While we wait for Halo Infinite to land on Xbox Series X, at least we have a Series X|S optimised version of Halo: The Master Chief Collection now. Players with compatible displays will be able to experience up to 120 FPS at 4K on Series X and 1080p on Series S.
This update also includes some graphic enhancements to the game such as increased draw distances within levels and improved split screen experiences in Campaign and Multiplayer.
To celebrate we’re republishing our original review of Halo: MCC from November 2014. How time flies...
Legends. Our species has always had a weakness for them. From cave paintings on walls dating back tens of thousands of years to those incredulous tales of ancient Greece and Rome, we are storytellers and we love a great hero. This may be why Spartan-117, John, The Master Chief and his ongoing journey to save us, the human race, has resounded so strongly with the entirety of gaming culture. This is a story that stretches from the near future back to a time of infancy for our humble species. It takes into account religion, redemption, regret, remorse, love unfulfilled, longing, loss, sacrifice, and the sacred… this may as well be Shakespeare to some. What light through yonder Halo breaks? Of course, providing some of gaming's most praised console multiplayer and - in many ways - defining what that exactly means, help too. The franchise has always been synonymous with Microsoft’s Xbox brand. These are the games that helpd to shape console-based first person shooters as they are today. Containing all four campaigns and all of the multiplayer maps, from the very first time one sees the menu and hears the chant of monks, one realizes that Halo: The Master Chief Collection is very much Halo as it's meant to be.
Nostalgia - a sentimentality for the past. We love what we once loved and view it quite differently in our memories than it existed in actuality. For evidence of this, simply press the graphical switch button and stare in awe at what we used to consider “state of the art." All of the game's atmospheres benefit from a bump up to 1920x1080 resolution, even while playing in the original GFX mode, but even more so from the doubling of the framerate from 30fps to a steady 60fps. First person shooters are some of the most sensitive to frame rate drops or fluctuations and the increase to a locked sixty takes effect on every area of the game's play, from getting that beat down on the unfortunate soul sneaking up behind you, to wondrously smooth vistas and scenery as you fly through the campaign on a Warthog. During split-screen co-op and multiplayer, we’ve noticed some slow texture loading and a reduction in frame rate, which isn't ideal, and if your eyes are peeled and you really look for it, one will see some texture loading within the gameplay portions of Halo CE and Halo 2's campaign. Usually, this only occurs while playing the updated visuals and to such a negligible degree that never does this remove one from the atmosphere, what with so much happening at any given point.
Familiarity is a cradle of ease, and If there is one Campaign franchise that inspires familiarity within Xbox loyalists, it is Halo. The game is so embedded within Xbox culture that even those who have never played the campaigns in full know the characters. Be at ease Spartan, for these are familiar grounds. Each of the campaigns are available and can be played in any order the player chooses, from the main menu. The number of missions completed, as well as progression within each, is separately saved. This means you can jump from mission to mission and game to game until your heart’s content. Here, within the in-game portions of Halo: Combat Evolved and throughout Halo 2 we come to really appreciate the work 343 has done in preserving exactly what was there, yet updating it all to a standard that allow all four games to blend at a much higher level.
Halo CE, Halo 2, and Halo 3's campaigns benefit most from the collection's resolution and frame rate bump. CE has already been re-mastered on the Xbox 360 of course, yet with the increases in technical delivery made possible by new hardware, only now can this process be truly appreciated in full. The anniversary treatment given to Halo 2's campaign is nothing short of stunning - every Grunt Is now a work of art where once a player may have had trouble telling their heads from their feet. Building interiors are no longer a labyrinth of matte gray corridors and Covenant ships and structures gleam in every shade of purple known to man. Simply looking across any field, into the sky at any given point, at a battle underway, and pressing the original/anniversary switch button (something we caught ourselves doing almost constantly during the first two campaigns) is proof that this is no simple re-packaging of old games, and more so, that this treatment was almost necessary in making the series accessible as a continuing experience to a whole legion of Xbox One owners who may not have played the originals. The new audio and soundtrack, sourced and compiled at the legendary Skywalker Sound, only help to cement the anniversary edition as a new, enriched experience. In all the chaos it can be difficult to appreciate a new Scorpion tank cannon's roar to that of old, but the re-sampled weapon effects and musical backing fit right in, feeling like natural extension of the graphical overhaul.
Cut-scenes within the anniversary edition of Halo 2, crafted laboriously by the CG wizards at Blur Studios, may now be some of the most visually stunning within the entire series. The story has been given a short yet effective prologue of sorts, introducing Agent Locke and his "hunt for another Spartan", and positioning the game more in line with what we know to be the premise of Halo 5: Guardians storyline. This prologue video also portrays the game as a tale itself, told to Agent Locke on his search for information by the infamous heretic, The Arbiter. This mechanic works well at offering a fresh take on a familiar story, without changing that story whatsoever. Due to slight differences in timing between the older cut-scenes and new ones, there will at times be a variance when switching between the two, being most evident in spoken dialogue. This makes switching somewhat difficult, yet with one of the most impressive aspects of this anniversary treatment being the new set of nearly an hour of cut-scenes, we really only found ourselves making the switch for an odd comparison of various characters here and there.
