Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary review
It’s hard to shake the feeling that Anniversary is something of a PR stunt. A full recreation of the game that launched the Xbox brand – glitches and all – given some current-gen cosmetic surgery, it’s impossible to imagine a release that could tell us less about 343 Industries' understanding of the series with which it has been entrusted, beyond the fact it has to preserve it.
Still, as the hardware generation drags on, Anniversary is at least a reminder of how far we’ve come. Push the back button at any point during the game and you’ll time-travel ten years, as the verdant foliage and detailed textures of 343’s facelift melt away to reveal the aged features of the original release below. In some respects, Bungie’s visuals stand up today. The art style certainly does – the graceful curves and deep purple hues of Covenant technology look as good now as they did then – but in places the lack of detail surprises. The gravity lift at the end of canyon midway through Truth And Reconciliation illustrates the point best. With the updated visuals it’s a lush, rocky outcrop illuminated by the pulsing tunnel of light at its centre. In the original game it’s a brown bowl with a translucent tube glowing weakly from its middle.
That’s not to suggest that Anniversary's updated visuals look as good as they could. Bungie's Reach engine offers better, a fact you can confirm for yourself by trying Anniversary’s Reach-powered multiplayer. Matchmaking is simply a Reach map pack, but Firefight lets you take on waves of Covenant troops in a level repurposed from the campaign – meaning these environments are given two entire cosmetic upgrades on the same disc. The comparison does no favours for the remake, but it does demonstrate the extent to which 343 was prepared to sacrifice superficial sheen in the name of fidelity.
And, visuals aside, Anniversary is Halo: Combat Evolved. Occasionally, you’ll think you’ve spotted a bit of tweaking suggestive of sacrilegious tinkering with the original code, but the effect is illusory: the walls of the Pillar Of Autumn might be layered with consoles, pipes and plating this time around, but it’s mostly clever texture work: they behave like the flat surfaces of the original game. At times, this layering of new detail doesn’t quite hold together – we saw a Hunter’s arm clip through a piece of wall that, in the original, simply wasn’t there, and also had the misfortune to fall off a cliff edge that appears to have been slightly extended – but for the most part 343’s visuals mesh with Bungie’s game without incident. That said, purists may object to the presence of directional arrows easing some of the horror of a Library return visit.