Halo: The Master Chief Collection Single Player Review


Developers: 343 Industries, Bungie (Original on Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3)

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Platform: Xbox One

Release Date: November 11th

Due to the nature of the review process for Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a great deal of multiplayer access was not available to us prior to the embargo date. Instead of rushing through multiplayer content at the detriment of the reader, I have decided to branch off my full review into two sections.

The first, which you are reading now, covers the functionality and experience of the single player campaigns as a collection of games. The second, which is live now, will cover the multiplayer gameplay aspect of the collection. My final score is listed at the bottom of each review. Thank you!

Halo: The Master Chief Collection brings four of Microsoft’s storied first-person shooter franchise’s most beloved games together in one package. Even with a massive Day 1 patch that is 15+ GB in size, it’s quite a remarkable feat to accomplish. The excellence that the series has brought forth throughout the 21st Century is rivalled only by the very few. It is unfortunate, however, that the improvements have been made to the games’ aesthetics and user functionality comes at a cost.

The focus of Halo: The Master Chief Collection lies in the development of the Halo 2: Anniversary Edition. 343 Industries has worked tirelessly to bring all of its Halo games up to 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second in gameplay, but no other title in the bunch quite looks as stunning as this remastered game. For those who need a refresher, the game sees Master Chief race to prevent the Covenant from activating Halo, which instead of bringing the alien race to their “Great Journey” would actually wipe out all life within the galaxy. Halo’s activation is essentially a last resort against the Flood, the parasitic race that attaches itself to other forms of life to infect it and take it over.

You play as both Master Chief and The Arbiter, a disgraced Covenant Elite set to atone for his digressions. Gameplay between the two is quite similar, however The Arbiter doesn’t have a flashlight. Instead, he can activate an invisibility shield around him for a short time, or until he engages in combat. Other than that, both characters play the same run-and-gun, dual-weaponed, vehicle-driving, grenade-throwing approach.

The main attraction to Halo 2 Anniversary is what Halo: The Master Chief Collection strives to provide in its entirety; excellent updated visuals. Most textures, objects, backgrounds and skyboxes receive a highly-detailed upgrade, breathing new life into a game treasured by countless fans. The way the light reflects off of water, shines in your character’s visor and provides dramatic tone brings character in a forboding scenery. Finally, it goes without saying that the remastered Halo skyboxes are richly detailed in their approximation within the galaxy, illuminating the stars at night so fondly.

You can also flip between Xbox One visuals and original Xbox graphics at the press of a button in the first two Halo games. I’m happy to report that changing rapidly changing between the two doesn’t negatively affect the gameplay, allowing players to stand in awe of how things have changed in over a decade. It’s an important thing to note, as you’ll understand why better reading on.

I have not seen a better graphically-animated, completed work of art on consoles than in these (cutscene) videos.

Also new to Halo: The Master Chief Collection are story terminals. Finding these modules hidden within levels unlocks backstory videos from the Halo Channel, loading as an outside app. They help to add more story depth by bridging the gap in certain gameplay events throughout the series. Most of these videos won’t be live until the Collection’s launch, but what few I did see were intriguing, to say the least. Diehard Halo fans will keep an eye out on these to decipher their hidden meanings and messages, because I sure as hell was scratching my head on some of them!

Speaking of videos, Microsoft has procured the works of Blur Studios to animate new renditions of Halo 2’s cutscenes. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, . Cortana, Master Chief, the Prophets, Tartarus; the amount of detail woven into their visuals help to better substantiate themselves as characters worth investing in. Quantic Dream better step up their “old-guy-face render” level of tech if they want to stay on top.

Finishing the Halo 2 campaign in its entirety, there’s nothing new to how it plays; only how it is presented. It’s a smart move, as 343 does not want to mess with an overwhelming success that the series has brought Microsoft. The upgrades in resolution, however, does offer a better field of vision when it comes to the field of play, allowing for better combat tactical management. This is the case throughout each game within the package.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection aims to bring enhancements to user interaction with the games, and on that front they do succeed. I’m glad to inform you that almost everything that would otherwise require dozens of hours of work to unlock (in armors, levels, abilities, emblems and even missions) are unlocked from the get-go. To better facilitate this freedom, the developers have included playlists that let you run the gauntlet of multiple campaign missions across individual or all games on the list, often utilizing a theme (like big battles or sniper missions). Such a move should be congratulated, as it means getting to play what you liked in earlier days without having to play through hours of other missions you’re not as excited for.

