‘Halo 2 Anniversary’ (Xbox One) review: Hail to the (Master) Chief

Editor’s note: This review covers “Halo 2 Anniversary” from the “Halo: The Master Chief Collection.” For more information about the collection, read the review for “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary” here.

‘Halo 2 Anniversary’ stellar from start to finish

In my review for “Halo: Combat Anniversary” as part of the “Halo: The Master Chief Collection,” I wrote of my tentative first steps into the long-running and massively popular world of “Halo.” It was an enjoyable trip, one that made me a tad bittersweet that, while I got the chance to play the game now, I didn’t get to experience it firsthand back in 2001 (or even 2011 for “Halo: CE Anniversary”).

However, with “Halo 2 Anniversary,” released as part of 343 Industries’ “The Master Chief Collection” in celebration of the original game’s 10-year anniversary, I got to experience a high-water mark for the “Halo” franchise in real-time. That’s basically like playing the game when it first came out in 2004, right? Right?!

Much like “Halo: CE Anniversary,” the main draws of “Halo 2 Anniversary” center around the’s game new audio and graphics — particularly a complete rework of the story’s campaign visuals by Saber Interactive and new cinematics by Blur Studio. As with the first “Halo” in “MCC,” “Halo 2 Anniversary” allows you to play with either the game engine used during the 2004 release or the high-definition remastered version, and you can swap on the fly if you so desire.

Other than for nostalgia purposes, though, I can’t really see why anyone would skip out on the new graphics. They’re just fantastic, and the use of motion capture was spot on. From the little details like background scenery to major animation, it’s clear some serious work went into re-creating “Halo 2” for a modern gaming console.

On the audio side, the soundtrack — long known as one the best in the gaming universe, thanks in large part to Marty O’Donnell’s masterful scores — has been remastered with the San Francisco Symphony at Skywalker Sound. Even I had heard some of the music from the original game, so I understood what was at stake here. If the remastering failed, it would have ruined one of the most beloved aspects of “Halo 2.” Instead, Skywalker Sound pulled off an amazing feat, and crafted a score that honors the original game while also bringing a flair all its own. It’s worth buying independently of the game.

Of note for the plot-loving gamers out there: “Halo 2 Anniversary” adds Terminals to the campaign. The feature, which first appeared in “Halo 3,” serve as visual story snippets that help stitch together the “Halo” universe. They also introduce Spartan Locke, a character from “Halo 5: Guardians.”

Technically, while the graphics and sound got plenty of love, the same can’t be said for the game play mechanics. In all fairness, the game is a decade old, and it’s running two game engines to boot, but it still handles clunky at times. Audio de-synced from time to time, and the game’s AI was kind of all over the place, something not noticing me at all. Small things, but worth noting if you haven’t played an older game in a while.

As for the story, little has changed since the game’s 2004 release except for the addition of new cutscenes to start and finish the game. The story continues shortly after the events of the first “Halo,” when Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 and AI companion Cortana learned about the life-ending purpose of the “Halo” ring — a gargantuan ring world created by an ancient alien race — and promptly destroy it, much to the chagrin of the Covenant, a hostile and technologically superior alien species that worship the creators of Halo (who no longer are around).

This time around, Master Chief and Cortana have to contend with the realization that more Halo installations exist; as such, the duo, along with other crew members, embark on a journey to prevent. Along the way, you learn a great deal more about the multiple factions in the “Halo” universe, particularly the races of the Covenant and the Flood, along with humanity’s past.

As mentioned in the “Halo: CE Anniversary” review, “The Master Chief Collection” offers multiplayer and cooperative options for all the included games, meaning you can play the single player in “Halo 2” with a friend if you want. From this game in particular, “MCC” also contains six remastered maps, including Lockout and Ascension.

In the end, the work put into “Halo 2 Anniversary,” as part of “Halo: The Master Chief Collection,” has paid off with a fantastic remaster of a game that ranks among the very best for many gamers. From its beautifully updated visuals to its stellar soundtrack, not to mention just all the fun that the game is in and of itself, any longtime fan or “Halo” neophyte wanting to jump into the fray has more than enough reason to pick up a weapon and save the galaxy. If only 343 could have done something about that ending, though…

Four “I’m not talking to you, Cortana!” stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.

“Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary” (Xbox One) review

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