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Original ‘Halo’ remains a classic 10 years later

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

December 2, 2011

A little more than 10 years ago, Microsoft entered the video game console world with the Xbox. It had few launch games and might have sold OK had it not been for “Halo: Combat Evolved,” which became a must-have game that drove console sales. Since then, it has spawned a trilogy, prequel and expansion game, and even moved from the realm of video games to books, videos and, at one time, a planned Hollywood movie. In order to inspire interest in the upcoming “Halo 4,” planned to be the start of a new trilogy, Microsoft recently re-released “Halo” in order to introduce gamers to the game that started it all.

“Halo” begins with its protagonist, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, waking from a hibernation-like sleep just as a group of alien races, united by a religious faith known as the Covenant, begin attacking his ship. The ship crash-lands on a mysterious ring structure in space, known as Halo, where the Master Chief has to fight off the Covenant and try to survive. As the two sides engage in guerrilla warfare, the Covenant discovers a secret that was better left buried among the ring’s mysterious secrets.

At its core, this is the same “Halo” that started it all. The levels are the same, the plot is the same, and the weapons and vehicles are the same. But other aspects of the game—namely the graphics, music and multiplayer experience—have been updated to match the rest of the series.

343 Industries, the company Microsoft employs to continue the “Halo” series, has gone through “Halo” and upgraded to high-definition graphics. Every character, structure, map and weapon is now hi-def. While playing the game, I actually forgot the first game was released before the advent of HD gaming. While I’d never say that HD is worth spending extra money on hi-def TVs or Blu-rays, playing games in HD adds little details that make game-play a more immersing experience.

Furthermore, if you ever want to play the original game without the updated graphics, that’s also possible. With the push of one button, I was back playing the 2001 version of the game. It was one of my first, and remains among my favorite, first-person shooters. One of the nicer things about the updated graphics, whether or not you’re playing on an HDTV, is that 343 took the chance to make a few of the maps easier to follow. Several of the maps in the original game were very hard to follow due to dark lighting and the chaotic nature of game-play, especially on higher difficulty levels. With updated graphics, the tough spots have better lighting and the difficulty becomes more about seeing enemies instead of running off the map.

One of the other biggest changes involves the music. While music never makes or breaks a game in my opinion, it was nice that they re-mastered it for the anniversary release. The music sounds clearer and without a doubt enhances the feel of each level. The soundtrack still consists of Martin “Marty” O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori’s compositions, but with touch-ups and the help of Skywalker Sound. These small modifications are slight but still make the soundtrack a shade better. Additionally, there is an option in the main menu that allows the player to switch between the original and remastered music.

Last but not least is the multiplayer aspect. When “Halo” first came out it featured local multiplayer. While a game of “Halo” with a few friends is fun, it doesn’t hold up to a game of “Slayer,” Capture the Flag or Griffball with full teams. “Halo 2” was one of the first games to utilize Xbox Live for multiplayer gaming and the world hasn’t looked back since. The anniverasry edition of “Halo” features re-mastered versions of Halo’s original levels but with online play using the multiplayer engine from “Halo: Reach,” the last “Halo” release. Not only is it nice that they continued to use the “Reach” engine and the multiplayer core Bungie (the original “Halo” developers) created, but it is great that “Halo” was brought to the same level as prior games in the series rather than staying a step below the rest of the series. The anniversary “Halo” features a handful of levels from the original game’s multiplayer setting, redone in HD with online multiplayer. Another nice feature is the ability to download the new maps in order to use them with “Halo.”

In the last few years, I finished the fight with “Halo 3” and I watched the human race go on defense in the prequel “Halo: Reach.” With the re-release of the game that started it all, I’m certainly still interested to see what 343 Industries comes up with next year when they release “Halo 4.”

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