Originally, this review was going to have been ready to go a couple of weeks after the game had launched. But after the horrible issues with the multiplayer being completely unworkable it seemed best to wait until there was something to actually talk about.
Now that it’s here we can try to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. But I fear that the damage has already been done for a lot of people…
Seeing as Halo: Combat Evolved is what got me into buying an Xbox, there was little chance of me not buying this game. Having access to all of the Master Chief’s games and to be able to play them online was going to be an indulgence I was really looking forward to.
For those who aren’t sure though I can assure you of one thing. If you are a fan of console shooters Halo: The Master Chief Collection could be the best value purchase you will ever make. The sheer amount of content is staggering.
The install itself is epic too thanks to a 15GB day one patch taking the whole game to just shy of 60GB of disc space. Though you can begin playing early in the installation with Halo CE Anniversary, it seems that Halo 2 Anniversary (the game most are keen to see) is the last to be available during the install. Its an odd decision that I’m assuming is mainly due to that game’s content being much bigger than the rest. And with the addition of Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops, players are going to see their disc space gobbled up more by this title.
The games are presented via a unified menu that allows players to pick and choose what they want to do. So if you are only wanting to play a couple of choice missions from all four campaigns then you can do that without any need to unlock them first. This is one of the ways you can see it is oriented towards the fans.
Halo: Combat Evolved is based off the anniversary edition that was released on the 360 a few years ago and takes advantage of that games enhancements but running it in 1080p and 60FPS. Even now, despite the game being the most aged of the four it still plays well and has plenty to keep players occupied.
Blessed with one of the most iconic soundtracks of any game, it is as good to listen to as it is to play. It was so good that it often outshone the games it was running on.
One niggle I’ve always had with this version though was its avoidance of the controller calibration during section the opening sequence of the game; though it’s no longer relevant post classic Xbox (thanks controller options in the menus), it was an atmospheric way of literally getting the player into the Master Chief’s head.
The bonus for players with this release I that we can finally play Halo CE multiplayer online. Co-op works as expected and all the competitive maps are included. And unlike the Halo Reach based maps that were bundles with the 360 version, these are running under the classic game engine. It’s a welcome addition.
It is also worth noting that Halo CE multiplayer feels like the most robust of the bunch, running well even on slower connections.
The game changer
The star of this collection though is Halo 2 Anniversary which has received the visual and sonic upgrades as well as a ton of new additions and features. This is the only version not running at full 1080p but that’s mainly due to the increased complexity of the feature that snaps between the classic and enhanced game modes.
The first changes that players are going to see from the outset though are the new cutscenes courtesy of Blur Studio. These guys have worked on Halo in the past including television advertisements and notably the cutscenes for Halo Wars. And once again, they show why fans have been begging Microsoft to get them to make that long wished for movie… it is an astonishingly polished amount of work.
Considering there is about an hour’s worth of video here we’ve got to assume it wasn’t cheap either. But it is worth it in how much it elevates the game. You can of course watch the original cutscenes but honestly, why would you?
Unlike Halo CE, the calibration sequence is still part of the game start thought it would have been a lot harder this time to cut it out thanks to it being further tied into the storyline. So no gripes here. 😉
Visually the game is impressive; it’s not going to win awards for being cutting edge graphics but it does provide a substantial boost in quality that certainly justifies the upgrade. The boost to the audio is just as significant with an additional punch to the effects that really gives you incentive to turn up the volume. It genuinely makes it a game with production values that compare well to more modern shooters.
But it’s in the gameplay where Halo 2 shows its true colours. The additional foes and weapon options add an increased level of variety to the gameplay that further expands the sandbox game design of the first game.
A lot has been said of the abrupt close to Halo 2‘s campaign but thankfully it is lessened now that players can jump straight into the next game quickly enough.
Halo 2 multiplayer is divided up into the classic maps and a selection that have been updated for the anniversary using the new engine. It’s great to see in action but unfortunately we start to see some cracks in the multiplayer at this point. For those with slower connections the game can be a frustrating experience with constant lag and rubber banding.
It’s a shame to see this happen when the original game worked perfectly well on slower connections. Discussions on the Halo Waypoint forums blame it on network spikes that slower connections can’t deal with.
Hopefully it gets resolved soon as it’s a sad state of affairs for a series that prided itself on being phenomenal online under many conditions.
UPDATE: a recent title update is meant to resolve the network spiking and aspects of parties but issues with matchmaking again have made it difficult to verify.
Finishing the fight…
Of the four games, it is Halo 3 that shows its age more than the rest. The boost to 1080p/60FPS goes a long way to improving the visual side of the game, especially dealing with those nasty Jackal snipers hiding throughout the first mission, but it also exposes Bungie’s shortcomings in the art department for this game.
Despite that, this game brought back a strong story after the one that was so roundly criticised in the previous game. It provided to players a very clear conclusion to the storyline and though it ended on a note that had a strong feeling of melancholy it was handled far better than I could ever have thought possible. Even the teaser at the end credits, the usual sequel bait, could do anything to stifle it.
This game also had a few more tricks up its sleeves including four player co-op and an incredible suite of maps that bolster the collection significantly. Though it got the least love in this collection, it perhaps brought the most significant contribution to it.
Where Halo 2 brought that strong multiplayer component to Xbox Live, Halo 3 created a real community from it through the extended support of maps, playlists and the crazy possibilities of the Forge map tool.
… and starting a new one
Halo 4 could be an Xbox One game without even trying; when it was released on the 360 it was easily the most spectacular looking game of the franchise and showed that the old console still had legs. As a result, the resolution boost here is perhaps the least impactful but that is simply because the game already looked great.
Being the first of 343’s own games and what was to be a new trilogy, Halo 4 really capitalised on the visual motifs that had been created for the Halo universe and take it further as part of a new storyline. Personally I think they may have even outshone Bungie on their own game; that’s how great the visual design is. Audio complements the visuals with some hard hitting effects and a soundtrack that makes it clear this is the beginning of a whole new series.
The sum of all parts
That gamers can now play four of Xbox’s biggest ever games in a single package should make this one of the best value titles of the year. Multiplayer would then place it at the top of any gamer’s pile.
But the myriad of multiplayer issues from launch have stifled the massive enthusiasm for it. Some of it has been restored thanks to the stellar quality of the Halo 5 Guardians beta (available to Halo MCC owners earlier this month) but that still doesn’t excuse the fact we have a title that isn’t 100% working more than two months after launch.
The last time I remember a successful compilation of this scope was The Orange Box, which delivered Half-Life 2 and its episodes, Portal and Team Fortress 2. Considering that was back in 2009 perhaps is an indication that making this work is not an easy task but with the resources at 343’s disposal it is an unfortunate slip in QA at the worst of times.
As it stands now, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a massive tribute to the franchise that made Xbox but feels a little like a cracked mirror; all the pieces are there to make the whole but one damaged shard (ie. the multiplayer) could ruin the picture for you.
UPDATE 2015-02-02: Our latest play test has confirmed that the network issues for slower connections appears to have been eliminated. In fact, the gameplay was buttery smooth and wonderful to see in action. We did have to deal with flaky matchmaking and some port forwarding niggles to get it running but once in the game’s multiplayer was the most satisfying we’ve seen it in ages.