The Avengers from Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix is better than the movie tie-in video games of the 90s and early 00s, but not nearly on the level of Rocksteady’s Arkham series or Insomniac’s Spidey installment on the PS4 (shaking my fist like J.Jonah Jameson at the fact that one isn’t all-platform).
I’m running up a cliffside, being hounded by an enemy Hornet in 343’s special anniversary remake of Blood Gulch. This special game-type incorporates elements from all Halo games into this Halo 2 arena, and right now I’m regretting the Hornet being one of them. I’m out of ammo and the Fuel Rod Cannon at the top of the path is my only salvation. I round the crest of the hill to see my beloved cannon in front of me, and the enemy Hornet lying in wait, dead ahead. He opens up with machine guns, decimating my shields, and fires two rockets straight at me.
In one smooth motion, I pick up the Fuel Rod Cannon lying at my feet, fire three shots at his ship and leap sideways off the cliff, barely dodging his rockets. All three of my rounds connect, blowing his ship out of the sky as I hit the ground.
The visceral thrill of Halo is back, and better than ever. That is, if you can get it to work. In short, I have never seen server issues like I did with Halo: MCC. Right after the aforementioned match ended, I found myself waiting nearly an hour before the matchmaking system could pair me up with another game. The horrendous waiting times, loading screens and buggy nature of the matchmaking system killed what should have been a fantastic time playing multiplayer. This is likely a temporary issue, as 343 and Microsoft have confirmed they are working around the clock to fix this. However, it is a massive disappointment, especially when held up to the superb standard 343 set with every other aspect of the game. This is a major issue with the game (and the industry itself), and we’re gonna talk about it. But first, let’s start with the parts we could actually play.
The first time I saw Halo: MCC, my jaw dropped. You can play across all four campaigns and multiplayer (eventually..grumble) of Halo’s 1-4, right from the start. Want to jump into the classic Gravemind mission and tear through the Covenant holy city in the middle of Halo 2? You can do that, as all missions across all games are unlocked from the beginning. Want to hop from one mission in Halo CE to one in Halo 4? No problem. They even have special mission ladders where you can play all Warthog levels, all campaign ending levels, etc.
The campaigns for Halo’s 3 and 4 have largely remained untouched, aside from several graphical tweaks and being upgraded to run at 60 FPS. As a long-time Halo player, the difference is immediately noticeable. The gameplay is smoother and more fluid, and I found it easier to line up tricky shots and deal with the chaos of gunfights as a result.
Halo CE: Anniversary and Halo 2 receive this boost as well, but let’s be honest, the real bread and butter here is the complete remastering of Halo 2. Let’s start with the campaign missions. The first thing you’ll notice is that Halo 2’s cut-scenes are all entirely redone, and quite frankly Halo has never looked better. I have to give Blur a standing ovation for the work they did. Each movie is like seeing the Halo movie we were promised but never received. Faded textures, choppy figures and awkward motions have given way to beautiful vistas, believable characters and jaw-dropping set pieces. Particular mention goes to the Chief’s flight through a space battle on his way to give the Covenant back a bomb. I had chills going down my spine as I watched that scene. I found myself watching the cut scenes only on an online composition a few days back. They’re that good.
The graphical overhauls in campaign are also a visual treat. What’s really cool is that the campaign runs the original engine and the remastered engine simultaneously while playing, so you can switch back and forth between the original and remastered campaign at the flick of a switch. The change is instantaneous, and gives you a sense of appreciation for just how much they put into the campaign. I found myself constantly hitting the button (even in the middle of firefights!) to see just how different the scenery looked between versions. The city of New Mombasa was a particular stand-out.
The weapon effects are also upgraded; explosions in particular look great. However, there were some slight issues that came along with them. For example, overcharging the plasma pistol (a necessary survival tactic if you wish to make it through Legendary difficulty) now brings with it a jarringly bright glow that blooms out all over the screen, making it much more difficult to discern enemies standing in front of you. It’s a much more realistic look, but it bears a detrimental impact on gameplay, something that longtime fans may take issue with. Luckily, these issues are far and few between.
Sound effects have also been completely redone, and for the most part sounds great. While not as mind-blowing as the cutscenes, I really enjoyed the new weapon and explosion sounds. The laughably weak Halo 2 pistol is the most startling change. Firing it sounds like you’re firing an actual beefy space marine’s gun, and not the plastic pellet crap that it used to sound like. All that said, the damage output is still the same, so right after you’ve picked it up to hear the sound difference, drop that $#%! and get yourself a real weapon.
The music has been remastered as well, and I found myself jamming to the new riffs they put on now-classic Halo music. Though I can’t say for certain, it feels as though special care was taken to spice up the more repetitive themes of the original Halo 2 suites. This is most noticeable in the final stages of the Cairo Station mission, and I found myself enjoying an old level much more thanks to the direction they put on it. For the most part, the remastered music was a welcome addition.
Gameplay is exactly how you might remember it, and that’s a good thing. You get the Halo 2 campaign exactly how it is, and despite the years that have passed, the gameplay holds up. Additional fun options are available to select from the get-go with the Skulls (though you can also find them in the campaign for achievement points). These skulls can be turned off or on to modify elements of the gameplay, such as making explosions have a bigger blast radius to making Grunts explode in a shower of confetti and children’s cheers every time you land a headshot on them.
For completionists, the Terminals from Halo CE: Anniversary are back and scattered throughout the campaign. 343 also put in some new items to find, such as plushie-like toys in each level and a few other surprises. Long story short, Halo 2’s campaign feels like a whole new experience, and it is a welcome one. The matchmaking system is a disaster, and completely affected my review for the game.
Hey Tom, I got your back on that. KJ here. The E3 2014 multiplayer hype delivered on the visuals and fun gameplay for the offline players. Sadly the other part of HMCC still leaves a massive void. The network portion is absolutely screwed. 343 even took the Halo 4 servers down for the time being to help out, but still, the waiting times are brutal. Finally getting into a match, only to have uneven teams or a game ending abruptly, happens more than id like to think about. Rare instances there would be excitement. Yes! I’m in a room that’s actually full with people. Everybody votes on one of three stages. Of course team BR always wins out. The map has been picked, now its up to the game to load. This is where we stop. The screen reads “Setting up Game”. Well 20 minutes later it never happened. If the campaigns weren’t so solid, you can believe this score would take a larger hit. Halo is Microsoft’s flagship franchise, and for this to release with such pitiful net-code is an absolute joke. Sure fixes are coming, but how long, and will they even take care of all the issues. This finalized score is for the offline players, and lovers of campaign. If your buying solely for Xbox Live, wait till 343/Microsoft get their act together.