Hollywood has been dabbling in remakes for a while now: your fondest memories given that big budget redux, an all-male reimagining or a Rob Zombie gore explosion. It is safe to say there have been mixed results. It’s a dangerous practice as particular movies have a special place in our hearts. They’re often inextricably bound to time and place in our lives, and those memories are surely as important – perhaps even more important – than the quality of the movie itself.
The best idea these remakes usually have is to apply the latest technology and techniques to a classic. One needs only to look at the harrowing, continued debasement of the Star Wars films to see that this makes more sense on paper than it does in reality.
Now game development is also trying its hand at remaking classics with a fresh lick of paint. The results have been occasionally mixed but largely positive: Bluepoint Games took a gentle approach with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, introducing some of the best moments in gaming to a new audience as well as impressing established fans with an updated look. The same is true of Beyond Good & Evil HD. As a full remake of note, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time gave a sweeping graphical renovation to Hyrule but remained true to the original’s tone thus bringing all the original’s quality to a new console.
Now 343 Industries, the new stewards of the Halo license, has brought Halo: Combat Evolved kicking and screaming into the HD age with an aesthetic makeover while leaving the general mechanics intact. It’s testament to the quality of Bungie’s 2001 release that an overhaul of the graphics engine powering Halo: CE can make the game feel freshly relevant.
Touching down for the first time in Silent Cartographer, one of the most highly praised levels in Halo: CE, was originally a brilliant experience – players witnessed the scale, beauty and diversity of Halo as they fought their way up the beach before delving into the secrets of the Halo. It’s with mild trepidation that we watch Master Chief put boot to sand for a second time but a sense that’s soon washed away by dynamic water effects reflecting a skybox of mauve beauty. Worn out textures are superimposed by those more befitting of an HD screen while a re-recorded soundtrack explodes in 5.1 surround brilliance.
Anniversary has all the visual trappings of a modern game, and if nostalgia tells you it doesn’t look that much better than the original then with the push of a single button the curtain is pulled back and the original, unadorned Halo is laid bare for your scrutiny. Standing over the body of an Elite, or finding a fondly remembered view, then jumping between console generations never gets old.
At times, though, it seems as if some of the feel of the original has been lost to the crushing boot of the visual upgrade. Darker areas of Covenant ships or Forerunner architecture are lit up with electric colours; panels of light and a golden hue to the earth of Halo are lost to a burnt white. It feels as though the more garish visuals at times take from the sense of wonder found in the original morose sci-fi created by Bungie.
The physics engine powering Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is identical to that used in the original – this is Halo: CE with a facelift, and yet it feels like one of the more free and open FPS experiences of the season. Sure, there’s a linear path to take (and, as we all know, retake) but the sense of openness is invigorating. The second level wherein Chief and Cortana crash onto the titular Halo for the first time, simply begs fresh exploration.
The arsenal retains its original punch, something that was toned down over the series. Take on even the toughest of the Covenant forces, shoot down a Banshee or play the entire game using the unassuming but overly powerful magnum to kill the tank-like Hunters with a single, well-placed shot.
After Covenant have been routed there’s our old friends The Flood to look forward to, and it goes to show just how unaltered the gameplay is as their arrival still leads to a noticeably upped ante, and a reduction in the enjoyment of the campaign’s latter stages.
New offerings include some predictably shoehorned and unwelcome Kinect features such as the ability to reload and throw grenades with a voice command. Analyse mode covers the screen in thermal vision, scanning objects to a library where they can later be examined – basically 3D assets with a small amount of text.
Terminals seem to be the only new offering of any substance. Hidden around the game, these unobtrusive panels, once activated, expand on Halo’s mythology with cut scenes, and for those with a thorough understanding of the universe, offer a glimpse of what lies ahead in Halo 4.
The multiplayer is a mixed bag of pain and fondness. Omitted is the ability to play four-player split screen which was such a significant part of the original, but (using Halo: Reach’s game engine) players can indulge in some magnum-based terrorism on classic maps. A new Firefight map – installation 04 – is modelled after one of the aforementioned ‘Halo’ level’s Forerunner structure.
It's a curious experience playing through the first Halo again. While still faithful to the original, at times this graphical upgrade misses the point. Looking to the future of the series it’s also a little troubling that the new features 343 Industries did decide to bolt on to Bungie’s masterpiece are all a bit flat.
Even so, this is Halo: Combat Evolved with that same quality gameplay and gorgeous HD look – both publisher and developer know that, and it’s reflected in the reduced asking price. This remake of one of the most memorable campaigns in FPS history is an anniversary worth celebrating, but if you were never a fan of the original it’s unlikely to change your mind.