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E3 2011: Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary

by Xav de Matos, Jun 14, 2011 4:45pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: Ten years after it helped put the Xbox on the map, Microsoft brings Halo: Combat Evolved back with a high-def upgrade. While the game sports upgrades expected of a re-release this generation, it also includes a few other bells and whistles that are aimed directly at fans of the franchise.

THE DEMO: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary includes the original campaign from the 2001 Bungie-developed release, along with updated, modern visuals. At E3, Microsoft showcased these new visuals by playing the beach battle in the famous "Silent Cartographer" level of Halo: Combat Evolved. Being able to play in HD isn't the only trick the re-release includes on the visual front, though. Players will be able to turn the HD upgrade off and on with the press of a button, at any time during gameplay. Demoing this feature really shows off the difference between the look of the original Halo: CE and the new upgrade. Anniversary also includes online campaign co-op for two players and a "special" version of Halo: Reach's multiplayer, with six competitive maps and one Firefight map inspired by the original Halo.

DETAILS: With the help of developers Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity, Microsoft's Halo team at 343 Industries is bringing the game that created the iconic franchise to the Xbox 360. In a world where we've seen a half dozen of high profile, this re-release was entirely unsurprising (and the news was leaked months ago anyway). What is surprising is detail attached to the project.

343 Industries is working with Skywalker Sound to re-record the audio, music, and effects throughout the game. The only thing that won't be re-recorded is the in-game dialog, 343 Industries' Franchise Development Director Frank O'Connor told me.

Then, there's the ability to turn off the HD upgrade on the fly. This feature exists because Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary uses two different engines at one time. In order to preserve the gameplay of the original game, Anniversary runs the original game (graphics, physics and all) in the background and layers the new HD coat of paint on top of the game. Everything that you were able to do is possible once again, O'Connor notes. Warthog jumps? Done. The only change to the original code appears to be changing it to a 16x9 widescreen aspect ratio. (Turning the new graphic layer off means players can play the original Xbox game in widescreen on the console for the first time.) The game also adds Terminals in the mix that will give players a tease at future events of the franchise, particularly next year's Halo 4 (one was teased during the demo). Add to that achievements and the ability to play the campaign co-op over Xbox Live and it sounds like a solid package for Halo super fans, especially with its respectable $40 price.

But multiplayer is where it gets confusing. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary doesn't offer an HD version of the original game's multiplayer . Instead, the game includes a slimmed down version of Halo: Reach's multiplayer mode that boots into its own menu once selected on the single-disc release. When loaded, this version of Reach includes only seven maps: six for competitive play and one for Firefight. The maps are inspired by classic Halo: Combat Evolved maps and run in the Reach engine. It's essentially a melding of classic locales and new features (like Armor Abilities).

When asked if the seven new environments would be available for Reach players to download, O'Connor confirmed the new environments would be made available as separate DLC for Halo: Reach down the road. Additionally, he notes that installing the Anniversary disc will eventually add the new maps to standard copies of Halo: Reach.

Halo has become a franchise some gamers love to hate. I'm still a big fan of the franchise and the ability to play the classic game--and I mean the actual classic game--along with the new HD remix is enticing. Being a budget game instead of a full priced affair like Halo 3: ODST makes it that much more exciting. I'm looking forward to revisiting one of my favorite games of the last decade when Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary releases on November 15.

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