Released last week, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary marks ten years since the groundbreaking first title in the Halo series hit the shelves and raised the bar for the first-person shooter. Given an impressive facelift by way of up-to-date graphics and fully re-recorded soundtrack, this current edition delivers a more rich gaming experience while preserving the aspects of the title that made it so popular. The immersive nature of gaming positions it as a medium for which nostalgia can be a powerful component, as the popularity of 8 bit knock-offs seems to indicate. Halo CE Anniversary amplifies the effect by preserving the original, far less detailed graphics, just a button press away, beneath the sharp and detailed new visuals. For some this will seem little more than a fancy gimmick, but for the faithful, it's the cake beneath the icing.
On the verge of what can be called a new auteur era of gaming — in which a massive success like Minecraft is designed and coded by one person — the flashy sci-fi shooter genre could be developing a Goliath complex. But Halo is no ordinary shooter. It boasted larger, more detailed environments than its peers, a more nuanced story, and — most importantly — brilliantly designed game mechanics that made it arguably the most fun, immersive game experience around when it was released in 2001.
Add to that a score that pushed the art of the cinematic game experience into the 21st century, earning composer Marty O'Donnell something akin to sainthood amongst gamers. In Halo CEA, that score has been completely re-recorded and sounds sharper and more focused than the original, courtesy of the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra. Steve Vai's ripping guitar licks on the original soundtrack were re-tracked by one Bryan Dale, who seems quite up to the task, if ripping guitar licks are your thing. Importantly, the superior mix affords new clarity and in key moments like the legendary Attack on the Control Room level, it effectively underlines the urgency and danger of the Master Chief's mission to save the galaxy from a massive and ancient WMD.
The sound design has also largely been revamped, particularly the sounds we hear the most. The new rocket launcher reload sound is an almost tactile experience as it's servos click, whir and lock into place. Like the improved graphics, this actually affects game play. Sound and lighting are often employed to direct the player's attention, and the new visual and sonic clarity assist considerably. Tellingly, I found my way out of the notoriously frustrating Library level much more quickly than with the original title.
Additional dialogue and "revisited" cutscenes clarify certain transitions from the original title. The new terminals, computer-like objects with back story information in the form of motion graphics, provide interesting diversions and probably drop some hints about the upcoming Halo 4, due for release late next year. Of the first-person shooters released in the decade since Halo CE, none can claim not to have been influenced by it. By the time of last year's Halo: Reach, the market was saturated — perhaps oversaturated — with next-gen shooters. The release of Halo CEA stands in some sense as a tribute to the entire genre. Call Of Duty may have taken over Halo's long-held position as most popular online shooter, but for many the FPS has never been done more right than with Halo.
Check out Chris' The Spartan Life, an interview series conducted entirely within the Halo universe. Try that, Charlie Rose.
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