Asking someone to pick their favorite Halo title is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. It’s such a difficult task because each has its own unique identity that you love and cherish. Luckily with Halo: The Master Chief Collection you don’t have to pick. You can have them all. In any order you want. And then some.
I’m here to tell you that this landmark in fan service is not just a Halo fan’s dream come true, it is arguably one of the best and most feature packed compilations I have seen in a video game.
In Halo: The Master Chief Collection, you’ll find the four titles in the series that feature Xbox’s famed United Nations Space Command Spartan, Master Chief. The titles included are Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, and the latest in the franchise Halo 4.
Titles that don’t prominently feature the Chief such as Halo Wars, Halo: ODST, and Halo Reach are no where to be found, but again, it’s not really the point of this collection. This is the Chief’s story being told and the collection serves as a way to set things up for folks who are looking to catch up (or re-play) much of the series before the release of Halo 5: Guardians.
With this collection, the team at 343 Industries pretty much created the Netflix of Halo for lack of a better term. What I mean is that they’ve made the four titles into an immediately accessible a la carte experience. You can pick up the collection and play any chapter of any game in any order that you want. Previously, games in the series would allow you to select chapters once they’ve been completed. But not here.
Here choice is left up to the player to enjoy the series in the way he or she wants to take it all in. To spice things up by adding to the whole “playing your own way” part of it, the game also includes “Playlists.” These organized bits of gaming includes levels from across all four titles and groups them together to compile a sort of like “best of” collection.
Want to play all of the “tank” levels from the four games back to back? Sure, there’s a list for that. Want to re-play the epic large scale battles from the game’s campaigns? There’s a list for that. Or maybe you just want to play all of the finales from the games? I think you get the point.
As far as the actual games are concerned, all titles in the series receive welcomed support for 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. For Halo: Combat Evolved (Halo: CE), the collection includes the anniversary edition from 2011. And with that we get the upgraded visuals from its most recent re-release as well as the added improvement to resolution and framerate.
Since Halo 3 and 4 were generally modern games already, both add little from their original releases. But just like Halo: CE Anniversary, the bump in frame rate and resolution really helps both titles look better than anything that appeared on the Xbox 360 and just slightly below what you would expect to see from a title developed for Xbox One. Both games definitely appear like cross generational titles and, in case you didn’t read our review two years ago, Halo 4 was a pretty damn good video game already.
As you can see, I left a title out and that’s Halo 2, which is clearly the star of the show in this collection. I’m not sure if it’s because it finally received the fresh coat of paint and attention given to Halo: CE, or if it’s because of what this game meant for Halo and the Xbox brand in general, but it’s something special to see this game shine 10 years after its original release.
Just as in the other remastered title mentioned, Halo 2 you will also have the ability to switch between classic graphics and audio, and you can do so on the fly, just in case you’re feeling a little extra nostalgic.
I will note that at certain parts of the campaign, specifically where there were a lot of enemies on screen (like during the “Gravemind” chapter) the frame rate briefly came down to what felt like single digits. But whether or not that’s something that can be addressed in a software update remains to be seen. For the most part though, the game was running buttery smooth.
If there were any real downsides to this collection, it would mostly be weighed on your own personal interest in the franchise as a whole. If Master Chief’s adventures wasn’t exactly your thing before, this isn’t going to be the one to make you a fan.
Parts of the series really do begin to show their age, especially when it comes to things like pacing in Anniversary (tiny changes aside, the god damn Library level still really, really sucks). Or the fact that Bungie, for some crazy reason loved using giant floating gondolas to travel from one place to another.
Then there’s Halo 2 and its forced introductions to new characters; the game then tries too hard to make players care about these new additions to the story. The inclusion of these characters adds extra lore to the series but at the same time it has Master Chief take a back seat in this short, second entry of the franchise.
Fortunately though, Halo is so much more than Master Chief’s story arc. Now let’s talk about the other star of the show… multiplayer.
Just like the game’s single player, Collection‘s multiplayer is essentially a gigantic list of modes and maps that span the games in the anthology. The same “play your own way” rules from the single player carry over here as well. For Halo 2: Anniversary, six maps have received a new coat of paint and they all look absolutely gorgeous, all featuring welcomed little touches to make them familiar yet new all at the same time.
One example is found in the map “Shrine” (a modern take on the classic map “Sanctuary”) where each base now features a switch in the ceiling that, when shot, activates a waterfall which completely blankets the front opening of either base. This helps players get out of enemy sights (especially snipers) for about 30 seconds and changes the long range dynamics of the map completely.
Another map that provides similar “in-map-relief” is the Anniversary edition of “Ascension,” now known as “Zenith.” Now if you remember the way Ascension works, it was dominated by players who utilized the two towers on opposite ends to turn the asymmetric core of the map into an essential meat grinder.
What 343 Industries has changed here is that they’ve added the ability to toggle (three switches throughout the map) an energy shield around the center satellite dish looking structure, allowing players to help out their teammates trapped in that meat grinder crossfire.
These on-map toggles and switches are similar to what we saw in the original Halo 2 on maps like Zanzibar. They don’t necessarily sway the games momentum in one way or the other, but they’re more about changing the strategy used by both teams.
The thought process, from what a 343 contractor told me during an online review play session, was to make it so that newcomers to Halo also get to enjoy the game’s online component and get some (emphasis on some) relief from the more experienced players.
Also making its return, and probably what I was most excited for, was the inclusion of the “TrueSkill” system from Halo 2. This leveling system pits players against others of similar ability and is based on a 50 point system. It’s not the unlimited max-leveling and then restarting found in games like Call of Duty — instead you can actually lose experience and go down in levels in order for the game to find you more competitive opponents and matches.
The first couple of days, like when matchmaking was initially turned on for my review, this system will kind of be all over the place, so be warned. But as more and more games are played, this will eventually place elites with elites and weekend warriors like myself in very different online arenas (thankfully, considering my ego can only take so many Halo ass-kickings).
More notable extras making their way into this collection are Forge and Theater modes. Although these were both already found in Halo 3 and 4, the modes now also include Halo 2: Anniversary. And as far as Theater is concerned, it’s likely to see the most use, especially when taking into consideration the creation tools and socially connected features on the Xbox One.
As a series, Halo is full of cheesy over the top space lore. But it also features some of the most memorable campaign moments and epic battles in modern video game history. For every “Library” level you get a “Silent Cartographer” level and while it can seem inconsistent at times, when it’s on, it’s really on.
I don’t think I need to mull over the game’s multiplayer too much as you should already know what it has done for the genre, and arguably the bigger contribution it’s made to Xbox Live and online console gaming as a whole.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is the very best of what the series has to offer and it’s all given to the players as one place. Halo 2 could have been easily repackaged and sold as a stand alone. Instead you’re being given the whole farm here, and that price to value ratio you’ll find is simply undeniable.
As mentioned earlier, this is the best fan service (on any console) that I have seen. If you’re feeling nostalgic, the purchase is a no-brainer. If you want a piece of gaming history, same rule applies. Master Chief has returned to Xbox and he’s better than ever.
Full Disclosure: Halo: The Master Chief Collection multiplayer component launched later than originally planned by Microsoft PR for reviewers to test. The first two days of online multiplayer were played during scheduled media review play sessions and live matchmaking servers were not used. Matchmaking was turned on in time for the weekend of 11/7-11/9 and tested for two days. What was played was very stable, but considering the length of time it took to find matches, it can be assumed that not many people were on the servers. If the overall online experiences changes post launch (following a 14 day post-launch patch grace period) we will update this review accordingly. As of this review going live, online play has held up very well.