Saturday, 22 November 2014

Halo: The Master Chief Collection: Gamertroll Review - Xbox One Exclusive

Gamertroll's attitude to so-called 'hd remakes' has been almost universally one of 'Meh'. They illicit an even bigger 'MEH' when they're prematurely rebuffed like the recent re-release of 'The Last of Us' on ps4 - a fantastic game to be certain but hardly more than a year old on the PS3. Halo 2 however, was made a DECADE ago, a period that might as well be a geological epoch set against the break-neck pace at which video gaming technology advances; if anything making it over-ripe for a 5-star resurrection.

Thankfully Halo 2 is a majestic example of how to polish and update a game, perhaps it's because everything about this package speaks of 343 industries reverence for the series, from the presentation and meticulous integration of titles to the painstakingly rendered hour of new cutscenes provided by Blur studios. Just as with 343's first Halo anniversary game, their Halo 2 CE edition has a splendid party trick in the ability to swap between the original 10 year old game engine and the flashy new one for XB1 at the push of a button. This time 343 have managed to make the flip back and forth Instantaneous where once there was a stilted pause. It's not just the graphics that change when you Press the button, The music and SFX changes too throwing sharp relief on the comprehensive Audio remastering Halo 2 has received. The player can even switch game engines during cutscenes - it's a super addictive feature that makes the most of XB1's peculiar talent for multi-tasking separate engines.
Original Halo 2..

And standing in the same spot, Viola! the new Halo 2 Anniversary edition

It's not often that Gamertroll is surprised by the amount of content in a game release. Whichever way you slice it, Halo: The Master Chief Collection (HMCC) offers a staggering amount of high quality gaming on it's single disc - it would make a no-brainer of a Desert Island disc choice.

When the news first broke that 343 industries 10 year anniversary edition of Halo 2 would not only include a 60fps version of their previous Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary but also super smooth 60fps editions of Halo 3 and 4 on top: you could have heard a pin drop in the cave. Surely they couldn't mean all 4 Master Chief games, could they?

The 4 Core Halo games have never been playable on any one system before, let alone all 4 Halos running on 6 different engines (Halo 1 + 2 each run 2 engines simultaneously for the graphics flip feature) with over 100 multiplayer maps is a shocking piece of generosity, especially when you consider it's coming from a company like Microsoft!

There is a whopping 4500 achievement points up for grabs in HMCC- not the same achievements found previously but a reworked selection with many based around the synergy of the Quadrilogy. The best of these new achievements are joyful fan service or highlight idiosyncratic discoveries made by fans over the years.

Gamertroll won't attempt to Review all 4 Halo games as it'd be a Herculean task and just a little fatuous. Their quality is universally renowned anyway. Instead the focus here will be to assess how well the collection functions, how valuable the various upgrades are and a look at how it stacks up against contemporaries. Let's start there in fact, even the original Halo: Combat Evolved shames many modern SciFi Shooters by offering a wonderful selection of tactical options before rewarding the player with spectacular visual cues - whatever the outcome. Halo's home studio Bungie discovered long ago that if you could crack the delivery of 30 consecutive seconds of gameplay thrills to the player that they could then seamlessly loop that experience. Joyfull, non-repetitive combat on-tap is Halo's Modus Operandi.

On playing through the campaigns it's hard to ignore the overall sense of quality, It's packed into every corner of every stage. Stages that are now even slicker and more polished than ever before. Many fans will sing the praises of classic levels like 'Flawless cowboy', or gleefully espouse later, sprawling open plan levels with complex, multi-factional warfare and vehicular carnage and they are indeed truly great; we all love those, but In the Halo games brilliance is found even in the most unexpected of places.

Take for example even a much-maligned stage from the original Halo: Combat Evolved, 'The library', it was a marathon battle against the Flood (Halo's resident Parasitic body-snatchers), hated by most people at the time for the repetitive and barren architectural environments, leading many to suggest Bungie had stuffed it in as a filler, which all things considered, it probably was. 
The thing was.. Gamertroll always loved 'the Library', with bloody good reason too. It was a fantastic showcase for the sublime combat mechanics of Halo. The Stripped-back feel of that massive, endless area exposed the raw playability that nestles at the game's core. Now running at 60fps the singular thrill of the combat is at it's purest. For Gamertroll It is here, whilst beating back the relentless hoard of Flood that one can become Zen in dispatching them and therefore glimpse the core genius behind the Halo games.

