential of the graphics of the current generation, despite being limited for the testing. Also included is the Ridley Scott produced mini-series Halo: Nightfall which tells the origin story of Agent Jameson Locke, the Spartan protagonist opposite Master Chief in Guardians, before his appearance in the sequel coming next fall, who also appears in a new prologue and epilogue included with Halo 2: Anniversary. All in all Halo has never looked this good, which is to be expected, and 343 does indeed put these old games in a nicely wrapped new package.
Yet for all the praise that can be lauded on The Master Chief Collection’s visual overhaul and coalesce of the Master Chief saga into a narrative whole, the release, sadly, was not without its faults. For many players come to Halo solely for the multiplayer, as enticing as following Spartan 117’s journey can be. And on that end, the Collection very much dropped the ball. Beginning with players unable to launch the game at midnight due to issues installing/updating pre-loaded copies, the flaws were found to run deeper as players were unable to join multiplayer matches. In fact the game shipped with only one ranked playlist, with the understandable reason that 343 was interested in trying out their ranking system inspired by Halo 2 before integrating it into the rest of their planned ranked playlists. Yet even for players not trying to play ranked, they were met with unending searches for matches, matches with only one or two other players, or no luck at all. Very quickly, literally overnight, the Halo Nation was in an uproar, and rightfully so, over their inability to experience the multiplayer they had been so eager to experience once again on their new console.
Excuses can be made that the servers had not been tested thoroughly enough, that there were unforeseen complications with so many players around the world trying to log in and play, but at the end of the day this failed launch is an irrefutable disaster. No matter the reasons why, the fact that the game was not ready at launch for arguably half of its content, story being the other half, is damaging. For that reason alone The Master Chief Collection loses its shine, and must be held accountable. And players even had graphical glitches such as frame rate drops and other hindrances when trying to play through the campaigns in the meantime, not to mention trying to play co-op and trying to enjoy the story with friends, as Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 are still limited to only two player co-op versus the four of the latter two. Gamers were eager to play with friends, split-screen or online, to take part in the competitiveness that is Halo multiplayer, with map control and power weapons at its core, bringing the graphics and gameplay of the story to the online battlefield. With so much riding on this launch the flawed landing will not be forgotten quickly, nor quietly. With a stable fix not being released until the week after the game launches, despite numerous smaller updates which admittedly have assuaged some of the grievances, the number of other games releasing around this time are in an advantageous position to take people’s attention away from the Chief until the issues are resolved.
Overall, however, as damaging as the launch day woes are, the package’s monetary and nostalgic value cannot be denied. Once the servers are working properly players will undoubtedly sink countless hours into the numerous multiplayer playlists, giving their attention to the definitive Halo multiplayer experience despite the competition of Call of Duty and Battlefield. And the quality of the story and the gameplay within the campaigns should not be forgotten, as well as the sheer flexibility with which players can jump into literally any point of Master Chief’s story, at any time, either by themselves or with friends, either with skulls or without. In addition Forge mode is available to allow players to make custom maps to their heart’s content, and the Spartan Ops from Halo 4 will be added in the future. The omission of other Halo games like Reach and ODST is notable, but they are not directly part of Master Chief’s story and could even be added as DLC in the future. For better or for worse The Master Chief Collection both shows how to give new life to a thirteen year old franchise and also how to not launch a game on its defining day. With Halo 5: Guardians on the horizon, there has never been a better time to meet or be reacquainted with Master Chief and his saga, to experience the game changing multiplayer experience once it works, and to get four games and over a hundred multiplayer maps for the same price as any other single game. 343 has much to answer for and resolve after this botched launch, but also to receive praise for. A doubled edged sword not unlike the alliance between Master Chief and the Arbiter.
Overall Grade: 8/10