Bungie built the house, 343 has redecorated it for the modern marketplace. It would be criminally negligent not to stress the importance of Bungie's contribution to this re-release; this is still, at its heart, the game they lovingly created all those years ago. However, that was then and this is now and it's 343 who have been tasked with updating this modern masterpiece and not the series' original developers.
Make no mistake, Halo: Anniversary is a very good game. The graphical overhaul looks superb and the gameplay still sparkles. This is still the definitive campaign of the series, the one that created so much anticipation around its release and the one that raised the bar for every sci-fi shooter that followed it. The original story still holds together exceptionally well; it matters not that we know what happens before and after.
Perhaps all that is missing from the game now is the sense of awe that gamers felt when they first came blinking out of dark tunnels to find themselves staring out over lush sweeping landscapes, or the moment of gleeful terror when the Flood erupted into the campaign. Players who have experienced the game before will know what is coming. Those who have yet to play the original campaign probably know the crux of the story already.
The gameplay, whilst still engaging and enjoyable, has since been bettered by Bungie (as well as several other developers). Things have moved on. But that's not to say that this game is not worth revisiting. Au contraire, Halo: Anniversary still has a lot to offer the modern gamer and those who have yet to savour the delights of the game are heartily recommended to do so. The original is still highly playable, but this anniversary edition improves on it in almost every conceivable way.
One of the things that set the original Halo apart from its peers was the AI of the enemies faced. The alien alliance called the Covenant work together with intelligence and precision and are complimented beautifully by the aggressive relentlessness of the Flood. The diversity presented by this carefully conceived AI has ensured that Halo: Anniversary remains a solid challenge, especially when played on Heroic and Legendary.
One interesting feature is the ability to switch between the modern graphics and those of the original. By pressing the Back button on your controller you will be confronted with what the graphics looked like all those years ago. It's safe to say that things have changed considerably. The contrast between this and the original is staggering and studio Saber Interactive have done a great job in helping update the visuals.
343 were gracious enough to include a variety of button configurations that have been added since the first incarnation arrived a decade ago. Gamers who prefer to play Bumper Jumper or Southpaw will be able to play the way they're used to, and it does make a difference to the overall experience. Anyone who uses different settings and has gone back to play Halo 1 and 2 will know how disjointing it can be playing with the original controls. These new options were a nice touch, and a reassuring one; perhaps 343 do know what it's doing.
So far, we've only mentioned the campaign, but special attention needs to be paid to the multiplayer component of this game. There have been six multiplayer arenas and one Firefight map included in the box. All of them have been well chosen and beautifully upgraded. Favourites Beaver Creek, Hang 'Em High, Damnation, Timberland, Prisoner and Headlong have been given the Halo: Reach treatment and all of them look superb. The Reach online experience is being given a massive jolt in the arm with the rerelease of these classic maps.
Old-school Spartans will find themselves reminiscing in the middle of combat as they sprint up ramps in Prisoner (Solitary) or as they try and snipe each other across Hang 'Em High (High Noon). Whilst the new maps have been changed slightly, they still retain a strong sense of what they once were. This is a very good thing. 343 have been helped by Certain Affinity (who were heavily involved in helping Bungie create the multiplayer for Reach) and they have done a cracking job.
The Firefight map, Installation 4, has borrowed heavily from the second level of the campaign and it really works. It provides a change of pace from the original maps and, for the first time, it offers additional support from NPC marines.
There are a few Kinect features that need mentioning. You can order your Kinect Sensor to change your weapon for you or even throw grenades. We found that this mode wasn't as responsive as perhaps we'd have liked it to be, and being unreliable it was quickly abandoned. There is also a mode that allows you to analyse and scan enemies and then read about them in the menus. This was a novel addition but it doesn't add considerable depth to the overall package.
The real question mark hanging over this release is whether it is value for money or not. The price point of £30 is similar to the one attached to Halo: ODST when that was released in 2009. The similarities don't end there: ODST came bundled with a Halo 3 multiplayer disc, much in the way that Anniversary is binding itself to the past success of Reach by including refreshed versions of classic maps for use in that game. If you're only interested in the multiplayer content then you'll be pleased to hear that you can download the maps as DLC.
If you've got a copy of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, then you might not want to invest your hard-earned wonga on a game you already own, especially with the map pack being available separately. It's also worth noting that the original can be picked up for around five quid, and with that in mind the £30 price tag becomes a little less enticing. There are so many quality titles on the market vying for your affections this year, and the fact that this is only a remake may make you consider alternative ways of spending your cash.
For hardcore fans of the series, no matter what we say here, this will remain an essential purchase. For those gamers out there who are unfamiliar with the original and who are willing to take a punt on Master Chief's inaugural campaign, you will not be disappointed with the trip down memory lane that has been served up.
What is immediately clear is that developer 343 has passed its first test and have shown itself capable of picking up where Bungie left off. The biggest challenge will come in the shape of next year's Halo 4, and until it arrives the Halo community will wait with bated breath to see just what direction 343 take the series. Until that day arrives we'll just have to content ourselves with this; a good remake of a great game.