When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was first announced at E3 2014, the legions of Halo fans that have been built up over the past thirteen years let out a collective “F*ck Yeah!” to showcase their excitement for its November 11, 2014 release. The thought of having all four proper Halo games on one disc with updated visuals, sound, and in the case of Halo 2 Anniversary, brand new cutting edge cinematics, almost felt like a pipe dream, but 343 Industries has pulled it off in one value based $60 game disc. For all intents and purposes, this collection could have simply been titled, ‘Halo: The Holy Nostalgia Experience’, because it truly does take you back in time and evokes memories of years past playing frantic Halo multiplayer matches and the franchise’s stellar campaigns with friends. The value alone makes this collection a must-own for the Xbox One, but it’s the polish and upgrades that may propel it to Game of the Year status.
For the first time ever, Halo fans can play every single campaign mission from Halo 1 through Halo 4 without swapping discs, but more importantly, in 1080p with an amazing 60fps, lag free framerate. The moment you first see either of the four games in 60fps, you will instantly realize the power of the Xbox One, but more importantly, the amazing work 343 and its collaborators put into it. Best of all, every single mission is already unlocked the moment you boot the game up, so you can instantly dive in and play your favorite campaign missions to see just how improved they look with their new Halo: The Master Chief Collection polish.
You can even experience each game, or the entire series, in a new way thanks to the custom campaign playlists that offer up hardcore challenges like the Laso runs for each game (all skulls activated with Legendary difficulty), or specific playlists that only feature vehicle missions, or fan favorites. If you’re a gaming masochist, you can even take on the game’s ultimate playlist challenge, which features every single campaign mission from Halo 1 to Halo 4, with every skull available in each game active, with the Legendary difficulty setting activated. Those looking to unlock all of the game’s 400 achievements (50 more planned for post launch for a total of 4500 gamerscore) will have a blast doing so thanks to these new playlists.
The playlists are a fantastic addition to the Halo franchise, but it’s the visual and audio upgrades in each game that make Halo: The Master Chief Collection stand out as one of the best looking titles to hit the next-gen consoles. Halo: CE Anniversary is back and even better looking than its 360 release thanks to the 1080p 60fps visuals, and it now sports the ability to instantaneously toggle between the old and new versions using the quasi-select button on the Xbox One controller, so there is no lag when you switch between the two versions. You can even hear how much the audio has been changes, which is cool to compare if you grew up playing the Halo franchise.
Halo 2 Anniversary has received an even more drastic level of polish, and is definitely the main attraction in the impressive collection. This is thanks to the reinvisioned cinematic cutscenes from Blur Studios, which easily stand out as some of the best looking visuals to be featured on the Xbox One and the PS4. The new mini-movies are breathtaking to say the least, almost shocking, especially when you toggle back to the old school version of them mid-cutscene. The stark changes will quickly remind you how far video game design and technology has progressed over the past ten years, and you’ll begin to wish that the same overhaul was implemented in Halo: CE Anniversary’s cutscenes, they’re that impressive, and definitely worth watching. Even the actual gameplay of Halo 2 Anniversary looks tip-top, and worth bragging to your friends about that didn’t save up enough cash to reserve this bitching Halo collection.
The same can be said about the game’s audio design, which has been completely remastered in Halo 1 and Halo 2, but not in Halo 3 and Halo 4 because they already boasted top-notch sound design. All you have to do to realize the audio improvements is wear a nice pair of headphones while playing and toggle between the old and new versions. Everything from the score to the sound effects have been remade to give both of the original Xbox Halo games a next-gen feel.
Halo 2’s Anniversary edition is without a doubt the shining star of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection, but its successors aren’t too shabby either, especially Halo 4, which looks like a full on next-gen title at this point. Although, Halo 3 also looks much improved thanks to the 1080p 60fps upgrades, and the Xbox One’s ability to bolster lighting, particles, and other visual enhancements. Its cutscenes aren’t as mesmerizing as what is found in Halo 2 Anniversary and Halo 4, but the upgrades are definitely noticeable and appreciated, as well as proof that Bungie was operating at a high level back in 2007 because 343 didn’t have to completely revamp their work.
Halo 4, on the other hand, is easily the best preview you’ll get for what a next-gen Halo game can look like. The 1080p 60fps visuals take this already amazing looking Xbox 360 game and shoot it into the stratosphere of awesomeness. The sound also seems to pop much louder and is more detailed in a surround sound setup. The cutscenes look a bit better than they did on the 360, but I would almost have to say that Halo 2 Anniversary’s still look better thanks to the work Blur Studios poured into them.
