Does this series even need an introduction? Halo has become a true icon within the first person shooter genre, and this bundle on the Xbox One is a massive coup for Microsoft in the run up to Christmas collecting the first four outings of the one and only Master Chief in all his Assault Rifle wielding, Plasma Sword waving glory.
For those not in the know (and for those that are, I will keep this short) Halo is primarily a series of first person shooters that first started way back when as a launch title for the original Xbox in 2001, and is often quoted as a game that gave Microsoft its first major foothold in the console industry. Famed as one of the best first person shooters ever made for console, it has gone on to spawn numerous games, graphic novels and a range of other merchandise, with rumours of a film always seeming to bubble up around the time of each new release.
The original Halo (known back in the day as Halo: Combat Evolved) is set on a large alien ring, the Halo from the title, and features one of the coolest protagonists in video games – a super soldier by the equally cool sounding name of Master Chief, or John-117 as his mother (had he had one in the traditional sense) might have known him. The game follows you playing as Master Chief as he battles his way across the alien world against the Covenant, a group of alien races intent on a Holy War against us heretic humans, finding out the truth about the large alien ring along the way.
The original did so much right that it is no wonder it went on to become a massive franchise, with the first four games compiled here on one disc, including the recently updated Halo:Anniversary (the HD remake of Halo released in 2011) alongside a fully HD remastered Halo 2. Halo 3 and 4 aren’t just along for the ride either, with both receiving a graphical update to make better use of that extra power under the hood of the Xbox One. All in all this one disc contains a series of 4 games spanning a grand total of 11 years, Halo: Combat Evolved having been released in November 2001 in North America (2002 over here for us Europeans), and Halo 4 having been released worldwide on November 6, 2012.
I think two paragraphs is plenty of an introduction for a gaming series that is well over a decade old, now on to the question you all want to know – is it worth your hard-earned cash?
Upon first inserting the disc go and walk the dog or boil the kettle, because the initial 15GB install seemed to take forever on my Xbox One. After the install had pinged and told me it was ready to play the first thing I did was jump straight into the campaign, after initially being a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options available from the very beginning. All four games are available to play, with a separate option for multiplayer. If you haven’t played any Halo before or have certain games in the series missing from your collection then the obvious choice is to jump in with those ones first, but if, like me, you have played them from the very beginning it is quite the task deciding where to jump in first – play them in order or go straight for the nostalgia buzz and fire up a level on Halo 2? 343 Industries have done a good job of catering to both camps by giving each game the option of a Quickstart, taking you from the very beginning of the game, or a mission select option that allows you to jump straight into any level you wish.
Skulls make a welcome return, offering the ability to add a handicap to each play through, such as limiting ammo drops or how quickly your shield recharges. There is a great perverse pleasure in completing a level with certain skulls turned on, and each one gives a small multiplier to your end of level score, the more difficult the handicap the greater the score boost.
Halo is still as fun as ever, and having all four games to flick between is quite a novelty, making your Xbox One a time machine that can jump with the flick of your analogue stick between Halo 2 and Halo 4, games that were released 8 years apart. One of the first things I did was check out the first level of Halo and then compare it to the look and feel of Halo 4. Even though I knew there would be an obvious difference, I was shocked at just how apparent this difference was – yes it was Halo, the same Master Chief you were playing as, within the same amour, looking at the same Cortana AI, but the impact of seeing the difference between these two games, one released two generations of console ago, was a testament to how far computing power has come, and with that in mind my advice would be to play the games in chronological order for fear of being disappointed.
Bungie (the original developer and creators of Halo) obviously built on the original with each subsequent iteration, building on what worked and changing or getting rid of what didn’t. Starting at the end, or playing the games out of sync, might well mean you come to rely on something that is unavailable later, or on a completely superficial note, you might just find it hard to look past the slightly blockier graphics of the older games, but this is a really picky hole to find. With this in mind the original Halo, and Halo 2 come with the option of turning on and off the additional bells and whistles that have since been added, to fully allow you to wallow in the improvements that have been made in the years since.
Halo wouldn’t be Halo if it didn’t come with a multiplayer component, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection has a wealth of options to choose from. Sadly, upon writing, the multiplayer aspect has been bogged down with technical issues, with both a server and title update having been released in the past week (and the multiplayer update having been delayed until later this week). Sure when it did work it is still fun and the same Halo multiplayer we all know and love, and yes the multiplayer community will ensure that this game is worth a visit in the next few months and possibly even years to come (the original Halo 2 servers went 8 years before they were shutdown, with people still playing them up until the very last day), but until the few teething problems are sorted out this is the one component that seems to be sitting in second place behind single player.
Nestled amongst the four Halo games 343 Industries have also included a few added extras, the most enticing of which to many will be the Halo 5 beta invite, available in 2015. Granted this baited hook might only entice a few players to return to the Halo universe if they haven’t already, they have also included Halo Nightfall, an ongoing live-action miniseries that is to be released weekly and will serve as an origin story for Locke, the mysterious “other” character revealed to be a playable character in Halo 5. This is not the first live action Halo series to be released to coincide with a game, but the fact that they have made a full 5 episode series to be released alongside what is essentially a re-release of last generation games shows the faith that 343 Industries have in this bundle (Nightfall’s Executive Producer is Ridley Scott no less).
So is it worth your hard-earned cash? Ultimately I can’t answer that question for you, but if you want 4 of the best first person shooters of the last two generations of console without running out of HDMI ports on your tv, with all of them having been touched up and tweaked to both run and look better, then really what are you waiting for? There is no denying that this is a disc packed full of content, and once the multiplayer issues are fully ironed out, which they no doubt will be within the next few days, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is one of the finest collections of computing gaming history put to disc.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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