I don’t think there is any game franchise that I’ve dumped more money in to than Halo. I’ve bought all of the games (including some special editions), I’ve read the books, and I even bought the Halo Legends DVD.
On November 15th, 2011 – the tenth anniversary of the release of the original Halo – Microsoft released Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a completely remastered version of the original game. And I plunked down the cash for it, like I seem to do for everything with the word “Halo” on it.
But after playing the game, I’m having some buyer’s remorse.
Halo: Combat Evolved was the first title that I played for the Xbox. I bought it on the console’s launch day along with Project Gotham Racing. The Xbox was utterly humbled by Sony’s Playstation 2 during its five-year run, but Halo was the console’s flagship title that went on to break records and blow minds.
All it took was for somebody to play the game and there was a good chance that they would join the Cult of Halo. I was something of a Halo evangelist in those days, handing my duke controller over to skeptical friends so they could give the game a test run. My own copy of Halo: CE prompted at least half a dozen people to go out and buy their own Xbox consoles. And the game spread like a virus, selling millions and spawning sequels.
Flash-forward to ten years later and out comes Halo: CEA, developed by 343 Industries. This new iteration of the game is remastered in HD and 3D, features Kinect Support, online co-op, multiplayer on updated maps, and story-expanding cutscenes and Easter Eggs.
I was mainly interested in the online co-op (the original game launched before Xbox Live existed). So I fired up the co-op with a friend over Xbox Live and we started the fight against the Covenant on the Pillar of Autumn. The visual overhaul looks nifty, but – for good and bad – the game plays exactly the same. All the enemies and weapons and levels are just as you remember them. At first I found the game to be a nice walk down memory lane, but after a short time I could feel a sense of boredom setting in. There have been so many updates and sequels and iterations to this franchise – and I’ve played them all – that this game could do little more than evoke a sense of simple nostalgia for me.
But then the real issues started. By the time we got to Halo, we were experiencing some serious in-game lag. We tried a number of things to find and solve the problem, including playing Halo Reach co-op over Xbox Live, but the slowdown seemed isolated to Halo: CEA. Eventually, we found that if we both switched to Halo: CEA’s legacy graphics (by pressing the Back button) that the lag vanished.
So there we were playing the original Halo again, just like we did ten years ago. And suddenly this seemed ridiculous to me. I already have a dusty copy of the original Halo: Combat Evolved buried somewhere in my entertainment center. If I’m just going to play the original game, graphics and all, why did I need to buy this new one?
If you’re a die-hard Halo fan – and there are a lot of you out there – then Halo:CEA is nice update. It’s like buying the special edition to one of your favorite movies. Enjoy the improved visuals and special features. And if you’ve never played the original Halo before (and you’re not already sick of the franchise’s overexposure) then you could do worse than to give Halo: CEA a play-through just to see what all the fuss is about. But remember that you’re playing a game that has since been tweaked and improved a number of times. At least it’s better than playing Halo 2.
For me, though, the nice facelift isn’t enough to make the game any more fun or engaging than I remember the original ever being. Playing co-op with a friend over Xbox Live is nice, but I had less fun doing it than I had a sense of overwhelming familiarity. Walk up this ramp and there’s an enemy waiting. And down here is an Elite with a sword, so watch out. Yup, been there, done that.
So why did I buy Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary? To be honest, I probably bought it just to have it. But after the lag issues and slight boredom brought on by the actual game, I don’t think I bought it to play it. For now, I think I’m done buying Halo branded stuff just to add them to my collection.
Well, at least until Halo 4 comes out…