What if I've never played Halo?
I can save you some time and say that The Master Chief Collection is absolutely worth the price for anyone who likes a good shooter, especially if you like sci-fi to boot. What made the original Halo such a success rings true today, offering players thoughtfully designed encounters, giving them a handful of tools and letting them decide the best way to proceed. You are the Master Chief, a power-armored super soldier known as a Spartan. Despite your herculean strength, however, you can only carry two weapons. The conquering alien empire known as the Covenant comprises several different races, each one with specific strengths and vulnerabilities, meaning that improvisation with your available weapons is both encouraged and often necessary.
The birdlike Jackals hide behind wrist mounted energy shields, for example, but they can't take much damage. The squat Grunts are weak (and cowardly) but can be dangerous in large numbers. The Elites are the Master Chief's equal, packing the same rechargeable, full-body energy shields, allowing them to take just as much punishment as you can.
These are all valid tactics, and it's these moments that make Halo stand out (though you probably won't get away with "throw grenades at it" on higher difficulties). The galaxy-hopping space opera of a story, while it has its missteps, is filled with spectacle and memorable moments, especially if you can round up a friend or two for co-op (local or online). And, of course, there's multiplayer, but we'll get to that later.
Suffice it to say that Halo has its own unique rhythm, and it's one of the best, most consistent shooters out there. The series is beloved for a reason, and The Master Chief Collection is the perfect way to find out why.
(If you're new to Halo, be warned that this section contains major spoilers.)
We've covered Halo 3, Halo 4 and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary somewhat exhaustively in previous Joystiq reviews, so let's focus on The Master Chief Collection's biggest addition, Halo 2: Anniversary. As with Halo: CE Anniversary, 343 Industries has taken the bones of the original Halo 2 and fleshed them out with completely renovated visuals. The effect is more striking than it was in Halo: CE, and it's clear that Halo 2 had a little more attention lavished upon it. It's not quite visually on par with the best that the Xbox One has to offer, but it looks great, from the giant, insectile Scarab tank to tiny details like the jagged, pink shards jutting out of the Needler. Rather than being covered by a bland, whitish mush, an icy landscape is punctured occasionally by rocks and soil under the melted snow. The trunk of a pine tree is gnarled and rough, rather than a straight, brown stick. Its foliage is lush, and sunlight streams through the branches, where before there was only a gray skybox. The bizarre, purple-infused motifs of the Covenant are shinier than ever, and the city skyline of High Charity actually looks like a place aliens could call home. The austere Forerunner architecture ... well, it's still pretty boring, but the detailed etchings in the metal look nice.
And, again, it's all running at 60 frames-per-second, which feels very weird in a Halo game, though now I can't imagine going back. (It also means that Halo's trademark "30 seconds of fun" now includes twice as many funs per second.)
Perhaps even more remarkable than the improved visuals are the completely remastered musical score and sound effects. Composers Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori's iconic score has been heightened, with most pieces sounding fuller and richer. The sound mix, too, seems to give the music a little more room to shine than the original Halo 2, as the remastered tracks are generally much more noticeable during gameplay. The only part of the soundtrack that seems worse off, in my opinion, are the more electronically influenced tracks, which have lost some of their unsettling punch. But maybe that punch was siphoned into the new sound effects, which are wonderful. Once you've heard the throaty, staccato pops of a battle rifle's report echoing off of the alleyways of New Mobasa, the original Halo 2 soundscape seems muddy and dull by comparison.
Halo 2's original in-game cutscenes, meanwhile, are positively laughable in the face of their new CG counterparts, crafted by the impeccable Blur Studio. The fresh cutscenes are stunning, and they handily deliver on the epic scope that the first Xbox just couldn't muster.
As in CE Anniversary, you can instantly swap between the remastered visuals/sound and the original with a press of a button. You can even do it during cutscenes this time around, but I would not recommend it. For one, there's a small delay in the sound when you switch during cutscenes but, more importantly, the new ones are just that much better. The tentacled Gravemind looks like a real creature now, instead of some jagged, green sock puppet. All of these upgrades do a lot to serve Halo 2's story, which is much better than I remember it.
The gameplay itself is unchanged, for better or worse. For the better, it's a blast to pound through New Mombasa, and sniping Banshees out of the sky with Scorpion tank shells as you roll across a gigantic suspension bridge is as enjoyable as it ever was. When Halo 2 really gets its sandbox encounters right – Jackal snipers up high, grunts on the ground, Elites in cover – when it gives you the freedom to approach them in multiple ways and succeed, it's a great exercise in tactical thinking and reflexes. The former is especially necessary on difficulties higher than normal. On Heroic or Legendary, enemies will dodge grenades, retreat and even try to flank you while their allies provide cover fire. And, yes, clearing Cairo Station on Legendary still feels like a minor miracle.
