[Editors Note: As of this moment in time this review lacks a final score. The reason for this is that although we were able to assess the single player content extensively prior to launch, much of the multiplayer component was not completely ready. We hope you agree that multiplayer is at the heart of this collection and it would be unfair to put a score on the game based off a limited multiplayer experience. With that in mind The Master Chief Collection will receive a score once the game launches and a fair assessment can be made of the online component. We still urge you to read our thoughts on the campaigns however and to draw your opinions from our experience. After all, a score ain’t nothing but a number.]
What makes a game timeless? Solid mechanics? Great design? Sure, both are important. But there’s something else. Something far more important. Nostalgia, the spark which sets off a firework display in your mind. Nostalgia makes you remember a distorted image, one untainted by reality, one which forgets the bad and exaggerates the good. Without nostalgia the experiences you consider timeless feel comparatively old fashioned to newcomers. With that in mind Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a solid collection of some of the most important and popular games ever made, containing all four of the titular characters decade spanning adventures, but it’s one that will appeal far more to returning fans who are more forgiving of it’s archaic shortfalls than newcomers.
As a value proposition Halo: The Master Chief Collection is instantly enticing. Containing all four entries of the mainline Halo series players aren’t only treated to the single player campaigns of each but additionally every games multiplayer suite too; that includes every DLC map ever released. That’s over one-hundred online maps. Seriously, think about that – over one-hundred, that’s more than a lot. Developer 343 industries has breathed some new life into each campaign too, implementing not just visual overhauls but also a selection of new features. Competitive leader boards, timed mission runs and “skulls” which allow players to alter the way campaign missions are played all help to make the games feel fresh.
From the get go everyone of the series 45 missions are immediately unlocked and playable. The four games are accessible through one unified menu system making it super easy to jump in wherever you want. You can choose to play through the whole series in order beginning to end or pick out series favorites like The Silent Cartographer and jump straight in. Additionally the ability to make custom playlists allows players to really customize their experience. Make up a selection of vehicle missions to blast through, generate a Flood mission medley or see all four final missions one after another the choice is completely up to you.
Having all four games in one package makes Halo: The Master Chief Collection the most complete and fluid way to play the mainline Halo series to date. Every game included: Halo Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4, now runs at 1080p at 60FPS. The frame rate isn’t entirely stable however, I saw it dip multiple times in every entry, only ever for a couple of seconds at most but it was certainly noticeable. Small frame rate issues aside The Master Chief Collection runs and looks fantastic. This is the best all four installments have ever looked,
Halo 2: Anniversary is the star attraction of the collection and has naturally been treated to the most drastic overhaul of the four. Visually Halo 2 now looks more in line with the other installments. Admittedly I was a little disappointed Microsoft didn’t push the ante and make it aesthetically in line with other next generation games but the 360-like graphics still far out class the Xbox original. Overall Halo 2 Anniversary looks a little better than Halo 1: Anniversary, but does’t reach the beauty of Halo 4. In addition to in game visual improvements every Halo 2 cinematic has been remastered by Blur Studios and are nothing short of phenomenal. Seeing the Chief and Arbiter in a cinematic whose quality matches some of Blizzards best makes for a high point of the collection.
Both sound and music have both been updated too. Guns sound more forceful and humans weapons in particular feel punchier than ever. The Covenants energy weapons also receive sound improvements but feel less noticeable. Only the energy sword sounds obviously different to how it once did, which some purists may find jarring, but personally it didn’t bother me. Halo 2’s iconic soundtrack too has been updated, completely rerecorded by the Skywalker sound orchestra it sounds awesome.
Purists who want to play with the old graphics will be happy to know switching between the old and new visuals is a mere push of a button in both Halo 1 and 2. There’s no loading or lag, the switch is instant – it’s intoxicating to switch between the two perspectives. I found myself looking for places to compare old and new, finding sprawling vista’s and confined corridors then pushing the button. The difference is staggering, Halo 2 barely had textures, I’d completely forgotten that. It feels amazing to see the difference between now and then on the fly- it’s a great way to see how far we’ve come.
Unexpectedly the true winner of the visual overhauls is Halo 4. As the youngest game in the collection it only stands to reason that Halo 4 would look the best, but it can’t be understated just how much better it looks with the new lighting techniques, higher frame rate and improved resolution. Halo 4 looks incredible; it’s easily the prettiest game of the bunch. Halo 3 on the other hand is now the old man of the collection. Without the Anniversary update which both Halo 1 and 2 have enjoyed Halo 3 is technically the eldest game on the disc. And it looks it. Even with the same lighting updates and technical upgrades Halo 4 has benefited from Halo 3 can’t help but feel it’s age.
343 Industries has been careful with what they change across the board. Every alteration made to each installment entirely superficial, gameplay has remained untouched. Naturally then Halo 1 and 2 are starting to feel a bit archaic, they are of course over a decade old. It’s a testament to the lasting design of Bungie’s original work that these games are still playable by today’s standards, but they don’t match up to the caliber of the modern FPS. Older bugs remain, and design choices that feel old fashioned are unchanged. Numerous times during the first two games strange check pointing and a lack of cover started to irritate me.
Fans of the series are likely to unswayed by the old fashioned feel and will rekindle their love affair almost immediately. Newcomers though will find it hard to ignore the lack of modern touches. Simple things like looking down sights and sprinting are completely absent. Even without some of the modern features it’s Halo 3 and 4 which feel like the stronger games in the collection. Although there’s less nostalgia attached to the duo they feel a lot more up-to-date and newcomers are likely to find themselves more attracted them. Halo 4 especially.
Long time fans of the Halo series will fall in love with The Master Chief Collection the moment the menu loads up and Halo’s iconic music starts up. For Halo fanatics each of the four games will feel just as great as they did when they were released. It’s newcomers who will find some of the older games more difficult to get in to. Halo 1 and 2 in particular feel archaic as they play exactly how they did over a decade ago, even if visual updates do make them appear more modern. If you have that spark of nostalgia for Halo The Master Chief Collection is one hell of a firework show. But it’s the newcomers who’ll feel like they’re just standing outside in the cold watching old fashioned lights in the sky.