Sunday, 23 November 2014

Whiskey Reviews: Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Info:
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 11 November 2014
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft
Where to get it: Anywhere that sells Xbox One games
Price: £44.99

The Master Chief Collection gathers the four numbered entries to the Halo franchise in one place for the Xbox One, including Halo Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4 as well as containing a few extras such as improved and reworked multiplayer, the Halo Nightfall series and a guaranteed position in the Halo 5 multiplayer beta in December.
Sounds like a great package, but is it worth buying? Hit the link to find out!



I'm not going to review every single Halo game in the Master Chief Collection (MCC), that'd be silly and take far far too long to complete so instead we're going to be taking a look at the package as a whole and breaking it down into its various parts.

Halo CE Anniversary is pretty much just a port of Halo Anniversary from the Xbox 360 with a few of the kinks ironed out. It no longer takes a couple of seconds to switch between the remastered and classic visuals, now occurring instantly upon a button press.
Halo Anniversary really stands out even today as a shooter that was revolutionary. It's telling that, as someone who has played its campaign innumerable times solo, coop and on all difficulties, that I can still find something new each time.
That said, Halo is starting to show its age a bit and the non-regenerating health can cause a few hiccups for players who're more accustomed to the newer entries in the series. Later in the game, when fighting Sentinels and Flood in tandem it can be somewhat frustrating even on easy difficulty when you get double-teamed or backed into a corner for an unavoidable death.
The core of the experience is completely intact and better than ever now running at 60 FPS and 1080p. Animations look smooth and the earlier remaster goes a long way to smoothing out the more aged scenes. Even the grey corridors of the Pillar Of Autumn feel like they've had a fresh coat of paint and don't feel quite so boring.
That said it all amounts to a re-release of a game that's already been released twice. It's a nice inclusion but ultimately nothing special in the context of this release.

Halo 2 Anniversary is the star of the show. Remastered visuals and sound lend an impressive punch to the proceedings and genuinely mind blowing CGI cinematics change the tone of a couple of scenes from kinda goofy to badass.
The improved visuals are nice, with high quality texturing withstanding even close scrutiny and improved models and maps making it feel like a new journey even for seasoned Halo players.
The difference between the original Halo 2 visuals and Anniversary's visuals is staggering in places, the underwater elevator ride is especially impressive and the redesigned bridge assault remains a favourite of mine in both instances.
Similarly improved is the sound, the soundtrack got a complete overhaul of every single track. The new incarnations of old tunes do even more to capture the epic circumstances of the Chief's journey and a couple of tracks that play late in the game are actually exciting to listen to, evoking that urge to air guitar usually reserved for Iron Maiden and Dragonforce.

Now I get to earn a little ire - I don't really like Halo 2. Mainly due to the Brute infested latter half of the game and the Battle Rifle, these two are almost rage inducing for me.
My feelings on this iteration of Halo 2 are very firmly mixed, my grudging acceptance of the game at odds with the impressive work that's been done to make it stand out.

I'd much rather that work have gone into Halo 3. Regarded by many to the be the absolute pinnacle of the series it has been completely neglected here. The original visuals and sound are intact, sounding and looking a bit puny compared to Halo 2 Anniversary.
This was Bungie at their best in my opinion, map design, story and encounters are all high quality and even the slightly dated visuals don't detract from the enjoyment of romping around Tsavo Highway or The Ark.
Unfortunately thanks to not being touched up, Halo 3 feels like it was crowbarred in just to round out the package instead of being a proper installment. It wouldn't surprise me if we get a remastered edition of Halo 3 in another few years and even now I can easily imagine looking back and thinking "why didn't they just do this the first time?"
There are some improvements though, the framerate and resolution have both been given a bump up which has, perhaps inadvertently helped with some previously annoying aspects of the game; the sick inducing Gravemind speeches and headache producing Cortana speeches are far more bearable at a higher fidelity.
I still love Halo 3 the most out of all the Halo games and being able to play it on the Xbox One is perhaps good enough but still a little disappointing.

To round out the selection of games we have Halo 4. I feel dirty even talking about it but to be fair to 343 they've done a good job with the design and visuals, even now the game looks great with only a slight boost to its resolution and framerate.
A bit of polish does not a turd change however. The Promethean Knights and Watchers are still a hassle to battle. Forerunner weaponry remains cool to look at but largely ineffective against anything but the weeniest of opponents and Cortana has thighs to rival Chun Li for some reason - I think they were trying to make her a bit sexier and inadvertently made her look like a tube of toothpaste that has been squeezed in the middle.
I can't defend Halo 4 in all honesty, it has a couple of good moments and a couple of good new guns but is a lacking package overall, in addition it also suffers from performance issues with framerates noticeably dipping in action packed scenes. 
343 would have been much better served sweeping this one under the rug and putting Reach in the MCC instead.

The MCC doesn't just gather all four games into a single place though, the skulls are all unlocked from the start and new skulls and terminals are hidden throughout the games to hint at Halo 5's story. Also included is the Halo Nightfall series that has a quality cast and production crew but suffers slightly from timid and seemingly misinformed writers.

Additionally the inclusion of playlists for the campaigns is great. You can play all the vehicle sections, or all the escapes, or a LASO (Legendary difficulty, all skulls on) campaign if you really want to torture yourself. These add a lot of replayability for the completionist and unlock various bits and bobs for multiplayer, as do the par times and par scores for each campaign mission.

Multiplayer


Multiplayer is present but suffering from matchmaking issues at the time or writing (9 days after release). Some issues were to be expected but the multiplayer portion being unplayable over a week after release is plain stupid.
A patch is due later today (20th November) and I can only hope it's not too little too late. Multiplayer has always been a big part of the Halo experience, from huddling around the same TV to matchmaking with strangers over the internet it has been the go-to experience for Xbox Live.

Overall it's a package that's equal parts nostalgia and honest attempt at improvement. It needed more time in the oven however; Halo 1, 3 and 4 haven't been improved all that much and the omission of Reach leaves a gaping hole in what could have been the definitive Halo experience.
343 have certainly made something that many Halo fans will want to get. It's bursting with content and once the multiplayer issues are ironed out it could evolve into a huge multiplayer community that'll keep gamers coming back for months, or until Halo 5 comes out.
It's not wholly recommendable however, with three out of the four games only receiving marginal attention (I can't stress that enough) it doesn't feel like enough of an improvement to justify a purchase if you still have a 360 laying around.
Lets be honest though, if you're a Halo fan chances are you've already bought it. If you're not it's a good place to start for the curious and has enough content to give more play time than many other purchases.

Score: 7 dogs beat me over 10 fences.