Anyone who spent time playing first-person shooter games in college during 2001 likely remembers playing Halo at some point during the year. Critics were harsh at the time, judging the usefulness of the LAN based multiplayer and network features, but no one was really prepared for the standard that such a simple multiplayer setup would have set. Using pre-existing internet networks on campus as a means to set up games Halo took the world by storm, creating a community of gamers that would eventually shape the way that console gaming is handled today. It's with more than a few fond memories that we prepare to come to terms with the fact that Bungie is no longer going to be at the helm of any future Halo projects, but for now 343 Industries has left us with a new way to look at the classic title that's started it all.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition doesn't really bring anything new to the series, but then again that's not the point. It's fair enough to assume that most who enjoyed Halo Reach (or even Halo 3) may not have participated in the first title, so this game serves as a nice little updated bridge to gap the events that started all the action. Updated graphics, retro mutliplayer maps and integration into Reach's multiplayer modes are all the perks that come with this revision. Incentive to get players to relive some of the glory days of gaming.
That being said, Halo is not a game that has aged well. Perhaps it's just because the new standard of gaming has come to include more 'realism', but knowing how far FPS gaming have come from the days of Halo does not make the title any easier to play. No sprinting of any kind, fairly limited weaponry combined with Halo's simplistic shield and health bar setup bring to light how far the franchise has come in the last few years. For its time there's no question that Halo was ahead of the game (particularly when it came to vehicles), but that doesn't necessarily forgive its failings from a modern day perspective.
The best feature amongst Halo: CE's updates is the ability to switch from the classic graphics of Halo's launch to the more modern updates from Halo Reach. 343 did a great job of painstakingly adding all of the little details that have made the franchises art direction so memorable. Dull and flat hallways, textureless grey ramps, and trees that would barely make the N64 jealous can be replaced with far more detailed environments with the push of a button. It's pretty amazing to see how far the industry has come in such a short time on a graphical/audio level, and though 343 did a fantastic job retexturing the old game it's still a feature that's more 'neat' than it is compelling or gameplay changing.
Multiplayer does offer some incentive for players interested in getting some new maps alongside a co-op experience, but it's hard to really justify the purchase for anyone except maybe the most hardcore Halo fans. Seeing Master Chief fully remastered (and realizing that your memory of how good a classic game looked is never really accurate) is a treat, but with no new gameplay or even story tweak, Halo: CE/AE has almost nothing to offer veterans to the series.
It's disappointing that 343 didn't take the time to add some of the improvements that have made the Halo franchise such a blast, as I don't think a single player would have complained about being able to use new melee takedowns or special tactical abilities, but perhaps 343 is saving all of their tricks for Halo 4.
One way or another only the most diehard of Halo fans are going to draw any enjoyment from this title. It's a straight port with a few neat features, more of a special edition than anything else, but with so many other AAA games coming out this holiday season this trip down memory lane is one that's safe to miss.