The purple "Better with Kinect Sensor" stripe is a familiar sight on games now, but strangely it's nowhere to be seen on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a HD revamp of the game that arguably established Microsoft as a major player in the console business. To put it another way: no Halo, no Kinect.
Halo CE brings the two forces together, but the lack of purple stripe is telling: Kinect certainly isn't a focus here. In fact, sensor support isn't even included on the disc — to use Kinect in-game, you need to perform a quick and automatic update via Xbox Live, adding voice and gesture features to the campaign and the new Library feature.
With Kinect attached and powered-up, you've got a range of voice commands to use during Campaign only: reload, grenade, change weapon. They're meant to be used infrequently, so there's no fire, jump, crouch and so on. There are some more unusual voice commands — you can change brightness or contrast with the right phrase, for instance — but the big Kinect-only feature is the ability to analyse your surroundings in a fashion not unlike classic Nintendo release Metroid Prime Trilogy.
Saying "analyse" changes the focus from shooting to scanning: any previously un-scanned characters, items and enemies glow orange, ready to be scanned by pointing your cursor at them and saying "scan". Analysed objects then appear in the Library to view later: unlike Metroid Prime, the information here is to be viewed at your leisure outside of the campaign, so it doesn't change the game's rhythm at all.
It's a nice system for the most serious Halo fans but it's hard to imagine that it's only possible with Kinect: you're just using a voice command to activate a controller-led experience, after all. Once you access the library you can also use your controller to rotate and view objects, which proves a more reliable solution than using Kinect. Considering the library feature is one of the biggest additions to Anniversary — and the only Kinect feature — it's a shame to say it would have been entirely possible on a controller: swap "analyse" for Up on the D-Pad and you've got it.
Ignoring the Kinect features, this is an impressive revamp of the original adventure: the remastered graphics may not have a wow factor compared to other big releases this Christmas, but switching back to the original shows just how far visuals have progressed in ten years. One niggling problem is that switching between classic and remastered styles fades to black before fading back in, not the instant switch we'd been led to expect — see this Halo Waypoint ViDoc — making it less of a comparative experience and more a case of choosing which you prefer.
Yet the new additions do little to intrude on what made the original such a hit. Campaign is still an often-thrilling action film, ripping ideas from Aliens left, right and centre but keeping you in control as much as possible: no quick time events, no "hands-off" sections that jar you from the sense of being Master Chief. The addition of terminals should give Halo veterans something new to look for, even if they're just videos rather than actual new gameplay.
That seems to have been an overriding focus for 343 Industries here: additions might be mostly superficial, but changes to the core structure surely would have had fans up in arms. That said, co-operative campaign mode over Xbox Live is a blast, as is the included Halo Reach multiplayer that transplants Combat Evolved's maps into Reach's online world of challenges, unlocks and armour abilities. There may be an element of Halo 3: ODST cheekiness to it — it's Reach's multiplayer, not the original Halo's — but it's no cause for complaint.
The lack of a Kinect stripe on the box is probably with good reason: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary doesn’t offer much on the Kinect front, with an object-scanning feature that could have been done just as well with a minor button layout reshuffle. However the core game, audio-visual updates and Reach multiplayer are strong enough to justify a purchase for Halo fans and anyone after a solid first-person shooter.