Despite the problems 343 had in bringing classic Halo‘s multiplayer to bear on the Xbox One, I think The Master Chief Collection is an enticing product. Halo is a significant slice of gaming history, as a franchise that gave Microsoft’s burgeoning console the legs it needed and single handedly defined the first person shooter experience on consoles. Being a PlayStation stalwart, I missed out on the early Halo experience and The Master Chief Collection was my chance to see what the fuss was about. The elements that made Halo a revelation are difficult to see at this point in time because of how much first person shooters have evolved over the past ten years. Halo laid the groundwork but other games were soon copying or modifying the design, offering new ways to engage enemies and creating larger, more varied combat arenas.
Halo is an exciting shooter but it is bogged down by terrible level design. Much of the game is nothing more than an endless horror of hallways, and too often are there moments of deja vu. The entire game, much like the enigmatic Halo, is one big loop that ends where it begins. It’s a nifty narrative device that doesn’t transition well to mission structure. The madness begins with the infamous level called “The Library,” a stage that involves four floors of the exact same scenery a near infinite number of the Flood.
I apologize for the forthcoming profanity, but fuck the Flood in their fucking faces. Holy Christ, what a god damned ordeal it is to fight these biological assholes. Not only are the smaller parasites a bitch to deal with because they attack en masse, the Flood infected Grunts and Elites don’t stay down. Far as I could tell, you had to drop them twice before they stay dead. It’s so easy to lose track of which enemies are permanently dead when having to fight a swarm of respawning Flood. I played Halo on Normal difficulty and up until “The Library,” I had thought about switching to Heroic, maybe dabble around on Legendary for a bit. To hell with that. In fact, any replays of Halo will be done on Easy because fuck the Flood.
The Halo experience takes a nose dive in the third act as monotonous level design is combined with the antics of the Flood. Having to retread the same ground isn’t fun and adding in a frustrating new enemy complicates matters. Fighting Elites and Hunters is fun, battling the Flood isn’t. Getting out of the Library and the Halo Command Center was a celebratory moment ruined by the next mission that involves shutting down three reactors spread across two previous areas. If the pathfinding were improved and the player given a better sense of where to go, this part of the game might have been easier to swallow. There’s so much confusion navigating certain areas because there is very little to discern one twisting hallway or arena from another.
Halo does have a significant saving grace: enemy AI. Engaging the Covenant in battle is exhilarating because they know how to evade weapon fire and grenades. I find it rather startling that the AI in Halo, a thirteen year old game, offers much better AI than Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The Elites are respectable enemies who know when to assault and defend against Master Chief. Granted, it’s easy to steamroll them during up close engagements, just blast them repeatedly with weapons, in long, protracted engagements, however, they are formidable. For a game that offers a significant arsenal of weapons to combat the Covenant, I favored the energy pistol because its ammo was more substantial than other small arms and, oddly, it appeared to do the most damage compared to most other conventional weapons.
Halo: Combat Evolved has problems, however I can see how influential it was at the time of release. The modern console shooter probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Halo. There’s a great deal open for improvement and it will be very interesting to see how Halo 2 resolves the game’s issues. That’s the real benefit of The Master Chief Collection, to see Bungie’s franchise grow into itself in the span of hours instead of years.