Most of the levels don't fall into these traps, at least. Even when they do, Halo's satisfying gunplay saves the day overall, and the boosted visuals and sound give everything a lift. Even that drab boss fight feels a little more climactic when you have a dazzling cutscene to follow it up.
Again, Halo: The Master Chief Collection ships with every single multiplayer map from Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4. In addition, the collection packs updated versions of some of Halo 2's most fondly remembered maps, which now have the same snazzy sheen as the campaign. These include Lockout, Ascension, Zanzibar, Coagulation, Warlock and Sanctuary. Lockout remains one of the best multiplayer maps I've ever played. Meanwhile, the remastered version of Coagulation, called Bloodline, is a valley of vehicular madness, filled with Scorpion tanks, machine-gun equipped Gungooses, air-dominating Hornets and the classic, fish-tailing Warthog. CTF, to put it lightly, is nuts.
You can transition seamlessly between any map for any Halo game, meaning a match on a Halo 4 map can be immediately followed up a Halo 2 map or something from Halo: Combat Evolved. Each map conforms to the gameplay and engine of its respective game. That means dual-wielding in Halo 2 and Halo 3, and customizing your favorite loadouts for Halo 4. Also, every weapon, upgrade and armor permutation is unlocked from the get-go, so you won't have to futz with leveling up or unlocking Achievements (yes, you can haz Recon).
Custom games ran smoothly for me, and Halo's strange brand of lively, occasionally goofy multiplayer is just as amusing now as it was ten or even 13 years ago. The sandbox comes into play here too, as every player scrambles to knock out their opponents' shields and land a killing blow. Again, how you choose to drop opponents is up to you, and sometimes it boils down to improvisation (or the rocket launcher respawning just when you need it most). Sharply aimed sniper shots from across the map are as valid as a sneaky shotgun blast in close quarters, and half the fun is finding your niche. CTF or the bomb-planting Assault mode are perfect for team-based shenanigans, while more serious players can dip into SWAT, where shields are disabled and headshots reign. Beyond the existing gametypes, you're free to create your own and share them with friends. Nothing but rockets on Longest, one of Halo: CE's most claustrophobic maps? Go for it.
You can even remix existing Halo 3, Halo 4 and Halo 2 Anniversary maps (or build one from scratch) using the Forge mode. Fair warning, Forge is dense and neither the game nor the built-in Xbox One help manual do much to explain it. If you know what you're doing, though, it's a very powerful tool. If you don't, you can always pile up a bunch of fusion coils, stick a Mongoose ATV on top and see what happens:
In short, there's something for everyone, and every inch of it is infused with the snappy, energetic gameplay that put Halo on the map in the first place.
Sadly, as of this writing – on The Master Chief Collection's launch day – online matchmaking is barely functioning. Wait times are several minutes long, and even when a match is found, it's rarely full. The few matches I've found have run just fine, with no noticeable connectivity problems, but actually connecting to a match is a complete crapshoot. Microsoft is aware of the issue, but the fact remains that, right now, players who put a lot of priority in matchmaking will be disappointed. For the moment, custom games with friends or co-op campaign are the best online options.
I haven't touched on every little feature found in Halo: The Master Chief Collection. There are other thoughtful inclusions, like the universal menu, saved films and screenshots, hidden terminals in Halo 2 and playlists for campaign missions. The campaigns and multiplayer alone are enough to keep anyone busy and enjoying themselves for a very long time, and there's still more to do for those that want it. For example, good luck clearing the cross-game playlist that challenges you to clear all 45 campaign missions across all four games with 24 difficulty-enhancing Skulls activated ... on Legendary.
The real treat for fans, of course, will be revisiting Halo 2's campaign and subsequently reliving the classic multiplayer. Even with the matchmaking issues, and even though Halo 2's campaign has its low points, the remastered ride is worth it, and having every other main Halo game in one place is an excellent bonus (not to mention access to the impending Halo 5: Guardians beta).
For newcomers looking to see what all the fuss is about, Halo is as vibrant now as it was a decade ago, and The Master Chief Collection is essential.
This review is based on an Xbox Live download of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, provided by Microsoft. Images: Microsoft.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a compilation of first-person shooter video games in the Halo series for the Xbox One. Released on November 11, 2014, the collection was developed by 343 Industries in partnership with other studios and was published by Microsoft Studios. The collection consists of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4, which were originally released on earlier Xbox platforms. Each game in the release received a graphical upgrade, with Halo 2 receiving a high-definition redesign of its audio and visuals that are exclusive to the collection. The game includes access to the live-action series Halo: Nightfall as well as the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta that was available for a limited time.
