Halo: The Master Chief Collection Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox One
Announced at E3 to rapturous applause, the always dependable Master Chief once again takes centre stage, this time not with a new title but with a package so full of content it’s difficult to know where to begin...but begin we shall. Halo is put simply, Xbox - it’s one of, if not the core franchise that continues to sell units and being one of the flagship products on the original Xbox well over ten years ago, influenced countless first person shooters down the years. Many said at the time that the original Halo and the sequel that followed it redefined the genre, pushing Bungie up to the higher echelons of game development as one of the best in the industry.
So here we have it, The Master Chief Collection, a love letter to Halo fans, born no doubt partly out of the need for a Halo game in the first year of the Xbox One’s life cycle (Halo 5 being too far out) but most welcome regardless of the motivations for its release. Most thought at that original E3 event that we would be seeing Halo 2: Anniversary and the audible gasps in the room were heard from some way away when the entire collection was announced, all to be presented in glorious 1080p and 60fps - even the original titles.
Working our way through the collection, the original Halo campaign is a natural starting point being, of course, the birth of the franchise and our first encounter with Master Chief. Updated and fully revamped the 2012 Anniversary Edition is present, relatively unchanged from a graphics perspective but now running in super smooth 60fps, there really hasn’t been a better way to enjoy this classic than is presented here. An epic slice of both Halo and Microsoft Xbox history re-created and every bit as enjoyable as it was way back when, this CE edition (Halo CE Review) benefits from a nice glossy graphical upgrade as well as some excellent sound work. Sadly though the gameplay hasn’t aged terribly well, with a fair few open, barren areas along with a ton of backtracking it lacks the action and atmosphere that a new generation of players, likely schooled in COD, would demand. That said, it’s a classic after all and worth playing through for the story alone.
Guy killed me with a sword Ma
One potentially odd design decision comes with the original Halo and the inclusion of the original Halo MP, pretty much untouched aside from the frame rate changes. An obvious nod to the old school Halo players and it’s easy to see why the team at 343 would do this but having played quite a few of these original maps with the Halo Reach update it’s hugely jarring on the eyes, to the point where extended play will likely cause your eyes to bleed. Graphically it hasn’t aged well at all and speed that up to 60fps and at times it’s a bit of a mess.
Moving swiftly on to Halo 2, this title has seen the biggest changes for its inclusion in this collection. Since this is the 10th anniversary of the title, it can be considered Halo 2: Anniversary. Unlike the first game, this title tells two stories in parallel. The covenant fresh from trying to activate Halo and eventually coming to blows with the humans are all set to invade Earth, and Master Chief is about to receive commendations for his bravery. Running in parallel, the Covenant's supreme commander is about to be publicly shamed for failing to prevent Halo’s destruction - the shame heaped upon him sees him branded as the Arbiter by the high prophets, condemning the poor soul to spend the remainder of his days conducting high risk, suicidal missions on their behalf. Alas there is only one way to leave the role of the Arbiter...
...this skull is on fire
Halo 2 is heralded as the benchmark for its frantic multiplayer experience and to a point its big, broad, epic campaign - as mentioned earlier Halo 2: Anniversary is what people wanted originally, they were begging for it all across the web and when the full collection was revealed the hype machine went into overdrive. Hats off to the team at 343 Studios though they really put in a shift with this new iteration of a classic. Not only does it run, as with the others, at a smooth 60fps but the upgrade to current gen is fantastic. Flicking back to the original graphics instantly shows you how much love and effort has been put into this remaster and at times it absolutely sizzles. New textures, lighting and particle effects bring everything to life and along with the addition of some genuinely stunning cutscenes the title becomes something more akin to the much newer Halo 4 - no mean feat indeed and as a result becomes a joy to play for old and new players alike. Keep an eye on those cutscenes as not only are they beautiful, some are new and provide some ground work for Halo 5, beta access to this being made available to anyone who picks up The Master Chief Collection.
It doesn’t stop at the graphics with Halo 2 also - the sound has been vastly improved throughout and they have gone so far as to completely re-work some of Halo 2’s most beloved multiplayer maps too. Granted Halo and Halo 2 do feel noticeably different to modern day multiplayer shooters but for the older players out there who poured hours into these growing up, they represent the realisation of something they’ve been crying out for ever since the new console was announced.
On to Halo 3 and here we see a lot fewer changes, naturally, than with Halo 2. Starting straight after the cliffhanger ending seen in Halo 2, you retake control of the big guy returning to Earth without Cortana at his side. The humans may have turned the tide but the Covenant is getting more desperate and threatens to activate the Halos in a last-ditch effort to win the war. Having survived the betrayal of the High Prophets, the Arbiter now stands and fights by Chief’s side.
Go get em Chief
It’s clear work has been done on this 2007 Xbox 360 title but it’s nowhere near as extensive as with the previous titles. Texture work and character models appear to be much the same but there is a clearly noticeable use of some clever lighting throughout which makes everything that little bit more pleasing on the eye. As with the other titles everything zips along at 60fps and unlike the previous titles can be played in four player co-op, Halo and Halo 2 of course being two player only.
Finally we have the last entry in the collection and naturally the newest part of the entire Master Chief saga, Halo 4. Awoken by Cortana after a really long sleep as an unknown alien entity scans their vessel, you are swiftly sucked into a gravity well finding yourself on a new planet with a new enemy (the Prometheans). Add to this that you have to deal with a feisty Cortana who appears to be slowly losing the plot, all the while saving the world from a really annoyed Forerunner determined to wreak havoc. It is four years on from Halo 3 and a peace treaty has been signed between arch enemies the UNSC and the Covenant.Being a fairly recent title you can read our take on it from last year TDF review Halo 4.
In terms of updates for this collection there aren’t a great deal. Naturally, as we’ve mentioned quite a few times now, it all runs really nicely in 1080p and 60fps and this really makes for a silky smooth experience. The cutscenes were always phenomenal and nothing has changed on that respect, aside from this there are some minor graphical and audio updates to speak of. Again the use of dynamic lighting and particle effects bring more life to an already good looking Xbox 360 title (arguably one of the best looking) and everything moves along very nicely throughout the lengthy adventure.
As if that wasn’t enough for your fourty quid there is also the Halo Channel which is accessed through in-game terminals, rolling out key background information on such things as how the covenant came to be. Nightfall is the Ridley Scott produced live action TV series, accessible through the game menu; approximately 100 multiplayer maps, six completely remastered, the aforementioned guaranteed access to Halo 5 and a whopping 4500 achievement points for all those completionists out there. There are playlists which can be configured to span all campaigns, creating a seamless journey tailored to your favourites. Forge is still present, co-op, multiplayer, skull modifies, multiple difficulty levels, it has all made it across to this collection.
On sheer value for money alone The Master Chief Collection is a fantastic proposition, add in that it contains some of the highest regarded Xbox titles of all time, touched up, enhanced and fit for a whole new generation of players, it’s quite simply a must buy. 343 could quite easily have just thrown together the original campaigns and people still would have bought it. What we have here is a love letter to the fans and the absolutely best way to enjoy Master Chief - Plus if that’s not enough you are guaranteed a place in the Halo 5 beta: as a package it just keeps on giving. Four good games, really good games, access to the beta for the next title, legendary multiplayer and an epic story spanning many hours of gameplay it is impossible not to recommend The Master Chief Collection.