Halo: Combat Evolved Retrospective
Back in 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved set a new standard for first-person shooters in the gaming industry. At E3 2011 a decade later, 343 Industries announced plans to remake this remarkable debut title and release it 10 years to the day of its original sell date. As a fan of the Halo franchise, I couldn’t help but be excited for an updated version of the game that would solidify FPS control schemes for consoles, but I wondered how it would fare. I wanted to know how well this decade old shooter could compare with modern games, and how 343 could freshen the experience to grab newer fans without losing the devoted players of the original. I booted up my copy of Halo: CE for the first time in years and ran through the campaign one more time.
What Holds Up?
When remakes are announced, my first question is always whether or not the innovations of its initial release will make the game feel outdated. With a decade of FPSs copying Halo and improvements to the formula coming from almost every major developer, I couldn't help but question Combat Evolved as a modern shooter. Halo set standards for the genre, including console controls, weapon management, vehicle sequences, enemy AI, and a sense of being part of a larger, ongoing war. Were these advancements small steps forward or full-blown breakthroughs?
The core gameplay of the original Halo absolutely holds up. In playing through it again, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a sequel-quality title encapsulated in a debut release. The enemy variations--from multiple types of Covenant forces, Flood, and eventually flying sentries--all have their own unique ways of reacting to the player and require different strategies to conquer them. They even react to one another. Whether it’s a low-grade Grunt scared at the fall of his commander Elite or the fighting between all the different forces, the game provides a sense of realism that is hard to come by even today. These AI advancements, as well as a large array of weapons (both human and Covenant), make the combat feel as full as even the most recent Halo titles. Halo: CE is still as fun as it was when originally released.
What Feels Off?
Despite the core gameplay, a handful of things made the original Halo feel like the Xbox launch title it is. I imagine that some of these minor issues will be cleaned up in the remake process. Outdated graphics, frame-rate issues (at least while running on a 360), and no subtitles are minor nitpicks that will most likely be remedied in the new release. The Halo franchise has gotten its share of updates over the years, so I wonder if they will include them to please newer fans. Features like vehicle hijacking, the ability to use the Covenant’s power weapons, sprinting, and even the changes to the vehicle health systems seem like worthwhile additions but may turn off devotees of the original. The remake would need to strike a delicate balance to please everyone, but the developers will probably service the purists by keeping it as close to the original as possible.
A couple of design choices feel outdated, as well. Perhaps the most noticeable is how much of the final 4 or 5 chapters have stale environments. Many locations stop feeling unique in the second half of the game because a lot of geometry and textures are reused multiple times. The worst offender of this is The Library chapter, notorious nowadays for being the low point of the campaign. All The Library provides is multiple floors of hallway crawls and a seemingly endless number of Flood that can overwhelm even on the lower difficulties. Bland, gray walls dotted with an occasional glowing blue panel couples with a slow-pace to make this chapter abnormally boring and lifeless. This section and others are made worse by a less than stellar checkpoint system. During the last parts of the game, it wasn’t uncommon to kill a significant number of enemies, die, and have the game reload to a point before the first bullet was shot. Similarly, I would sometimes receive a checkpoint with enemies just around the corner as opposed to one after they were all eliminated. Of the larger problems facing the original Halo, this is probably the easiest to solve, so hopefully it will be fixed in the remake.
Should I Be Excited?
If you were ever a fan of the original Halo, you should absolutely be excited for the remake. While 343 Industries may be a new studio, their dedication to the Halo franchise is evident by their name alone. It seems like the remake is in good hands. If the later Halo games are more your style, you may still be in luck. It all depends on how much 343 Industries changes the experience and how much you are willing to adjust to a more rudimentary style of Halo. Master Chief has come a long way since his first encounter with the Covenant, and losing some of those advancements may leave some gamers wanting. Me? I can't wait. 343’s first release drops this November.