From the Vault: Halo Anniversary Review

Every now and then, it’s good to either dust off an old game that hasn’t been played for a while, or buy something that’s a few years old but merits at least one playthrough. From the Vault is about exploring those games. The ones we love to replay and the ones we’ve always wanted to play, but haven’t for various reasons. And the first game out of the Lizard Lounge Vault, is Halo.

Is Halo still fun in 2015?

The Master Chief Collection was my entire reason for buying the Xbox One. Ten years ago, I played Halo for the first time and I don’t think I ever enjoyed a shooter (at the time) as much as I did Halo. Fast forward a few years, and all the sequels make their way to Xbox but only Halo 2 comes to PC. So, as the launch of Halo 5 drew closer, I decided I needed to catch up on the series.

But when the 80-odd GB download was finally done and I fired Halo up for the first time in a decade, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would feel as good in 2015 as it did when it first came out.

The shooting is still excellent

Halo’s assault rifle is high on the list of my top ten weapons in an FPS. The plasma rifle, the needler – God, I love the needler – and the rest of Halo’s array of weaponry stood the test of time much, much better than I was expecting. Each of the weapons felt satisfyingly different; using the plasma rifle to burn down enemy shields before emptying half as assault rifle clip into their various appendages was as enjoyable as it was when I first played Halo.

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I couldn’t help but feel that ammo drops for human weapons weren’t as plentiful as they ought to have been – I spent most of my game with a plasma rifle and needler, with the occasional sniper rifle thrown into the mix simply because Covenant weapons were more plentiful. That niggle aside, gunplay remains one of the Halo’s strong points.

Level design on the other hand, not so much.

One thing that my memory managed to blank out entirely was how agonizingly repetitive most of Halo’s levels are. Penny Arcade even made a comic about it, back in 2001.

Even the shiny new graphics of Halo Anniversary don’t compensate for the fact that the bulk of Halo really is the same ten or so levels over and over, separated by doors and passages. When the shooting starts, the relentless onslaught makes it possible to forget how annoying it is to trudge through identical levels. When the shooting’s done, though, it’s easy for frustration set in.

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There’s a point when you need to follow the monitor of the Halo installation through a series of levels, to find something called the Index. The levels were so long, fights so similar – because enemies were spawning at the same places in each of the identical levels – that my brain would alternate between killing things on autopilot and silently screaming for that particular section of the campaign to end.

The vehicles deserves special mention, by the way

I hate the Warthog. If the bloody jeep wasn’t required for certain sections of the game I would gladly blow up every warthog in Halo to spare myself the experience of having to drive them. Halo features some of the worst driving sections I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering in a game. The Warthog feels weightless and floats and, vehemently disagreed with whatever commands I gave it.

It’s worth noting that Warthog handling improves significantly in Halo’s sequels, but every section in Halo Anniversary that required the Warthog was nothing but a pain. And it doesn’t help that the very end of Halo, a game that primarily involved shooting things, ends with a wretchedly long section that involves driving the Warthog. I lost count of the number of times I ragequit that particular level and finished it only because I really wanted to finish the campaign.

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The frustration of the Warthog is offset dramatically by the game’s tanks. The Scorpion is a magnificent piece of vehicular destruction and the bits that required nothing more from me than to drive around and blow shit up were perhaps some of the most relaxing sections that Halo had to offer. For fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, I could sit back, relax, and feel like god. The covenant tank – the Wraith – is almost as satisfying.

The other vehicles are reasonably decent to drive but there’s very little that’s as satisfying as the Scorpion.

And, finally, what of the creatures that soak up your bullets?

The AI is a big part of what makes Halo’s gunplay so much fun. Grunts will shriek and run out of your way if you kill their friends; Jackals will use their shield remarkably well, forcing you to flank; Elites duck, run and dodge out of your way, seeming to genuinely not want to get shot; and Hunters … well, they’re brutes, really – they’ll charge wildly at you and do all they can to stomp you flat.

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The back and forth exchanges of gunfire between the Master Chief and the Covenant are a big part of what makes the Flood so scary when they finally show up – their complete lack of self-preservation coupled with their numbers and capacity to fire a gun with tolerable accuracy makes them genuinely tough to grapple with.

So, should you buy Halo Anniversary?

Yes. Hell yes.

The gunplay is great. The AI is still good. And the Scorpion tank is goddamn awesome. If you can get past the frustratingly repetitive level design, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Trevor Coelho
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