For a game that's ten years old, the original Halo holds up remarkably well, but its an experience we've played to death. We've plunged through the opening levels - charged through the hull of the Pillar of Autumn, skirted hills and followed distress beacons on Halo, snapped off head-shots with the precision of army veteran salutes in The Truth & Reconciliation - with the hearty confidence of decade-old familiarity.
We're pulled away from multiplayer deathmatch for interviews, but the brief moments we gain that bookend our talk with 343 Industries, who several months on can finally remove the "new" from new guardians of the Halo franchise, we see Reach's multiplayer ported over wholesale. Stats and custom armour will carry over - only the maps have changed. The levels will offer some variation for players to get their teeth into, but again, its feels familiar. The enclosed deathmatch space not the best example of old meets new. Firefight is.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition will carry a solitary Firefight map. But its a dozy. 343 has carved a section from the campaign's opening act - the initial touchdown on Halo that has you protecting marines from Covenant dropships amid Forerunner structures, and rebuilt it using the Reach engine.
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Perhaps its due to us having run the gauntlet of that mission, with the final marine squad located at the cliff-side base overlooking a shear drop that serves as the climax of the second level, in the original version only an hour before. But it reveals two facts: one, the retooling of the scene looks stunning, and second, how enjoyable and free-form the sandbox environments built by Bungie in 2001 were.
The entrance to the area is blocked off and serves as a parking spot for USNC vehicles. Weapon drops land in the small boxed off area to the front of this spot, to the rear of the main structure by the cliff-face, and into the ground at the far side. As expected, these are also were Covenant drops occur.
What Installation 04 (to give the area its Firefight tag) brings is a sense of claustrophobia. Reach's Firefight areas rendered enlarged battlefields suited for four player co-op. Here corridors between structures are narrow, small rock formations inadequate for prolonged cover, and the short 90 degree turns on stairwells onto the structures' top platforms make them difficult to guard without going kamikaze. When you use a Orbital Strike on a Covenant dropship, you can almost feel the heat from the explosions.
There are other additions to the mix. 343 has included UNSC ODST Trooper support, who'll drop in and protect the central structure's perimeter, uttering a few lines pumped full of bravo as they do. As such, the map becomes even more compact, and you're forced on later waves to get proactive and close to clear out Covenant - a welcome change of pace from the safe long-range defensive tactics employed by Firefight veterans.
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There's a fervent wish that 343 had the time to reupholster the entire game as such, even though such a grand undertaking its purely a pipe-dream. Though the Anniversary visuals, which also include a 3D mode that adds to Halo's wide landscapes, do give some decent polish to a ten year old game.
Fans that have been for the ride since the original version might disagree with some of the new lighting and colours 343 has brought to the project. There's a forgotten sci-fi moodiness in Halo's original look, only recollected by playing today and emphasised through the visual toggling. Landing on Halo gave the impression of a truly alien world due to a muted colour palate and darker tones across the landscape. The Truth & Reconciliation sniper stage worked due to the contrast between the pitch-black of night and using the night-vision mode.
Not so with the new visuals, the level's now vibrant colour use giving surroundings a hefty glow, and hobbling the need for night vision. The previous level's bright mid-afternoon sunlight, and long shadows due to natural rock formations is impressive in its smart overlay of previously barren level architecture, but may disorientate fans striding down memory lane. Small changes, but its interesting just how marked the difference is in mood.
We'd only just finished off the two Hunter fight that ended the third level before the hands-on time wrapped up, and coming away its hard to know exactly how Halo's re-release is going to perform on its release in a couple of weeks.
343 believe its aimed for long-term fans wanting to revisit the original, and for gamers who hadn't had a chance to experience it the first time round. Yet the £29.99 RRP tag still seems too rich to experience a visually upgraded title who's core experience can be enjoyed for much less in picking up a copy of the original Xbox disc. And with the potential of the game's multiplayer maps being bundled together as a downloadable pack on Xbox Live for integration into Halo Reach means the essential part of the package for some can be purchased without reinvestment in an already (much) played title.
All-time classic Halo: Combat Evolved is back on Xbox this winter in the form of the revamped Halo: Anniversary. 343 Industries has come out fighting and proved that, so far at least, it knows how to handle Halo.