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the wider context of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition is, of course, the completion of the three-year transition of the Halo franchise from a now independant Bungie to Microsoft subsidiary 343 Industries (or 343i for those who like their companies to sound like 1970s computers). as such, it's sort of a concept/portfolio piece, except designed by someone who already has the job. and on sale.
there is a significant irony that comes with choosing to mark the tenth anniversary of a game called Combat Evolved by remaking it pretty much exactly as it was: (plasma rifle) shot for (plasma rifle) shot. although, to be fair, punctuated equilibrium and all that. still, it is difficult to escape the thought that people are being asked to pay £45 for the pleasure of being reassured that 343i will make future Halo games look similar to but better than past ones.
in a sense, to continue in the tradition of biological analogies, this game is essentially the heavily-scented urine and you, the prospective consumer, are the territory, and 343i wants to mark you as its own.
so much for the meta level, but what about the actual experience of being (as it were) micturated on from on high? well, either 343i have created an ingenious, pomo homage, devil-in-the-detail kind of experience - like when Gus van Sant remade Psycho and very few people understood - or they've produced an unimaginative and thoroughly uninspiring piece of nostalgia porn which is unlikely to engage anyone but thirty-something men who want to spend time re-living their 'scintillating' twenties. indoors. alone. as was.
i should perhaps confess at this stage, should it not already have become clear, that i am not much of a fan of the Halo franchise. i'm well aware of the advancements that the original heralded (although i also think the bandying around of the term 'revolutionary' does an injustice to some other, earlier titles), but i don't have to like something in order to recognise its contribution, or to enjoy benefitting from its legacy. after all, the second world war helped to create the NHS and the poverty, marginalisation and gang violence of 70s New York gave rise to hip hop, but how often do you hear people, or find films or games or other art-forms, mystifying those things or making them out to be cool, or in some way great?
nostalgia porn for thirty-something men who want to spend time re-living their 'scintillating' twenties. indoors. alone. as was.
i think it's fundamentally an aesthetic thing for me. everything about Halo is so angular and chunky - it's like the George W. Bush of video games; lumbering along with its palms deliberately turned forward in a show of projected strength. i'm pretty sure that sense was enhanced several-fold by the experience of playing the original release with the world's most pointlessly massive gamepad - remember those? the huge, original Xbox ones - like the controls for a military-grade mini-attack-copter? man, it makes my hands all achy just to think of them.
all this having been said, i did try to sit down to the Anniversary Edition with something of an open mind - or at least leaving some space for the possibility that this revamped redo might make me more sympathetic to Halo's charms.
as most reviewers seem very keen to point out, this is not simply an HDified re-up, but a substantially rebuilt, as well as redecorated, experience. however, let's be sure to remember that we are talking about a full release here, not an enticingly positioned XBLA release or DLC add-on. unlike several reviewers out there, i do try hard to be constantly aware that despite the fact that i get it for free either way, when you're paying, there is (and should be) a big difference between a game costing GBP 15 and one priced at GBP 45.
there is no doubt, however, that lots of work has been done - a point which 343i were so desperate to drive home that they included a feature that allows you to, at any moment, switch in real-time between the visuals of the original and anniversary editions. what a useless, waste of time, pile of self-legitimatory nonsense!
two issues: one, i don't want to know how bad the game i'm playing would have been if you'd done worse (or no) work, and two, switching between the two only served to remind me of how little in terms of substantial 'evolution' had actually gone on.
feigning wide-eyed joy was sort of a landmark of maturity (possible a high tide).
the boring, syrupy narrative is still the same. the spongey controls, floaty jumping and odd, recoil-less shooting are still there (mmm, syrupy sponge). the exponential leaps in AI difficultly and the bad guys' hair-out-tearingly ninja-like prowess at the top-end? yep, still there with bells on. how about the dramatic tail-off in terms of level creativity as the game progresses? sure! the library is very much still the same two rooms stitched together ad nauseam, just as you oh so fondly remember it.
the far more significant problem, however, is as follows: despite all the rebuilding, re-engineering, re-tooling and other processes named to make game design sound like industrial labour, what the consumer gets essentially looks like a prettier version of something they've mostly likely had before. now that might be fine if it wasn't also for the fact that not only are the new graphics not all that impressive compared to other new games, but they don't even render properly as they are. i repeatedly encountered glitches, frame-rate issues and tearing all over the shop. irony upon irony.
now usually when reviewing an FPS, it would be around this point that i turn my attentions to the multiplayer modes or maps to see what kind of added-value or indeed partial redemption they offer. sadly, it seems rather a waste of time to do so in this instance. and allow me to explain for-why...
i'd say it's a fairly good bet that anyone dedicated enough to the Halo franchise to even think about buying an unswervingly 'loyal' remake of the original probably already has a copy of Halo: Reach. in that instance, however, any glee derived from the knowledge that the Anniversary Edition comes with six (yes, only six) spruced-up multiplayer maps - sourced from across the history of Halo and remodelled using the Reach engine - is slightly blunted by the fact that these maps were made available to Reach owners as DLC on the same day that the Anniversary Edition was released, for £15. something that i find to be an odd decision.
nature herself is telling you at every turn that this game is a waste of time.
it's basically as if despite all 343i's efforts, nature herself is telling you at every turn that this game is a waste of time. maybe they should have spent all their youthful energies on making a new game, with new things in it.
so, in summary, i really don't want to turn into a pityful Gollum-like creature, controlled by his own bitterness and reduced to shouting "just do something new" aimlessly at the winter moon, but the way things are going...
[if you'd like to see more of the weird and wonderful world of reallyquitetired then the door is always open at his semi-detached house/blog]
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: