Halo Master Chief Collection review: Finishing the fight again (but in 1080p)

When Halo first launched on the original Xbox, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that  didn’t expect it to become the gaming phenomenon it has, but now, thinking back, it’s probably no surprise that Bungie’s console shooter has had the impact on FPS games, both in campaign and multiplayer, that it has.

Halo: The game that started it all.

Halo: The game that started it all.

I don’t actually think I finished Halo. I don’t know why that was but as the years passed, and more Halo games were released, I got more into the series, invested in what a seven-foot tall super soldier, the Master Chief, and his female AI companion Cortana got up to and faced as they traveled the galaxy saving it.

Halo Master Chief Collection brings together the four games featuring the Master Chief and I didn’t play through to completion each of these tweaked Halos – but then with the Master Chief Collection I don’t have to. The games have been given the 1080p treatment and frame rates lifted to 60 per second.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Thanks to the unified menu system, where everything is accessible from the one place, players can select any chapter from any Halo game and play it at any time they want. This means you can play Gravemind from Halo 2 Anniversary then jump to The Silent Cartographer  in Halo Combat Evolved before fast forwarding and taking the fight to the Prometheans in Infinity in Halo 4. It gives Halo fans a choice as to how they play the series, and I like that. I can play Halo the way I want to play it, and I like that.

I’ll also confess to starting each chapter in Halo 2 Anniversary just so I could watch the new cut scenes created by Blur Studio especially for Halo 2 Anniversary, which are, quite frankly, stunning.

Just how stunning they are is even more evident when you press the select button on the Xbox One controller  and travel back in time and view how the game originally looked.

Doing this really shows you just how far in-game cinematics have come in 10  years. It’s quite jarring, to be honest, but sometimes switching to the original view is functional: I actually found myself switching back to the original graphics in some levels because I was able to see enemies better. Strange, huh?

Of the four games in the package, Halo 4 is probably the least impressive visually in this package, but that’s  only because it was already an outstanding looking game when it came out on the Xbox 360.

Sound, too, has been given an update, with the sweeping orchestral score having been remastered and weapon sounds re-recorded so they pack more aural punch.

I haven’t had a chance to dive into the multi player (darn work keeps getting in the way) yet but HMCC brings together all the MP maps and their additions, again all in one place, and I only have a couple of niggles about the overall experience.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

One is to do with Halo 2 Anniversary’s checkpoint save system, which still annoys me.  The problem I have is that the Halo games aren’t generous enough with its checkpoints.

Example: During one of the early missions, after battling through countless grunts, Elites and a couple of Hunters, I selected “Save and Quit” from the main menu, intending to come back to where I left off later. When I started again I expected to be at the point I finished, so imagine my surprise when I had to restart the level from a point about 15 minutes previously. The “Save and Quit function” had saved at the last checkpoint,  rather than the point I was at, which is frustrating to say the least.

Another niggle is while everything content-wise is unlocked and ready to access from Day 1, strangely the co-operative Spartan Ops won’t be available till December ,  as will the episodic TV-style Halo Nightfall (not that I’m that excited about that, anyway). And for some reason, if I do want to just watch the cut scenes of Halo 2 Anniversary on their own or access content from Halo 2’s in-game terminals (which are dotted about the game world) I have to launch an external app called the Halo Channel, which means you’re taken out of the game. It’s jarring to say the least.

Halo Master Chief Collection represents an opportunity for Xbox One Halo fans to play the series they love on their new fandangled games machine.

But it’s more than that: It’s something of historical guide, I think, as to how the Halo series (and FPS games, in general perhaps?) have evolved both technically and narratively over the years.

Here is the chance for fans of the series who have watched Master Chief and Cortana develop as characters almost to the point that they’re a couple who can’t live without each other, to relive it all for a modern age.

I’m confident the Halo Master Chief Collection will help sell a fair few Xbox One consoles, and with exclusive titles Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2 and now MCC, the Xbox One is now starting to hit its stride.

Decaying AI, disintegrating Prometheans and Master Chief: it’s Halo 4

Halo 4 has all kinds of pressure on it.

External pressure from the fans that it’ll live up to the standard set by the previous three games to feature the Master Chief, the game’s instantly recognisable hero. Internal pressure from new caretaker 343 Industries to deliver a knock-out blow with its first Halo game and take the series that launched with the birth of the original Xbox back in 2001 in a new direction – while still keeping things familiar.

After some hands-on time with the game’s campaign mode, I reckon 343 has delivered something special here: a game that stays true to the series started by Bungie all those years back but one that delves deeper in the Master Chief’s psyche and his relationship with his AI companion, Cortana, who is nearing the end of her lifespan.

