Halo. There aren’t many franchises that debuted on the original Xbox, or any console aside from Nintendo, that still tote such an incredible fan base. When the original Halo: Combat Evolved released in November of 2001 it was the very definition of a “console seller”. Its stellar graphics, intriguing world, and special multiplayer was just what the gaming industry needed to prove that first-person shooters were viable on consoles in the modern world. Sure, titles like Goldeneye, Turok and Perfect Dark thrived under the reign of the previous generation, but Halo showed the future of where console FPS’ would go. Halo went on to spawn a franchise of epic proportions, seeing multiple titles released throughout its extensive life cycle, most of them just as special and well-received as the original release. Fast-forward 13 years and we have what many Halo fans would consider to be the holy grail of the game’s legacy, the Master Chief Collection. Over a decade of love, devotion, and memories are all crammed onto one convenient disc, a thought that I still find absolutely astounding.
It’s difficult to review a release like this, especially when there’s such a striking disparity between the way the included titles look and play. Halo 2 is obviously the standout in the collection given the special care that has been taken to re-master it, but each of the individual titles still hold sway and the most recent release, Halo 4, feels right at home visually on the Xbox One. I must applaud 343 Studios for their utter attention to detail. Their tireless efforts have created one of the most special collections ever released in the history of gaming. The content is nothing short of marvelous, but the release is marred by one unacceptable factor: completely broken multiplayer. In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that this review was postponed several times during the past week in an effort to give 343 a chance to repair their servers, but a week has passed and matchmaking has only improved slightly at best.
"In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that this review was postponed several times during the past week in an effort to give 343 a chance to repair their servers, but a week has passed and matchmaking has only improved slightly at best."
Games still take way too long to find, players are still dropped from lobbies, and teams are still uneven. Given the fact that the Halo franchise has never once been marred by multiplayer issues like these it’s surprising to see that this collection, one marketed more as an event than a collection, could suffer from such a lack of foresight. In 343’s defense, they’ve been very transparent about the issues and have accepted full responsibility, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the fans, the early adopters, the people that cherish their memories of countless hours spent fragging online opponents are victims of the hype.
Let’s begin with what actually works, the campaigns. Rather than analyze each title in the collection I’m going to instead focus solely on Halo 2. People that have played Halo Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4 know what to expect from the Master Chief Collection. They’re still a blast to play, they’ve been uprezzed, fluidly streaming at a crystal clear 60 frames per second. Halo 2 is a different beast though, and one deserving of critical analysis. The enhancements made on a visual level are absolutely outstanding, in fact it’s one of the few titles in recent memory whose gameplay footage displayed at events is just as beautiful when played at home. Let me make it clear: there are no vertical slices to be found here. What was shown is what you’ll get the second you boot it up. Textures have been completely redone, lighting has been enhanced, and the cinematics – my god, the cinematics – have been totally overhauled.
"Textures have been completely redone, lighting has been enhanced, and the cinematics – my god, the cinematics – have been totally overhauled."
343 hasn’t just catered towards fan service, they’ve completely revamped the entirety of Halo 2’s single-player experience, making it feel new and fresh once again. All the hidden goodies still exist. Skulls, terminals, and more are lying in wait to be found at your leisure, making the replay value immense. The inclusion of campaign playlists are also a unique and gratifying way to play isolated parts of the campaign, not just from Halo 2, but all the titles, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the longevity of these playlists through co-op. My one gripe with the single-player experience is the idea of placing the Terminal cut scenes in a separate app on the Xbox One dashboard.
Every time I wanted to watch a terminal video I was immediately yanked out of the game’s stellar sense of immersion and forced to watch as my Xbox One dashboard swapped screens and loaded a separate app to play the video. I appreciate what 343 tried to accomplish there, but I personally feel it’s more of a hindrance, a deterrent that immediately made me never want to use another terminal again. That could change with successive play-throughs, but it was a jarring experience that clashed directly with Halo 2’s new, more cinematic presentation. Fans of the Halo franchise know that controls have evolved throughout its lifetime. 343’s solution has been to add a list of universal controls, one of the many helpful and complex menu options that really help players tailor the collection to their needs. There’s more than just a handful of layouts, too, and though some of them felt foreign at first I quickly found one that suited my needs and fell in love with it, so don’t let the fear of constant button swapping between titles haunt you, it’s a smooth experience through-and-through.
"Let me ask you this: why is it acceptable to wait a week for a product that you and I paid full price for to work as intended? The answer is: it’s not."
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a bargain, there’s no doubt about it. Even at full price its immense value potential is unprecedented, but given that multiplayer is just as important to the Halo experience as the painstakingly recreated campaigns, it saddens me to say that as of right now I can’t recommend it. It’s fun, there’s no doubt about that, and ultimately I’m sure it will be fixed, but given that this new generation of games has been plagued with launch problems (Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Driveclub, Battlefield 4… the list goes on) I can’t help but notice a worrying trend. It may not be fair to bring this up in a review for one particular game, but I almost feel as if I must considering the string of screw-ups that have emerged in the past year.
Where’s the incentive to pick these titles up day one if they’re not patched until after the fact? Now, before you say “they’re planning to patch the servers on Wednesday” let me ask you this: why is it acceptable to wait a week for a product that you and I paid full price for to work as intended? The answer is: it’s not. Personally, I’m getting sick of nonsense like this tainting what otherwise would have been a near perfect experience, and unfortunately Halo doesn’t get a free pass just because of my affinity for special spartan branded with the number 117.
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: Xbox One