It’s HD re-release time, folks! Yes, that time of year when you re-buy the same game you’ve already bought because backwards compatibility is no longer a thing so you kind of have to. I can’t be too down on Halo: The Master Chief Collection, though. It offers HD versions of Halo 1 through 4, which is a solid value that you’re not going to see all that often. Sure, it lacks the two best Halo games (ODST and Reach) but this is still a hefty pile of alien-shooting for your buck.
Halo: Combat Evolved is the classic experience we all know and love, an alien-blasting FPS introducing the iconic Master Chief; you’re getting the Anniversary edition of the game in this collection, so there’s remastered graphics and sound available which look pretty decent. If you consider this game the baseline for the series, it’s one of the more difficult titles because of the non-regenerating health system (later seen in ODST and Reach) that can screw you over if you don’t just win fights, but win them without draining all your resources. You can really tell how far the series has progressed going from this to Halo 4. The writing is a lot more awkward and the weapons feel way too powerful, especially the death-dealing pistol that can snipe for easy headshots and defeat the game’s most menacing foes with a single bullet. I found this title to be a little buggy in its Master Chief Collection incarnation, with the most significant problem I encountered being the game skipping levels and failing to save my progress or achievements.
Halo 2 ramps up the difficulty significantly, largely through the removal of the health system from the first game. Now the only thing standing between you and death is Master Chief’s flimsy energy shield. Your weapons also tend to be weaker in order to encourage you to use the new dual-wielding system. Any difficulty above Normal necessitates extremely slow and cautious play; you’ll find yourself spending more time hiding behind cover than actually fighting the Covenant. As a result, in terms of gameplay this was probably my least favorite of the four, a view that was compounded by how short the campaign is. Aesthetically, the Master Chief Collection offers a newly remastered version of the game that looks about as good as Combat Evolved in terms of gameplay and much better during cutscenes. It’s also worth nothing that both this game and Halo 3 lack ingame subtitles, so the hearing impaired (and those who enjoy hearing what the characters are saying over explosions and gunfire) are going to be disappointed.
Halo 3 was the first of the games on offer to come out on the Xbox 360 and it showws. The graphics and animation are vastly improved over even the remastered versions of Combat Evolved and Halo 2. As far as gameplay goes, this probably feels the best out of all the games, lacking the oversimplification of Halo 4 and the crushing difficulty of Halo 2. It certainly feels the most balanced. If you’re into co-op, this game and Halo 4 both offer four-player online play and Halo 3 feels particularly well-designed for it. The main graphical update here is the addition of 60fps, which does a lot to make any game look great.
Halo 4 is the most recent game and also came out on the Xbox 360 and was developed by 343 Industries instead of Bungie. It differs strongly from the previous games by focusing much more on the characters of Master Chief (who is now very chatty) and Cortana (equally so) and introducing a new enemy faction called the Prometheans in place of the usual Flood. The Prometheans come with their own selection of badass weaponry to use; I’m a fan of the new guns simply because they look awesome and the reload animations are super cool, but the Prometheans themselves don’t offer a lot of variety and you’ll tend to find yourself shooting the same few dudes ad infinitum throughout the game. This is also one of the easier games in the series since Master Chief’s shield is no longer made of tissue paper and you can take a solid few hits before you go down. All in all, though it’s as action-oriented as ever Halo 4 feels a bit like if Halo tried really hard to be Metroid Prime. Take that as you will.
The Master Chief Collection also offers online PvP, which worked well enough. Er, it worked well enough the one or two times I was able to successfully get through matchmaking. Yes, this is yet another game that’s released with some serious bugs. In this case, the matchmaking system has some major problems that are currently being addressed. Once they’re taken care of, this will be a great way to enjoy maps from across the series, but until then…
…well, until then you’ve still got the enormous amount of single-player content, which makes a strong case for purchasing this game. Hell, it makes a decent case for purchasing an Xbox One. Halo’s one of the most popular video game franchises in the history of the industry for a reason. Halo: Master Chief Collection basically serves up a nice, savory chunk of goodness with a couple bones in here and there. If you’re only after the online multiplayer you might want to hold off until all the issues have been patched, but otherwise it’s worth the money to follow Master Chief’s galactic adventures yet again. Maybe one day they’ll re-release ODST and Reach in a Non-Master Collection?