AIs, we’re told, usually survive around seven years but Cortana is nearing eight years old, and it’s clear that Master Chief, the once stoic and usually untalkative combatant, is concerned that she’ll succumb to the AI equivalent of dementia. It’s an added element that he has to take into account as he and Cortana take on a new foe, the Prometheans.

Presenting a more human Master Chief is a smart move by 343 and after an almost five-year absence since we last saw the Master Chief, it’s good to see that 343 aren’t afraid to try something new. Look, I like Halo as a series but it’s not my go-to game when I want something to play. I always thought the genetically enhanced soldier was a little too robotic at times, but this time, he’s more in touch with his human side, and I like that. This is a Master Chief who is in touch with his humanity – and he’s also a lot more talkative this time around, which will please some and maybe annoy others. I liked it.

I played through the third mission in the campaign, which finds Master Chief and Cortana on a mysterious planet called Requiem, and this is the first time we’re introduced to new enemies, which prove smarter and when in a pack, tougher than Halo’s more common Covenant forces.

Josh Holmes, Halo 4’s creative director, advised us to dial down the difficulty a notch that we’re used to – and after facing off against Promethean knights and crawlers, I can see why.

Knights, while not that hard to kill on their own, especially if shotgunned to the head using one of their own Scattershot weapons (nicely disintegrating into a pile of glowing particles) – become more dangerous thanks to the watchers, which fly above the battlefield, regenerating wounded Knights and shielding them from Master Chief’s fire.  I found it pays to take out the watcher as soon as you can, preventing wounded Knights from healing, then concentrate on the advancing Knights and crawlers, which can surround you quickly and scale walls and rock faces.

Of course, with new enemies come new weapons – and the Promethean armoury doesn’t disappoint. While the weapons are essentially the alien equivalent of what Master Chief is used to wielding – shotguns, rapid fire weapons – ammunition for his standard issue weaponry is scarce so it pays to swap to a Promethean weapon as soon as you can.  Something I absolutely  loved with the Promethean weapons is that when you reload them the individual components almost explode outward slightly then snap back into place once the reload is done. It’s a small but impressive feature.

I learned pretty quickly that when overwhelmed by foes, using fast-firing weapons like the Suppressor and Boltshot initially to pick off fast-moving enemies from a safe distance worked extremely well – then I went in with something like the Scattershot to pick off the stragglers.

But it’s not only the Prometheans the Master Chief has to deal with this time around and I was surprised to walk into a fire fight between Covenant forces and the Prometheans. I stood back and just watched, not sure whether I should help either side. I eventually decided to wait until the Prometheans had wiped out most of the Covenant then took on the rest myself. The campaign finished with a revelation that surprised me – but Holmes asked us not to reveal what happened, and I’m going to respect that, for him and for readers.

As I said earlier, I’m not a fanatical Halo fanboi but I came away from my time playing Halo 4’s campaign – and some multi-player which featured mechs that can dominate the battlefield if you let them,  and the Spartan Ops mode (bite-sized chunks of co-operative episodic content) – pleasantly surprised and waiting for November 6, when the game is released worldwide.

Hopefully I’ve finished Arkane’s Dishonored by then (that, is a game that you need to play: it is something special. I’ll give my thoughts on that another time).

I think Halo 4 is an important addition to the series and a necessary one that has convinced me that Master Chief is actually human and cares about those around him, especially Cortana. It’s definitely going to be interesting seeing how the relationship between him and Cortana develops during Halo 4.

Making the music for Halo 4: Neil Davidge talks to Game JunkieNZ

I’ve been a fan of the game since it first came out, so no-one had to convince me.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to talk to British producer, musician and composer Neil Davidge about his involvement in writing the musical score for Halo 4, the next game in the blockbuster series, now under the watchful gaze of 343 Industries.

Davidge told me it had been a particularly hectic 12 months but he was thrilled to have been asked to work on the game – the first video game soundtrack he’s worked on – but it took little to convince him to come on board: “I’ve been a fan of the game since it first came out, so no-one had to convince me.”

As thrilled as he was, Davidge also revealed that he was also intimidated to be taking over the musical duties from American composer Martin O’Donnell, who had written the score for the Halo series since the very beginning. “I couldn’t allow myself to think about how I could better or improve on what Marty [O’Donnell] has done. I couldn’t afford to think about what the fans might think of a new composer coming in. That would have just stopped me from doing my actual job. I just had to make music, ultimately, that I liked, that I thought worked for the project and then just crossed my fingers and hoped that other people would like it.’’

Click on the link to see the full interview in .pdf form: Neil Davidge talks Halo 4

I just had to make music, ultimately, that I liked, that I thought worked for the project and then just crossed my fingers and hoped that other people would like it