(Please note at the time of this review the matchmaking portion wasn’t fully implemented, so only custom games were playable)
Personally, the four campaigns and all of their upgrades, along with the new campaign playlists and fully unlocked missions, already make Halo: The Master Chief Collection one of the best games of 2014, but to sweeten the deal 343 has baked in over 100 multiplayer maps from each of the four games, as well as six brand new reimagined maps for Halo 2 Anniversary. This means that on one disc, gamers can relive their glory days on the classic Halo: CE and Halo 2 maps, and all of the added content that has never been playable on XBL before, as well as all of the maps and multiplayer DLC for Halo 3 and Halo 4. Hell, even the Spartan Ops mode from Halo 4 will be added to the game sometime in December, so the multiplayer offerings are just as deep, if not deeper than all of the campaign content.
For someone that was in college when Halo: CE came out, I can’t tell you how awesomely nostalgic it is to fire up the classic maps from Microsoft’s original Xbox system seller. Playing on maps like Hang ‘Em High or Battle Creek brings on a wave of excitement as if I was still in my twenties playing LAN matches with my roommates and neighbors. While playing the classic maps, you won’t see updated visuals, but it almost doesn’t matter thanks to the nostalgia factor. I foresee someone like myself spending more time in the classic multiplayer maps than the new ones, just because of my history with the game, but I highly recommend that the younger generation of Halo fans also spend some time in the game’s multiplayer roots to see where this amazing franchise first started.
Halo 2 also has all of its classic maps in place, with the same visuals from 2004, albeit in 1080p 60fps. Like Halo: CE, these also will remind you of the countless hours you spent blasting elites and other spartans on maps like Midship and Lockdown. The Halo 2 multiplayer section also has six new remastered maps that do run on a modern engine, and they offer beautiful renditions of some of the favorite maps from the original game.
Both Halo 3 and Halo 4 have all of the maps and DLC content unlocked and available to play, so fans of the newer titles can also relive their glory days in 1080p 60fps, which is nothing to balk at. These games, as well as the Halo 2 Anniversary maps can also be used with the Forge editor, as well as three skybox maps that allow players to completely create maps and game types of their choosing.
Gamers will have the ability to enter matchmaking playlists that span all of the games, or specific game types like Team Deathmatch, as well as custom games for each multiplayer mode, so there will always be a way to play the game types and/or maps that you want to. Theater Mode also returns for Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4, so you can still show off your exploits with friends or your competition to let them know just how badass you are.
During the review period, the stable of online players was slim and matchmaking wasn’t fully implemented, so finding matched games wasn’t a possibility, but just being able to walk through the old and new maps was enough to realize that 343 captured the essence of the Halo franchise’s multiplayer roots. Obviously, when the Halo horde fires up the game on November 11, 2014 the online arenas will be full of players to play with or against, so the issues of finding matches will not be a problem whatsoever. Hopefully the mad rush of new players doesn’t stress the network, because right now it’s obviously very stable with the lack of online humans.
Just like the campaign missions, all of the customizations from Halo 1 to Halo 4 have been unlocked to use in the multiplayer modes. All of the armor sets for Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4 (Halo 4 boasts the most with 38 armor sets) are available to use the moment you boot the game up. This means all of the hours you dumped into the original versions to unlock armor like the coveted Hayabusa set in Halo 3 will be there waiting for your return. Booyeah!
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is everything Halo fans thought it would be when it was announced this past June. The four campaigns all look significantly better, with Halo 2 Anniversary standing out amongt them as having the most drastic upgrades. The fact that all of the content is unlocked right off the bat (outside of avatars and nameplates) is pure fan service for those Halo players that just want to dive in and relive some of their favorite missions without having to play through the entire game. The visual and audio upgrades are some of the best seen in the next-generation of console’s first year on the scene, and the sheer amount of content is enough to warrant a $120 price tag. Halo multiplayer fans will go coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs with all of the available maps, variants, Forge modes, Theater modes, and file sharing, and the fact that all of the armor sets are ready to use right away is awesome. What’s even more insane to think about is that this package will get even better once it releases to the public and the Extras get added in like the Halo: Nightfall live-action series, Halo TV videos, and the late December release of the Halo 5 Multiplayer Beta (preview piece on that coming November 11, 2014 at midnight).
I have been a fan of Halo and its deep lore since 2001, and can’t tell you how amazing this collection truly is. You just have to experience it for yourself. Even with my critic’s hat on I can’t find much wrong with it at this point in time. There could be some issues once more players come on board, namely with the servers and network, but even then I have no doubt that 343 will be on top of it, because the studio really did hit a home run with Halo: The Master Chief Collection. There’s no reason to be on the fence with this one Xbox One owners, it’s a no brainer purchase. It may even have enough appeal to coax some gamers into buying the console just to play it. 343 set out to showcase the proper Halo games in style with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and it did so masterfully, to the point that it feels like a love letter to the loyal fans of Halo Nation.
You can enter to win a free copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection via this giveaway.
To check out various Let’s Plays of Halo: The Master Chief Collection you can view the archive.
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Review Statement: The author of this review received a digital copy for the game from the publisher for the purposes of this review.