Each game in the compilation retained its original story and gameplay, with the exception of Halo 2's cutscenes which were extended by Blur Studio. The collection's multiplayer features every map originally released with each title, including six remastered Halo 2 maps.
Critics generally praised The Master Chief Collection for its updated audio and visuals, as well as its quantity of content, but criticized the multiplayer aspect of the collection due to a significant number of bugs and poor matchmaking experiences. Many of these technical issues were later fixed in a number of post-release patches. On May 30, 2015, the campaign mode of Halo 3: ODST was made available for the collection.
The Master Chief Collection consists of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the anniversary edition of Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4, complete with their full catalog of extras, including all multiplayer maps and gameplay modes. There have been no story or gameplay changes to the original releases. The games are first-person shooters with vehicular combat that takes place from a third-person perspective. All four campaign modes can be played alone or cooperatively via split screen or Xbox Live. Each campaign has four difficulty levels and access to gameplay modifiers known as "Skulls".
As in Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 players can swap between the original and upgraded graphics on the fly. Additions to Halo 2's campaign mode include "Terminals", and new prologue and epilogue cutscenes to link the series for Halo 5's debut. Since only six of the game's multiplayer maps were remastered, there are two Halo 2 multiplayer modes. The Halo 2 anniversary multiplayer mode uses the six remastered maps, while the standard Halo 2 multiplayer mode includes all of the original game's released maps with a full graphical update but no remastering. The Collection multiplayer includes Mission Setlists, curated lists of levels selected from throughout the series.
The Extras menu includes access to live-action video series Halo: Nightfall and the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, until it was removed prior to the game's release. The compilation features new Achievements, and all difficulty and play modes are unlocked from the start. The game launched with a total of 4,000 Gamerscore spread across 400 Achievements—the largest amount of Gamerscore given to a game since its introduction—with another 500 Gamerscore, spread across 50 Achievements, being released in a day-one update. With the release of Spartan Ops a few months later, an additional 50 Achievements, worth 500 Gamerscore, were released. In May 2015, another 100 Achievements, worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore, were released alongside Halo 3: ODST.
The collection was developed by 343 Industries in conjunction with Certain Affinity, Ruffian Games, Saber Interactive, Blur Studio, and United Front Games. Following the announcement of The Master Chief Collection at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft's Xbox division, stated that the collection originally began as just a remastering of Halo 2 to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. 343 Industries decided that it would be a great opportunity to release the other main Halo titles for the Xbox One in preparation for the 2015 release of Halo 5: Guardians. All of the games run at 60 frames per second and have received lighting upgrades; all but the Halo 2 remake have a native resolution of 1080p. On October 18, 2014, the game had been declared gold, indicating it was being prepared for duplication and release.
Combat Evolved Anniversary is based on the high-resolution remaster of the original released in 2011 for the Xbox 360.Kinect features from the Xbox 360 version are not supported in the Xbox One collection. Stereoscopic 3D features from the Xbox 360 version are not supported in the Xbox One collection. Ruffian Games was responsible for developing the Halo 3 and Halo 4 ports.Halo 3 and Halo 4 received only a simple lighting upgrade, and an increase in both frame rate and rendering resolution. 343 Industries designed the interfaces and online networking. United Front Games worked on the unified interface that works across all games. Coinciding with the release of The Master Chief Collection, 343 Industries developed the Halo Channel, an application for the Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. It is a successor to the Halo Waypoint app that was released on the Xbox 360. The Xbox One app is integrated with the collection, allowing players to access Halo: Nightfall and "Terminal" animations, unlock rewards for the game, and launch the games directly from the app.
Halo 2 Anniversary
Saber Interactive, which co-developed Combat Evolved Anniversary, assisted in the remake of Halo 2's campaign. It received a complete visual overhaul. The game's soundtrack and sound effects, such as weapon audio, were updated as well. The refined Halo 2 cutscenes, as well as two new cutscenes created to complement the Halo 5: Guardians story line, were produced by Blur Studio. They feature the same structure and timing of the originals, and motion capture was utilized for the animation.
"Terminals", a feature first introduced in Halo 3, were added to the Halo 2 Anniversary campaign. Their purpose was to create a "connective tissue" for stories within the Halo universe that explores the relationship between the different races within the Covenant and extensively covers the events portrayed in Halo 2. Terminals also gave 343 Industries the opportunity to introduce Spartan Locke, a main character in Halo 5: Guardians. Visual effect studio The Sequence Group collaborated with 343 Industries to provide the animation; the group had previously performed similar work in Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 4. Several voice actors reprised their roles including Keith David as the Arbiter, John DiMaggio as the Heretic Leader, and Tim Dadabo as 343 Guilty Spark. Mike Colter provided the voice-over for Spartan Locke.
