Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary confirms that the Xbox’s original console-making killer title remains a work of expert gunsmanship that makes up for duplicative level design with an involving otherworldly setting and story as well as amazingly smooth gameplay. This is a nice trip down memory lane, one gussied up with next-gen graphics (which, in a nice touch, can be toggled with the old graphics via the select button), extended cutscenes, and a score with additional squealing guitars. But there’s little significant purpose to this 10th-anniversary remake other than for Microsoft to continue cashing in on its signature franchise. Expertly bringing its original blockbuster to a new generation of audiences, but delivering scant new material for stalwart fans, the entire experience is one of déjà vu. Such familiarity is fine for a while, and certainly doesn’t diminish the underlying sturdiness of the game itself, which remains a polished adventure full of countless hectic firefights that, because of the variety of enemies thrown one’s way, afford numerous tactical options. Furthermore, those battles are fluid and unpredictable enough from one playthrough to another to compel one to try different strategies, or tackle the game at greater difficulty settings, without a sense of crushing monotony ever setting in. Moreover, when a game plays as well as Halo does (its stripped-down control scheme is as simple and intuitive as it is responsive), even a bit of monotony is easily forgivable.
That said, if there’s a knock against Halo and its tale of heroic Master Chief’s efforts to defeat both the alien Covenant forces and the even more malevolent Flood, it’s repetition, since countless stages still involve traversing similar-looking corridors that lead to similar-looking rooms filled with the same types of adversaries. If not brilliant, the game’s A.I. is certainly flexible enough to make no two skirmishes identical, thereby creating a persuasive sense of battling in a living, breathing world against real (as opposed to mechanically preprogrammed) enemies. Unburdened by many modern FPS’s wealth of weapons, upgrades, and other RPG-ish elements, Halo speeds forward at breakneck pace, doling out satisfying twists (usually involving new vehicles, like the Warthog or Banshee) with enough consistency to keep the action fresh. Or, at least, fresh for those without vibrant memories of the game’s signature moments and diverse environments.
For newbies, this Anniversary is a no-brainer way of experiencing the series’s maiden outing with spiffy updated aesthetics (albeit not quite updated enough to overshadow a current title like Resistance 3), as well as a collection of classic multiplayer maps (including Breakneck, High Noon, Battle Canyon, and Ridgeline) that, utilizing the superior graphics engine and basic matchmaking system of Halo: Reach, afford hours of sturdy if standard-issue chaos. For Halo aficionados, however, this Anniversary is, from campaign start to online finish, merely a sweet but unoriginal nostalgia trip.