The Halo franchise has always had its areas of intrigue, characters not completely explained, and events not built upon. Within the Campaign experience, Terminals originally introduced in Halo 4, and continued upon with the Xbox 360 CE Anniversary Edition have now also been carried through to Halo 2. We found it somewhat odd to have this extra content in three of the four games and would have enjoyed their addition in Halo 3, as well. Viewing the campaign's terminal content is done via a quick loading of the Halo Channel, a novel manner of delivering content to the Xbox community. Completing a mission will unlock that terminal's content within the Channel for later re-viewing. While the switch from game to channel and then back to game can be a little tedious while focusing on play, you'll quickly gets used to it and may find yourself viewing previous content to stay attuned, a feature that the Halo Channel provides, although not seamlessly. "Next On" loading screens and advertisements for Halo: Nightfall do break the experience up a bit.
Multiplayer gaming is split into various playlists, each of which focus on certain maps and game types from one or more of the franchise's iterations. At the time of writing this review, server issues plague multiplayer, yet we waded through the obstacles. Halo 2 has always been seen by the community as the pinnacle of balance, ranking and many other elements key to successful multiplayer, and each available playlist within The Master Chief Collection carries with it a rank based on the Halo 2 “True Skill” system, in which players rankings can go up and down based on performance. The re-imagined maps from Halo 2 and their environmental traps throw what once was old into the new again. One simply does not play these maps as they once were, or one dies! Learning the ins and outs of each new map is key to a player's success. The environmental traps, as well as the heightened frame rate make for a different, faster, more precise experience regardless of the map being played. Within these newly carved maps, even the most secure Halo 2 champions may find themselves scrambling to adapt. Every player will have his or her own favourite. of course, and great care has been taken to augment their play yet retain a similar feeling. Maps and new features that stood out to us the most were Zanzibar's remake (called "Stonetown" here) crafted meticulously to play just as its former self, with only a few minor tweaks here and there. Quite the opposite with the energy shield on "Zenith," the Ascension remake, which completely changes the map's play in a very interesting way. When the shield is up, long-range weapons become less dominant and whomever is within it is looking at a good ol' fashion melee-fest for survival. Of course, how could someone not enjoy dropping a giant stalactite of ice upon their opponent? In "Lockdown," spiritual successor to another fan favourite - Lockout - this is (with the right amount of practice in getting the timing down), possible, and quite exhilarating!
Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4's original maps play out just as they should, as higher resolution, higher framerate versions of their old selves delivered by a more than capable piece of technology. For instance, the Xbox 360 could never actually deliver a full PC color palette to the third and fourth iterations and the original Xbox had such low resolutions and frame drops that the online play was less than what it could have been. Following the major fix-'er-up patch and previous unsuccessful attempts at making online play available, at the time this article is being published, we can safely say that things are looking quite smooth and upon the full re-addition of all playlists, we see a bright future for the Master Chief Collection. We're especially excited to see how the new Halo Championship League plays once it starts up.
The amount of creation allowed within the new Forge system is impressive in that all of the games which had the features, maps, and components are available in a much sleeker and user friendly interface. The snapping of items has been a long awaited addition to forge and it relieves the frustration of those moments where you can't, for the life of you, get one box to line up with another one! Fret no longer. Basic editing is available when crafting from the Halo 2 Anniversary and Halo 4 maps and would have been a nice addition to Halo 3's as well, as they allow a player to easily lay out the requirements for any given game type and augment the placement of such, saving a huge amount of time. New Skyboxes provide an open ended arena for ideas and should be most appreciated by Griffball players. Creators can use either the full roster of Halo 2: Anniversary or Classic Halo 2, Halo 3, or Halo 4 maps, as well as Sandboxes as their canvases.
With 4000 Gamerscore and achievements geared towards almost every aspect of play, Halo: MCC is a goal-seeker's dream. To collect every achievement available will challenge even the best Spartans, with some geared towards the campaign, others towards extreme multiplayer performance, even others for the custom campaign mission playlists which chain together certain campaign missions from various games under a common theme. Completion of each mission, each Campaign, each Playlist, the search for every last terminal and hidden skull, winning 500 multiplayer games, completion of 500 missions. This one ain't gonna be easy to beat for completionists, and will certainly provide a challenge. Within the Career portion of the HUD we see all customization options unlocked from the start, allowing one to choose multiplayer armour and color schemes, as well as the good old Player Emblem and Tag. Venturing further, we see breakdowns for achievements, medals, and overall stats split into individual games, or as an overall view. Once you've completed your main goals, this is the place to go and find out which achievement or collectible you'll be gunning for next. Y
The "Extras" portion of Master Chief Collection serves more as a portal to The Halo Channel, where a plethora of content is available. Of course, the ongoing digital series Halo: Nightfall launches from here, yet campaign cinematics, documentaries, news coverage of the community, music from the universe, and Halo 101 (a learning channel to get you up to speed with the Halo universe) are all available here. Jumping between game and Channel is something we did fairly often while playing and it will certainly be interesting to see how the Halo Channel evolves as part of The Master Chief Collection, future games, and digital content releases.
Post patching, Halo: The Master Chief Collection's small quirks can easily be overlooked, though we certainly haven't been pleased with matchmaking issues within the first couple of weeks. For those new to the universe of Halo, a vast array of single and multiplayer content awaits, all revolving around one of the greater ongoing stories available in gaming and featuring the franchise's hallmark genre-defining arena combat. For the more initiated, a chance to go back and relive many fond moments from a whole new perspective is also a boon. With Spartan-Ops content on the way, the Halo Championship Series, Nightfall, and The Guardians Beta included in the package, we can safely say that there is some aspect of this collection that should appeal to all, from those veterans of the UNSC who proudly achieved Level 50 on their original Xbox console, to the shiniest new greenhorn Spartan... Hoo-Rah!