Redefinied for the next-generation (or is it?)
Halo originally launched back in 2001 to largely rave reviews of which I personally thought was just okay, once it was stripped down to the basic gameplay. The floaty jumping that felt like it was using physics from a completely different game, the heavily re-used levels that needed arrows drawn onto the ground to make sense of them, the limited weapon carrying, and various other things all put forth a game that felt like a bag of molasses coming off of games like Serious Sam.
But that’s not to say it was all bad. The art design was good and the music was really good, to where I can still recall the soundtrack to this day. The sticky grenades are probably still a highlight of the entire series, both with tagging people in multiplayer and watching the Covenant aliens flip out and run around screaming during the story mode.
Speaking of the Covenant and art design, they were a particular bright spot in the game. The Hunters and Elites both looked amazing, and the Grunts were adorable and skittered about with humorous animations. They were even good enough to overshadow the sequel, which brought in the hairy rhino-esque Brutes that were boring and dull in comparison. The AI for the Covenant was also pretty good, with a semblance of group tactics that could make the lesser Covenant scatter if a leader was killed.
Unfortunately, most of the good points are thrown out the window when the Flood arrives. The Flood are just brainless zombies that use suicide tactics and are supposed to be disgusting, but end up looking stupid due to limited graphics, bright lighting, and the almost cartoonish color palette that the game uses. They’re also in part a collection of annoying parasites that aren’t any fun to fight and serve no purpose other than to gently peck at the player’s shields and get in the way. While a good idea, the execution just lacks in every regard ,and it doesn’t help that they’re also the star of the most boring level in the game: The Library.
For better and worse, all of these things about the original Halo transfer over to Anniversary since it’s basically just a straight graphical update to the original game. That’s not to say that there aren’t new additions, and even better is that all the new stuff is really great. There are story terminals that provide hints to Halo 4 and discuss a few scattered background events about various characters, online co-op, and that extra joy that comes from the unlockable skulls that were introduced later in the series. For the uninitiated, the skulls toggle bonus effects like extra health for enemies, unlimited ammo, increased explosion radius, and so on. They’re a lot of fun and really boost the joy of going back to a level for higher difficulties or co-op.
The new graphical layer that has been added is really nice, making the game look more like a current generation title even if the animation and models still show their roots. Since it was built directly on the original that means it gets the bonus of both playing exactly like the fans want it to, and has a toggle switch to swap the game back to the original graphics. The only drawback to the original mode is that skulls don’t appear and can’t be picked up in it, but it’s still fun to be able to see the first game in its natural glory whenever you want. On the flip side, the Hunters in particular look absolutely fantastic with the new graphics, although some of the walls get a little too busy and dropped objects can quickly become lost in the new foliage.
The sound also got a similar treatment, with very slightly redone music and some better mixing. It does still have the unfortunate flaw of the voices being drowned out by anything and everything, but they did add the ability to turn on subtitles which is at least a little compensation. While it’s a shame that no sound options exist to rectify the problems, they did include a switch for the original soundtrack for those who like it like that.
As an extra bonus, there’s even a skull to turn off the game’s horrendously over-compensating auto-aim. I don’t recall if it was this bad in the original game, but in Anniversary the auto-aim doesn’t just guide shots but will take complete control of the camera and jerk it towards nearby enemies. Trying to line up shots past a group of enemies in order to destroy a tank or turret can quickly become a frustrating task with the game sabotaging any efforts to not shoot the closest enemy. It’s a bit of a shame that turning off auto-aim isn’t just a toggle in the options menu like in most games, but the important thing is that it is present.
Even with all its issues Halo still has a certain amount of charm. A large part of that is definitely the loose feeling that the AI gives the fights. Even though most areas will have the same amount of enemies in roughly the same spots, little things tend to cascade to make fights play out differently every time. Simple things like killing a Grunt in a different area which changes where he drops his grenades can totally change a battle, creating a chain reaction of explosions that could kill a bunch of dangerous enemies or just toss Master Chief’s fresh corpse fifty feet in the air.
One of the best things about Halo: Anniversary Edition is that it really works as a love letter to the fans. Even though it completely lacks its own multiplayer mode and just uses the one from Halo: Reach, it does what it can to pretty up the old game while still leaving it exactly as people remember it. Only better.