Look up. Good. Look down. Good. Look left. Made ya look.
They say that no original work goes without borrowing from some material released prior to it and while that’s hardly a guilty plea in the court of creativity, Halo has largely failed to accelerate outside of the Jesus metaphor that started the franchise in Halo: Combat Evolved. In fact, you could even make the argument that any video game that kills the player and subsequently brings him or her back to life to face the challenge once more enters an area that can’t escape this religious parallel, instead reinforcing it literally by definition.
That’s OK. Reading the Old Testament and New Testament in high school meant discovering the Jesus metaphor in nearly everything and it hasn’t exactly weakened the faith of those that would pursue the cleansing blast of a Halo array every once in a while. All of the games collected in Halo: The Master Chief Collection rather predictably push that comparison as far as it can go without asking players to swear allegiance to an apostle in multiplayer. There is so much Halo here. In that, I can only say that this near-complete collection of Master Chief volumes proves exhaustive.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection combines Halo: Combat Evolved’s recent “Anniversary” graphical update, puts Halo 2 through the same process, and brings all of Halo 3 and Halo 4, including multiplayer to Xbox One. Microsoft’s new-generation console sharpens graphics, textures, and alters the sound design slightly in all of these games, though the improved frame rate will have some consumers swearing by the Collection before the year is over. For GameRevolution’s review, I decided to play through Halo 2, try a little Halo 3, and then set to work in multiplayer.
Admittedly, I was not looking forward to this endeavor as I’ve played a ton of Halo, perhaps Halo 2 more than the rest, and first-person shooter campaigns clog the holiday season. I could literally choke on the content here so setting about this process with a mission helped. I was surprised at how easy it was to slip back into Halo 2’s narrative replete with graphical improvements. Flipping between old and new visuals and sound proved an interesting experiment from level to level.
Let there be no mistake, this package serves as a product and while the user interface and menus certainly work in its favor, things do feel a little hollow when compared to memories you may hold close to your opposable thumbs. With the series seen as an originator in the console shooter space, it can feel difficult to escape Halo’s influence such that I’d caution readers before buying. Collection satisfies in a few very specific ways, while disappointing in others.
For one, improved frame rates in every title drastically improve gameplay. Like… absurdly so. I've actually pushed back against gamers who hold technical details above gameplay, but I get what they're about in this example. From the first steps onto a foreign and at times hauntingly beautiful space array to floaty fighting on the outside of a United Nations Space Command flotilla, The Master Chief Collection offers Halo gameplay at its most responsive, crisp, and finely-tuned peak. Skyboxes in nearly every multiplayer map with this Anniversary treatment look gorgeous. A single multiplayer match on Halo 4’s Haven map sealed the deal for me. I doubt anyone will want to go back to their Xbox 360 or original Xbox after trying these games on Xbox One.
I progressed further and further into Halo 2 and discovered that this package also benefits from fresh pre-rendered cutscenes which make every mission feel new and narratively exciting. Still, there is an incredible sense of fatigue to be found somewhere in your tenth hour, particularly since the title wastes no time in alerting you to the fact that you’ll find more than forty hours of gameplay within. Most of that fatigue comes from the knowledge that we’ve been here before, we’ve done it all before. Quitting the game doesn’t offer the same explosive satisfaction as destroying a Halo array and giving the covenant the middle finger, so stop reading here and consider for yourself if you need more Halo in your life. Fans should also know that flipping between games in a custom multiplayer lobby inevitably leads to confusion as the control scheme changes extremely often. Use options to bend the game to your will.
Ultimately, I think The Master Chief Collection represents an inherently valuable package for consumers new to the Xbox platform. If all you did was buy someone an Xbox One console and a copy of this, you’d have them covered for the next year should they really take to multiplayer or definitively clearing each campaign on the hardest difficulty with and without friends. Even after you’ve beaten every game on Legendary difficulty, The Master Chief Collection offers mission playlists that challenge you with strictly Banshee-focused missions or just those combat encounters that throw the book at John-117. The number of options for Halo entertainment continue to stack up as you delve deeper in the main menu.
That doesn’t start and stop with gameplay either as original video content is delivered via the new Halo Channel and unlocked as you play and discover terminals or other collectables in-game. Halo has become as much a lifestyle for people as any other popular gaming brand, so fans can quite deliberately ask 343 Industries to preach to the choir even if the likes of Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST remain notably absent. It sounds stupid, but this collection feels more and more like Old and New Testaments as you progress deeper into the lore and understanding of both Spartan 117 and your multiplayer avatar as a character.
Anyone thumping the good book will tell you about the commandments, the deadly sins, the miracles Jesus performs and even retread his death and resurrection, but don’t be that person with Halo: The Master Chief Collection. As compelling as this journey has been, it feels grossly overwhelming when paired with footage of a thousand screaming fans outside a midnight launch or another episodic installment of Covenant skull-crushing. In fact, I wish Hollywood and Microsoft would just do the dirty deed and get it over with, whether Master Chief gets the direct-to-DVD treatment or not.
Recently, before a movie screening at my local theater, an advertisement featuring 343 Industries boss Frank O’Connor took to explaining the Halo Nightfall video content that comes with The Master Chief Collection as a “bridge” between the game world and the cinematic world. I have to call Brute-shit on this. Halo has proven itself as an endearing, deeply emotive, and highly cinematic world all its own. Truly, the series does not need a film adaptation to drive this point home and The Master Chief Collection provides all the fodder you’ll need for that argument.
Download code provided by publisher. Exclusive to Xbox One.