There are theme tunes that stick with you, then there are theme tunes that inspire you and of course there are theme tunes that just make you dive in and enjoy the entertainment. Star Wars, James Bond, even Raiders of the Lost Ark would all fall into the final category, so too does Halo. The opening bars of the Halo score, followed by those almost African drum beats are enough to turn a jaded gamer back into a Halo lover. Case in point, I never intended to buy Reach, until I wandered into a store and heard that theme tune pounding, five minutes later I had been re-drafted into the UNSC.
Halo, it’s been around for ten years and is still going strong, there must be something special about this evergreen franchise other than the music?
A decade is a long time in gaming.
I remember quite clearly seeing Halo running for the first time in a Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street, yes it looked good, but over somebody’s shoulder it also looked quite pedestrian in it’s pace. Then the world played the game and things changed, the campaign had a sense of purpose, the AI was a spectacular leap and the playability was off the charts. The iconic Master Chief soon became a firm favourite and flag carrier for the Microsoft console.
Going back to my opening statement, Halo games tend to grab you when you least expect it, they offer up emotive experiences and excellent re-playability, not to mention the extensive multiplayer options. The engine is robust, the writing and artistic direction are top notch, while that old friendly tickle of addictive gaming rears it’s head as you drive on to the next objective.
Back to the matter in hand.
It is 2011, we are swamped in the middle of one of the biggest, most expensive pre-christmas quarters seen in the industry. Halo Anniversary has dropped amidst goliath shooters such as Rage, Modern Warfare and Battlefield, yet it still captivates, it still has credibility and it still scratches that itch.
I’ll come right out and say I have not completed the campaign, I really do not need to, I will over the next few days, but my time is precious and I have been doing a foolish thing. I opted for Legendary straight out of the box. I know the levels well, I want to experience the game at its most challenging and at this juncture I have to say Legendary is tough, it is way tougher than Reach ever was. Everything seems faster, snappier, more damaging and the Covenant, well they scare me. I also question my decision knowing that The Flood are just around the corner, as my memory of The Library is not a fond one.
The classic campaign, remastered with current generation graphics, plain walls are now alive with texture and lighting, forests glow with iridescent luminosity, it is beautiful although it is still a step away from the graphical mastery of games like Modern Warfare. The level structure is rolled together well, environments while fantastical still make sense and the areas are open enough to fool you into thinking there is an amount of freedom on hand.
There are also hidden skulls and terminals making appearances, not only are they achievement tied, the skulls as in previous games will allow players to change game parameters, while the terminals are useful dumps of backstory information.
The campaign is also now enhanced by the addition of a co-op buddy, what’s better than Master Chief? Two Master Chiefs of course!
The developers have also included a version of the Reach multiplayer system, which now includes six of the original Halo maps again remastered and re-imagined for the standards and demands of today. There is also a new Firefight map and these maps can be unlocked to be played directly from Reach without having to insert the Halo: CEA disc.
Another nice to have is the additional functionality for Kinect, extending the experience in a hybrid fashion somewhat similar to my thoughts in a recent post. I have struggled with this function and ultimately getting the Kinect to understand me saying ‘grenade’ is always going to be slower than pulling the left trigger.
This is most certainly one of the essential games that xbox 360 owners should have in their collection, the campaign can be different every time you fire it up, situations change, the Covenant AI react with sometimes uncanny ability. I am also aware there is likely to be a whole clutch of younger gamers that may have played related games, but never seen Halo: CE up close and personal.
I am still struggling to grasp the idea that a full decade has passed, but I am most pleased that 343 Industries have decided to push this game out. Yes, the character models in cut scenes are a little wooden, but that is soon overlooked once you get to grips with one of the most enjoyable games ever released, twice.