Halo: The Master Chief Collection Preview

One v. one.

Lots of gamers know the Halo series for its multiplayer, its explosive campaigns, and Microsoft’s ability to make a new game every two or three years, though fans have long associated the brand with ex-developer Bungie. I really liked Halo 4, played the campaign through on legendary, and got a ton of entertainment out of its revitalized multiplayer mechanics. I think 343 Industries, particularly being created specifically to develop Halo, will take the franchise far into the future and hopefully away from the singular hero that dominates this holiday’s new collection.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection goes above and beyond the call of intergalactic duty to offer Halo: Combat Evolved (in its shiny Anniversary Edition wrapper) along with a graphical upgrade to Halo 2. In fact, one map in Halo 2 featured one of the prettiest skyboxes I've ever seen in gaming, so that should tell you about the work put in to this upgrade. The package also includes Halo 3 and Halo 4, with every multiplayer map to boot. It’s as if Master Chief took off his helmet, vomited up a few years worth of alien gore, and then asked to be repackaged for a second tour. In that way, it’s hard to look beyond The Master Chief Collection as anything more than a product, though you wouldn’t hear that from me after a few multiplayer matches on Halo 2’s classic competitive maps.

I love Halo 2 for the nostalgia factor more than anything else. Truth be told, I never owned an original Xbox and I never owned a copy of the game. Instead, friends and I would drag a heavy CRT TV, two consoles, eight controllers, and two copies of the game from house to house. This was the most inconvenient setup you could imagine, even if the multiplayer action couldn’t be topped in that day and age (aside from jury-rigging computers in the school lab to play Counter-Strike). Halo 2 defined so much of my social time in high school that it quickly became a secondary language where violent interaction actually led to stronger bonds.

As those relationships have dissipated, so has my fondness for the Halo brand. If I’m being honest, I think the Chief himself has gotten a little stale and the entire franchise would benefit from exploring fringe dramas and characters that never really get the limelight after the explosions have cleared. Halo 3: ODST provides a good example for that, though the hints towards Destiny continue to irk me. I’d like to see a similar scenario bend Halo’s gameplay and mechanics to unveil a totally new and unique story either on Earth or an outworld.

Regardless, Halo: The Master Chief Collection won’t let you get away without every single detail of the operatic ballet of war between humans, flood, and covenant. The user interface feels slick and offers almost immediate access to everything you’ll want from the four games, though Halo 5 beta access will remain behind a digital wall for the time being.

It’d be difficult to evaluate this box set as anything other than exactly that. What do you think a review is going to tell you that four separate reviews for every previous Halo game couldn’t? That doesn't mean I don’t think Xbox Live gamers will pass up the chance to return to Halo 2 with 16 players online. That number was unheard of back in high school and many of the game’s maps seem appropriate for 8, though retitled versions of Zanzibar and Blood Gulch will obviously provide space for a crowded online lobby. We separated into two teams of four to face-off on Stonetown (Zanzibar) and Lockdown (Lockout) at a recent Xbox event.

I have a particular fondness for Lockout and the map still features the multi-tiered twisting and winding that offers countless opportunities for melee assassinations. The anti-gravity lift that fires players towards the center of the map can prove hazardous for even the most experienced Halo fans and I still like to hold out on either tower in order to pounce on opponents passing through. I took the campaign for a brief spin as well and flipped back and forth between the game’s visual filters (not recommended during multiplayer). The changes to texture mapping in Halo 2 prove significant alone.

More importantly, each game’s framerate gets a boost and the overall playability inherent in that single enhancement does seem profound when you get your hands on the controller. While I may skip The Master Chief Collection this holiday season, Halo’s fan base will have every reason to pick up an Xbox One this year to prepare for Halo 5's launch next year. We’ll have more on The Master Chief Collection as we near its release on November 11, 2014 for Xbox One.