That's how Halo has always been, so robust and lovingly crafted that one gamer's least favourite area can be another's absolute favourite - the Halo series have become the FPS equivalent to the superlative Mario platformers and there can be no higher praise for these 4 epic campaigns than that.
10 year old Delta Halo aaaand-

Hey Presto! New Delta Halo - See? It's endless fun. Marcel Proust would have loved pressing that button.

There's been a lot of noise about what PS4 can do and unfortunately we've seen very little demonstration of it to date. Now, quite out of the blue we are actually seeing the understated talent of the XB1 to multi-task being put to spectacular use. Multiplayer Playlists for PVP and campaign link seamlessly between the different games and their respective engines.. that is one hell of a technical achievement. Want to join a playlist made up of all the campaign tank stages in every game? No problem. Want to play the 'Zanzibar' multiplayer map on Halo 3 and skip immediately with your whole team to a battle on Halo 1's 'Coagulation'? Sure, fill your boots! It's all rather impressive.

Although Gamertroll has encountered little of the issues with matchmaking others have reported serious problems finding a PVP game in the week since release. Judging by Xbox Live's previous performance, there can be no doubt that these technical hiccups will be promptly ironed-out(*) but it's definitely marred the release and meant a setback for the  planned ELG Halo E-sports tournament - let's hope it doesn't affect the integrated Halo 5 beta planned for December..

There are other criticisms too, the multiplayer is very much of the 'build it and they will come' variety, spreading thinly across a dazzling array of game types - it will remain to be seen whether some of Halo's more obscure game modes like 'odd ball' will ever enjoy a Decent population on it's dedicated servers.

On a cautionary note: expect heavy resistance on PVP as HMCC is a magnet for hardcore gamers, expect the toughest veteran Halo players to flock to it. Imagine the competition you'd face if they did a similar compilation for Gears of War fans - it's no different to what you'd expect there (bloody murder), so you'd better knock back a bucket full of Red Bull and grow eyes in the back of your head if you're a coming in as a Halo Newbie.

It may be nitpicking but 343 Industries have over-looked the odd feature here and there: why oh why have they not added proper audio options? Not one of the games has the ability to independently alter SFX, Dialogue and music settings. Some scenes always had too much emphasis on SFX which drowned out Martin O'Donnel's outstanding orchestral score. Neil Davidge of 'Massive attack' did the BGM to Halo 4 but Buggered If anyone can hear it. It seems daft not to fix such a basic omission from the options.

Gamertroll also has noticed an odd tendency for 343 industries to over-do the lighting in their new environments. Their new textures are superbly detailed and offer a real improvement... only, it has to be said the textures are far too bright. This often results in an altered mood to some stages, especially in original Halo: Combat Evolved levels like '343 Guilty spark'. The swamps and vegetation look fantastic but somehow there's a loss of the original dark, brooding atmosphere and you don't feel hidden at all anymore whilst taking cover in amongst the trees and undergrowth.

HMCC then is a Hub of Halo nostalgia, a celebration of old and new and a rallying point on the new generation hardware for fans of one of the best video gaming series of all time. Early multiplayer slip-ups aside 343 have made such a superb job of this collection; so much so that Gamertroll would be satisfied if this were to be their final curtain-call.

So how do you remake a classic game for a modern console? Well, If you're 343 Industries you completely overhaul all the cutscenes, upgrading them to movie quality, add the three other games from the series juiced up on steroids, totally remaster the music and SFX, include all the DLC maps from every game for an integrated multiplayer, create a specific E-sports tournament and launch a dedicated Halo channel for players who want to rest their thumbs. Then there would have to be a weekly live action Halo TV show called 'Nightfall' featured on the channel and executively produced by RIDLEY SCOTT FFS! It's hardly up to 'Alien' or 'Gladiator' standards but from what Gamertroll has seen it's no slouch.

After long consideration HMCC is the best remake of one of the best games ever made...
-with 3 more of the best games ever made unnecessarily thrown in too - If that doesn't deserve 10/10, nothing does.

*Lets hope HMCC has set the bar for future collections, A Gears of war Trilogy collection released before Black Tusk's Gears of War 4 would do nicely. Come what may, lazy HD spruce ups of Great games will now have to 'up' their game or face comparison to HMCC. If 'The last of Us HD' had been a remake of a 10 yr old game, included higher resolution, higher frame rate versions of the Uncharted games 1-3 including all add-ons with a game-specific E-sports championship and a dedicated TV channel with a free live action series produced by Martin Scorsese... It would deserve a 10/10 too.
It don't, so it don't. You dig?

*Footnote: At time of writing there's news that the patch fix for PVP matchmaking lands tonight 21/11/14. Whoop. Gamertroll thought that would happen.

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