Once the Halo 2 Anniversary project was green-lit, executive producer Dan Ayoub at 343 Industries reached out to Max Hoberman of Certain Affinity for assistance on the multiplayer component. Hoberman originally designed Halo 2's multiplayer and founded Certain Affinity after leaving Bungie in 2006. Certain Affinity was asked to remake several of the multiplayer maps from Halo 2. The team found it difficult to decide how many of the original 24 maps to redesign and eventually settled on six – two small, two medium, and two large – to provide some variation.
Along with the visual upgrade, Halo 2's original score was re-recorded with the San Francisco Symphony at Skywalker Sound studio. Guitarist Steve Vai returned to the franchise to play on additional tracks with Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor. The Halo 2 Anniversary soundtrack was released on November 11, 2014.
On June 9, 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo with a trailer titled "Hunter and the Hunted". The trailer was created by animation company Digital Domain, which had previously collaborated on other Halo commercials. The trailer recreates a moment from Halo 2, in which the Master Chief rides a bomb into a Covenant ship. It is narrated by Keith David, who voices the Arbiter. Several other trailers were released prior to launch, showcasing the updated cinematics and Terminals featured in Halo 2 Anniversary, and gameplay from all titles across the collection. On October 31, 2014, 343 Industries released a documentary, Remaking the Legend – Halo 2: Anniversary, chronicling the history of Halo 2 and the development of Halo 2: Anniversary; it also features interviews with developers at Bungie and 343 Industries. The documentary was initially broadcast on Twitch.tv, and was later available on the Halo Channel, Xbox Video, and YouTube.
In August 2014, UK retailer Game revealed two special editions of The Master Chief Collection. The "Limited" edition includes a steel book case, a map book, and an in-game modifier, while the "Mjolnir" edition includes all the content from the Limited edition, along with a 1-foot (0.30 m) statue of the Master Chief. In October 2014, Microsoft announced a white Master Chief Collection Xbox One bundle for Brazil and other "select markets". A second Xbox One bundle containing the collection was announced for release in the United States during March 2015.
The collection was released worldwide in November 2014. 343 Industries confirmed that the collection would be available to download from the Xbox Games Store on the day of release. A 15-gigabyte patch went live to those who had digitally preordered it through the Xbox Games Store on November 6, 2014. Players who preordered through the Xbox Games Store also received early access to the "Boom" Skull, which provides double the explosion physics in the Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 campaign mode; it became available to all other users on December 12, 2014.
At launch, many players experienced problems with online matchmaking modes. 343 Industries released numerous updates to address these issues. On November 24, 2014, Bonnie Ross, head of 343 Industries, issued a public apology noting issues "that have resulted in a frustrating experience, including long matchmaking times and low session success rates". On December 19, 2014, Microsoft announced that as an apology for the issues, it would give a free month of Xbox Live Gold, a special avatar and nameplate, and a free downloadable copy of the Halo 3: ODST campaign to those who played the game between its launch and December 19, 2014. The campaign mode of ODST was released to the public on May 30, 2015, and with it, 100 additional Achievements. It is available to purchase separately to those who are not eligible for a free code for the add-on.
Spartan Ops, the episodic content originating in Halo 4, was released as downloadable content for The Master Chief Collection on December 22, 2014. Additional Achievements for Spartan Ops and the multiplayer mode were released on January 8, 2015.
Halo: Nightfall—a series of weekly, episodic digital videos directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan and produced by Ridley Scott—launched soon after the collection was released. The series was designed to connect the stories of previous Halo games to the upcoming Halo 5. The Halo 5 beta launched on December 29, 2014, and ran until January 18, 2015.
With the release of The Master Chief Collection, Microsoft and 343 Industries announced an official competitive gaming league, the Halo Championship Series (HCS). 343 Industries partnered with the Electronic Sports League, live-streaming platform Twitch.tv, and other tournament organisers to foster the competitive multiplayer community in Halo. The first season of HCS, featuring Halo 2: Anniversary's multiplayer, launched in November 2014 and ran until March 2015. It served as a test bed for ideas and future plans that 343 Industries has for esports in Halo 5.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(February 2015)
Halo: The Master Chief Collection received generally positive reviews. Aggregating review website Metacritic gave it a score 85 out of 100 based on reviews from 69 critics. Reviews praised the graphics, frame rate, and content included in the bundle, but criticized the prominent matchmaking issues that prevented players from playing online multiplayer modes on release day.
The technical issues deeply affected the game's online experience. Forbes' Paul Tassi wrote the game on release "was just flat out broken", and though improvements have been made, it "may very well be the worst major game release in a decade." Stuart Andrews of Trusted Reviews commented that "Halo 3 looks and feels surprisingly dated" when compared to the rest of the collection, particularly Halo 2 and Halo 4.
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