Thursday, November 17, 2011

HD graphics, 3-D make "Halo" a must-buy

Combat Evolved: The Remix

Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary
Developed by: 343 Studios
Published by: Microsoft
Available: NOW
Available on: Xbox 360-exclusive
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $39.99
Genre: First-person shooter

Halo. That single word makes Xbox shooter fans grin, makes fanboys of other consoles swear and makes Microsoft cry tears of joy all the way to the bank. The franchise, loosely based on the movie Aliens, is the backbone of the Xbox brand. While other mascots come and go, John 117 is the man until further notice.

When I heard Microsoft was releasing an updated, HD-remastered version of the original Combat Evolved, I jumped for joy. I was even more excited when Microsoft shipped me an early copy for review.

Developed by 343 Studios and published by Microsoft, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary melds the original, iconic original Xbox game with HD graphics, remastered soundtrack and 3-D support into one sweet bundle.

There's no real reason to review the game - if you have played Halo: CE, then you know what to expect with Anniversary. This review will focus on why it's a good buy or just "meh."

Bungie originally made CE and the numerous offerings after it until departing the Halo universe in 2010. Microsoft, taking advantage of the 360's graphic processing power, decided to re-release the original game, which still is considered the best game of the Halo series by many. They assigned the task to 343 Studios to remake CE with updated graphics and 3-D support. I'll give 343 credit for wicked 3-D support. More on that later. However, when you are tasked with making a better version of a product, you lose major points with you copy the game - and the glitches as well.

The awesome points are, no doubt, the crisp HD graphics. 343 gets points for making an already good looking game really pop. The textures, the environments, the explosions look amazing. You'll be blown away by the graphics. If you need a reminder on how great the graphics have improved, go to the options menu and enable the original graphics. You not only lose 3-D support, but you will hurl in your mouth when you realize how much eye candy was dangling in front of you with the remastered version.

Controls are still solid - 343 tweaked the controls a wii bit and even added Kinect support to the reboot. It's limited, but you can use voice commands to perform tasks - 'Grenade' or 'Throw a grenade' and John 117 hurls a grenade. That's pretty slick, huh?

Audio is great. You can toggle between remastered audio and soundtrack and the original. Honestly, the new, updated songs don't compare with the original soundtrack. I would have enjoyed the original soundtrack remastered instead of a newer version.

3-D support is something new for the Halo series. It isn't enabled automatically - you have to navigate in the Extras menu to turn it on. Is there a huge difference? You betcha! The HD graphics and the stereoscopic images really make the game sing. From the explosions, to the lasers zipping past you - 3-D fits John 117 and his crew well. The ability to play this in 3-D is worth the $39.99 you'll drop for it.

Multiplayer is nothing new - when you fire it up, you'll notice a familiar screen - "Welcome back to Reach" message greets new arrivals. Apparently, 343 tacked on the Reach multiplayer mode and added a few classic maps for folks lucky enough to snag a preorder copy of the game. Plus - the preorder version, which Microsoft sent to me to review - includes a Skull funeral perk - every one of your dead foes gets one and explodes afterward - and male and female John 117 Spartan armor for LIVE avatars.

Now, for the bad news.

The menus can be a bit confusing. Instead of 'Extras' menu option, what about options? And the 3-D enable link was buried. Why not make it easier to access? In the game, new to the game are Skulls and other tidbits that were added to this version of CE. You may spot a terminal sprinkled throughout the game that reveals interesting points and mini movies, but sadly, these are presented in regular or high definition. And they aren't in 3-D either.
The main issue I have with Anniversary? The frozen save points. That was something everyone familiar with the original CE knew and dreaded. Unlike the original Xbox, this is a glitch that didn't need to make the jump to the current generation. Seriously, you copied the game so well even glitches migrated? FAIL. It became very, very frustrating to enjoy the 3-D graphics, love blasting the Covenant and Flood and the action ... pauses ... and pauses ... as it ... auto ... saves. 343 loses serious points for that. Really, you have added a coat of new polish on one of the best shooters ever - and can't fix the stuttering and frozen saves. That alone soured this reboot.

The verdict? 9 (out of 10). As much as I wanted to give a lower score - an 8.5, actually - overall, the game is a huge improvement. The stuttering saves are the main drawback and hopefully, an update can hopefully end that. When that happens, I'll boost the score. Until then, this will be the final sum of the matter. 

Why you should snag it: If you are a Halo fan and want to see Master Chief's journey in HD and 3-D, buy this game. If you love Reach multiplayer, buy this game. At $39.99, it is well worth the price you pay.

Why you should avoid it: You hated - HATED - the delayed saves, avoid it. You think Killzone 3 does 3-D better, avoid it. If you love Bungie, miss them and hate 343 Studios, avoid it.

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