Monday, November 24, 2014

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

So the Halo Master Chief collection is out. It was a big part of motivating me to purchase an Xbox One at last. It's hard to review a game like this when all the associated titles are already well-known and played, but there's always some details worth mentioning:

First up the four Halo campaigns included are perfectly rendered, and do not feel in the least bit "off" as ports or anything. Halo 2 and Halo 4 stand out as the former has it's Anniversary Edition here with some cleaned up graphics that look even better than the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition's redesign (albeit not "next gen" better but still good). The new cut-scenes for Halo 2 are some of the best I've seen yet, not just for Halo but any game this year. Meanwhile Halo 4 just looks incredibly nice; it clearly was designed with plans to port and upgrade to the Xbox One.

Aside from the four campaigns there's apparently a ton of multi-player, none of which I've tried yet because I've been too focused on the single player content, and the stories about persistent matchmaking issues have made it easy to decide to wait for the patch on this. Missing from the release are the Spartan Ops missions from Halo 4, but I have been led to understand they will appear in December (whether as part of the core package or a DLC offering remains to be seen). My expectations are that the Spartan Ops missions, being part of Halo 4, had better be "core" and not something you purchase.

The regular multi-player had some connectivity issues for some, but apparently it was something 343 Industries could fix on the server side. Haven't experienced this myself yet (by simply avoiding multi-player) so couldn't tell you what that was all about. That said, MP fans will find that each iteration of the game comes with its own classic maps and mixes. The underlying MP engine is the same one that powered Halo 4's MP (I think, correct me if I'm wrong), but the thematics are tailored to your favorite iteration of the experience. I've never had a MP favorite, myself, so it's all equally interesting to me. Missing also from the mix are the survival modes which I don't think showed up in the series until Halo; Reach and Halo: ODST --which I sincerely hope get Xbox One upgrades next year.

There's also a "mix mode" where you can string together a cluster of missions from across all four Halo campaigns into a sort of "best of" play mode. Nice extra feature.

The first Halo Nightfall pilot is part of the deal, along with a new utility for delivering Halo-related content to your console., a sort of "Halo TV channel" feature with game videos, tips, music content and other stuff. If they add some Red vs. Green on there it will be well worth checking out.

Nightfall has two episodes out right now, and it's proving to be rather fun, albeit with the caveat that it's got the sort of low-key "feel" of a made-for-TV SF series with no-name actors and a need to stick to the budget (you know what I mean). That said, the FX are pretty good. The live gear is great, the attention to detail on weaponry and armor impeccable. The story focuses on a team of ONI*agents on a remote backwater colony which has apparently survived the Covenant purge that hit most Terran systems by the end of Halo 3. There is an ex-Spartan** who acts as the military commander for the colony (and apparently went AWOL when he was a Spartan) and they did manage to find a suitably burly fellow to play the role. There are a few interesting "new" elements added to the Halo least two alien races that are not Covenant, Forerunner, Precursor or Flood, and the story involves a "unique element" that is poisonous to humans only which appears to have been synthesized on a chunk of the original Halo ring that's slowly plunging into a distant sun. It has potential....although how long that will last is suspect since I heard the Xbox TV wing was axed recently.***

So is it worth it? If you're a Halo junkie like I am, absolutely. If you've never gotten into Halo before but want to try it out, this is the best bang for your buck. If you didn't like it before obviously this isn't going to change your mind.

*Office of Naval Intelligence. They are the CIA-style spooks of the Halo universe.

*If I had to guess I'd say he was a Mark II Spartan, one of the Spartans that were part of the program that predated Dr. Halsey's Spartan III program which focused on augmenting children.

***Leading to the untimely demise of the planned Deadlands series, unfortunately.

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