Halo: Combat Evolved, released in 2001, proved that first-person shooters belonged on home consoles, simultaneously catapulting developer Bungie to demigod status and changing the gaming landscape. The series also kept the original Xbox afloat almost singlehandedly, allowing Microsoft to justify remaining in the game space and setting in motion the foundations of the current console generation. In short: Halo is a significant game. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Microsoft is eager to roll out the red carpet for its tenth birthday. The folks at 343 Industries have prepared the high-definition remake, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, for the event.
343 Industries stressed that Halo Anniversary will be more than a simple facelift, but it will still look quite nice. A new engine has been created to breath life into the Halo universe. The demo showcased the "Silent Cartographer" stage, placing Master Chief on a beach with allied marines storming the Covenant. Halo: Combat Evolved's HD arrival definitely looks good, with crisp textures, detailed environments and improved lighting. It's far from pushing any graphical boundaries, but is a stark contrast from what fans will remember from the original.
However, the most interesting visual feature showed by 343 was not the HD upgrade. Players will be able to seamlessly flip between the remastered and original graphics with the press of a button in realtime. One minute the water is flowing and the greenery is lush, the next its a barren desert in comparison. This switching feature really highlights the game's improvements and plays to the feeling of nostalgia. Very clever.
Halo Anniversary will also enhance the experience by introducing the terminals from Halo 3 into the Combat Evolved campaign. Terminals will be well-produced, easy to locate videos that add to Master Chief's lore and, if you see them all, include potential hints on 343's other project, Halo 4. It's another nice feature to make Anniversary more than a throwaway remake.
Of course, Halo has become synonymous with online multiplayer since Master Chief's debut, so Anniversary is giving fans an additional dose of nostalgia in this arena too. Running on the Reach engine, Anniversary will feature seven remade maps from the original. The Reach engine will bring with it slightly different physics and mechanics than fans are used to, but 343 hinted that classic play options may be in the cards. Online coop will also be a key addition. One final note: the competitive component will be available for Reach owners to install and access from their system's hard-drive.
343 has demonstrated a strong commitment to making Halo Anniversary more than what you would expect from an HD remake. Based on early results, there's plenty to look forward to when the game hits store shelves in November on Xbox 360.