‘Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’ (Xbox One) review: A genesis worth exploring

‘Master Chief Collection’ offers a ‘Halo’ neophyte a chance to experience the game that started it all

I’ve never played a “Halo” game before. But before you excoriate me, let me say that I have since rectified that problem. It only took the release of “Halo: The Master Chief Collection” for the Xbox One for that to happen, though. C’est la vie, right?

The reason I never got around to playing any game in the series that essentially defined the first-person shooter genre is more or less two-fold: One, I owned a PlayStation while my brother had the Xbox; for the most part, I didn’t venture past the realm of the PS games. Two, once I missed the first couple of entries in the long-running series (the original “Halo” was released in 2001), I felt that I had missed that particular boat. I simply didn’t feel the need to jump into a series three games late. (That attitude has changed dramatically in the years since.)

But as I loaded up “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary,” an update of the 2011 update of the original “Halo,” I could start to see why this game was able to put the Xbox console on the map, and why so people continue to purchase the series’ latest releases.

It’s obvious that there’s major graphical improvements littered throughout the “Master Chief Collection,” which contains the four numbered games in the series and the option to buy “Halo: ODST” (reviews for those games will come later). The opening menus are polished and contain beautiful opening scores related to whatever game you’re looking to play. (The series has long been lauded for its score and soundtrack, and I can easily see why right from the start.)

By this time, it’s probably unnecessary to get too deep into the story, but a recap: You control Master Chief, a super soldier with cybernetic enhancements and a no-nonsense attitude, during the 26th century. You spend the game’s 10 or so hours fighting off waves of various enemies as you learn more about the mysterious Halo, an artificial ring world. Along for the ride is the ever-helpful Cortana, an A.I. creation that aides you on your journey. (The name may sound familiar to anyone with an Xbox or PC these days.)

And while I won’t say the story is particularly amazing, I easily can see why it was so influential. The mixture of science fiction and warfare drama falls more into the realm of books, and seeing it translated into the gaming the way it is in “Halo” is fantastic, almost inducing nostalgia (which is strange for a guy who never played the game before). A militaristic future, high-tech fighting, alien races that don’t seem all too friendly: It’s a great combination of factors that make for a generally interesting story, even if it can at time be bogged down by the game’s action sequences.

Which, by the way, there are a lot of. I’m not sure I ever stopped shooting guns or throwing grenades for more than a couple of seconds unless it was during a cutscene (most of which involved shooting, actually). Part of the reason you’re always in combat is because there are simply a ton of enemies to contend with; the other reason centers around the enemy A.I. being surprisingly adaptive. If you’re not a good shot, you may find yourself out of ammo before you take care of everyone. (Trust me, it happened to me more than once.)

Visually, you have the option to play with the original graphics or, if you want, you can hit the back button to explore “Halo” with updated visuals. I can’t imagine why you’d want to use the older-engine graphics, but it was interesting to see how the game was originally played. Considering what the developer was working with, “Halo” looks fantastic even in today’s terms. Just be aware that you will notice some frame rate issues and perhaps a few visual glitches from time to time; it’s probably inevitable for a game this old when it’s being remastered.

Controls, for some reason, seem to handle as though they were created more than a decade ago, which is a bit of a bummer. There’s something to be said for fidelity to the original concept, which is what a remaster should strive for, but it just didn’t feel right in today’s gaming environment. Plus, it didn’t help that I was simply terrible trying to figure out control schematics for just about everything, but driving vehicles in particular. I don’t think I’ve killed myself more times by simply driving off a cliff than I have in “Halo.” I understand they changed the gaming world, particularly in the swapping between first and third person and the breadth of vehicles you can control, but I just couldn’t get a firm grasp on them.

“The Master Chief Collection” offers multiplayer and cooperative options for all the included games, meaning you can play the single player in “Halo” with a friend if you want. These types of games tend to be more fun with played with others, and “Halo” is no exception. And it’s all the easier now that the Internet and Xbox Live are things; when the game first game out, that was not the case.

In the end, I’m glad I finally got to play “Halo: Combat Evolved.” It probably would have had a bigger impact on me if I had played it when it first came out, but what can you do, right? Still, I can see how this game launched one of the most popular video game franchises of all time and why the game itself is considered one of the best ever. Master Chief’s story has me intrigued, even if it’s because of just about everything going on rather than him. Now if I could just get my Xbox’x Cortana from answering me everything I yelled her name.

Four “It’s about time” stars out of five.

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