The gaming industry had a bit of an obsession with releasing classic games tarted up to 'high definition' in the last few years of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, some went a bit further and updated the games to modern standards.
Trying to appreciate this over ten years later though is quite a challenge. That's not to say the gameplay isn't still brilliant, and throughout all four games everything plays beautifully, and incredibly smoothly, in updated anniversary graphics for the first two Halo games and new lighting and higher resolution for the two later games.
Halo as a series offers wide open spaces mixed with claustrophobic interiors, which are all interconnected with minimal corridors. The missions invariably have objectives requiring investigation of areas, rescuing people or escaping, or maybe all of them at once, they tend to branch out and improve variety in each proceeding game. The somewhat basic objectives are made brilliant in how you tackle them, whilst subtly linear in design, Halo encourages you to approach problems however you want, with loads of weapons to choose from and even adding vehicles you can use to your advantage, leading to hilarity when trying to fit a banshee, an alien dog-fighter, down the interior corridors.
Limiting the weapons down to two at a time means a firefight can be over quickly or get really messy, so establishing tactics are the key against some of the greatest enemies ever to grace the first person shooter present in all of the games, the Covenant. Grunts are the standard fare, but come in great numbers, Elites are much more powerful and require quick thinking to battle, they dodge grenades (as does everyone else, less effectively) and flank with ease, but are vulnerable to plasma fire. Killing one will rout the grunts too, so it often becomes a difficult choice of who to attack, risking death at the hands of the other. Rounding out the standard enemies are Jackals, who carry bullet proof shields, and intimidating hunters with 'everything proof' shields and the tiniest death star style vulnerability at the back.
Another plus point for Halo was the quality of the narrative, it mixed quality voice acting and a coherent narrative correctly, allowing a basic 'save the world' story seem epic in the first game whilst also introducing some interesting lore in the history of the ring worlds. It is with great shame that they didn't include the prologue to the series however, which explained a lot about the covenant and humanity's place in the galaxy, these were included in the manuals, which seems like quite the oversight for newcomers. The sequels expand both humanity and the Covenant's story by building on the lore which leads to a thrilling climax in the third game, with the fourth introducing a new story arc.
The Master Chief Collection only stumbles when you're faced with the missions that the original games stumbled with
With Halo Combat Evolved, the first five levels are wonders in level design, offering wide open spaces connected with interesting interiors allowing for the best war stories to regale to your buddies later. The Silent Cartographer's fully explorable island is a real highlight, packed with secrets, exploits and lots of enemies to fight or ignore. The latter levels of the game become much more claustrophobic, with tight corridors and a vicious new enemy to face - the Flood. Fighting them is akin to trial and error, seeing what works, dying, seeing what else works...until you figure out the shotgun rules all. It's here we have the weakest level in the series - The Library, which consists of four copy and pasted floors fighting against relentless waves of the flood, as well as sentinels who laser beam everything as they see fit. After this level everything meshes together for a brutal and bombastic final charge, revisiting some locations with new areas to explore, it's you vs the Covenant vs the Flood vs the sentinels (sitting back and taking on whoever is left is probably the best tactic).
The second game picks up where the first finishes, taking the fight to Earth and a whole host of other varied locations, each painstakingly recreated for Xbox One and looking gorgeous, being instantly able to change to the old graphics as in Combat Evolved shows just how far we've come graphically. The second game adds a lot of new tricks and enemies to face too, and is otherwise a solid campaign building on the foundations that made the first game so memorable, but also by throwing out the rule book and having you play as the enemy too, allowing their perspective to give the story some real intrigue. It is odd then that whilst creating levels inspired by the first games brilliance, they decided to include more Flood-dedicated levels that can be quite frustrating, due to the higher difficulty of the game compared to all the others in the series.
When Halo 3 brings the original story arc to a close it does so with finesse, it mixes the best moments of the first two games, dials it up to 11 and adds a sprinkling of four player co-op functionality and special equipment to terrorize the enemy with including portable turrets, mines, gravity lifts and bubble shields. The result is one of the strongest campaigns in the series. Set pieces are controlled by the player and never play out the same in repeated playthroughs, making cinematic cutscene bits in other games seem tame. The only downside is the game hasn't has much work done to it, whilst displaying in 1080p the only visual improvements are slightly better textures and fancy lighting tricks, though it is worth mentioning that the game stands shoulder to shoulder with most modern games, showing just how good it looked back in 2007.
343 Industries first attempt at a Halo game hasn't had too much work done to it either, but with the game's release being quite recent Halo 4 looks simply astonishing, perhaps better than most Xbox One games. The game provides a bog standard set of missions, full of the usual staples of the series, that fails to risk anything gameplay wise and feels average as a result, though there's still a lot of fun to be had throughout the campaign which has had an aesthetic overhaul. The redesigned enemies aren't half as good (grunts aren't hilarious anymore?) and the new enemy type, known as the Prometheans, are either cheap copies of the covenant enemies, or ones that annoyingly teleport just before you deliver your killing blow. The sound has been overhauled too, all the effects are more meaty and more alien, but they lost the monks in the soundtrack and gained electronica. Whilst it is a brilliant new soundtrack, you can't help but wish they would have mixed in the old 'dun dun dun-duhn' style tracks that would kick in when the action gets going.
With it being the start of a new story arc, it is odd that the plot of Halo 4 is only really understandable by reading spin off novels. There's a lot of effort been put in, but it's spread too thinly across different mediums.
The Master Chief Collection only stumbles when you're faced with the missions that the original games stumbled with. Whilst all are improved graphically they all play exactly the way they did before except much smoother thanks to a higher framerate. Now everything is together, it is packed with features that make replaying them worthwhile, but does feature the levels you didn't like as well. You don't have to play them of course, just make a playlist of your favourite levels and do that. If you haven't played any in the series yet then you have over forty hours of Halo to blast through and enjoy, it's timeless fun.