Branching off campaign gameplay as missions also allows the Master Chief Collection to let players compete on a metagame level. You can make changes to the UI for most missions that display a constant score or time counter (as well as competitive counterparts), so that you can track how fast or how many points you collect in a chapter run. These scores/times are then recorded to leaderboards, where you can compare yourself amongst friends and the community at large. You can even set a rival player as a basis for competition, showing their best runs as part of the mission UI so you can strive to best them.

This feature alone smartly tacks on replayability in a collection of games that already contains more than enough Halo greatness to last over dozens of hours in campaigns alone. Whether it be a remastered orchestral score in Halo 2, hundreds of achievements, dozens of hours of excellent FPS gameplay in straight missions, story terminals, beautiful graphical upgrades and competitive-based mission structuring, the single player experience alone over four games more than validates the pickup of the Master Chief Collection.

It’s what makes its technical deficiencies a downright shame.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a must-buy for FPS lovers.

Each game within the Master Chief Collection has problems running at a 60 FPS in one way or another. Halo 3 seems to fair the best, however it is simply an Xbox 360 game running on the Xbox One. Because of that, it is not nearly as technologically demanding as the other titles, even if it means having human NPC’s with almost octagonal-shaped heads.

No, the biggest problems for me, unfortunately, came in the Halo 2 Anniversary campaign; the game this collection is arguably centered around. The issues are plentiful:

  • The reflections of pools of water in certain levels cannot mirror their reflection properly, resulting in massive stuttering.
  • Objects occasionally clip through walls, including a fish swimming through a capsule inconspicuously.
  • The Gravemind level featured especially bad framerate, even bugging out near the end and phantom “rewarding” me with 1,844,575,507,370 points upon completion.
  • Mission 8, Delta Halo, consistently crashed my entire Xbox One system loading the checkpoint right outside the temple (aka, after 90% of the level had been completed). I couldn’t even open up the Xbox One menu; it would eventually hard crash and shut off by itself.

The Day 1 patch offers some critical fixes across the board (including that Delta Halo bug), but it still doesn’t do much for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Its troubles lie in the framerate (which is staggeringly bad when travelling in a vehicle and during cutscenes to the point of apparent “chugging” along), but also in odd instances of mixed-up visual efforts. For example, the design of orbital blasts of energy in the Anniversary Edition actually looks less detailed than its 2001 counterpart. They just look like a giant orb of energy, whereas the old edition featured two very distinct balls of energy. What’s even odder is that, at times, the textures on walls or objects in Halo: CE Anniversary look laughably worse than those from the past. Rare do these improvements look worse, but it does happen enough times to question how they got past quality assurance.

Seeing how each game encounters performance issues throughout, it’s clear that 343 focused on quantity over quality when it comes to Halo: The Master Chief Collection. I’d argue, however, that such concessions in how they play are ultimately worth it. Four Xbox 360 games on one disc (and 15 GB Day 1 patch for Halo 3 & 4 multiplayer content, among other updates) is such an unprecedented task to ask of a development studio so early in a console’s life, yet here we are with more positives than negatives. Plus, as we know, 1080p and 60 FPS gameplay is hard to come by on any console, let alone on the Xbox One. Regardless, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention these games can run poorly at times.

Except for Halo: CE on PC, I have never owned a Halo game. Sure, I’ve played countless hours of multiplayer throughout the years at friends’ places, but I’ve only experienced cups of coffee with the campaigns sporadically. Going through Halo 2 and most all other story missions, I’m finally starting to understand why people are attached to the franchise so much. The character work, plot development, the weaving of mythological theology with science fiction and world building are uniquely distinct from other FPS campaigns. Seeing it come together with all the extra content and upgrades in functionality just makes this series so easily recommendable.

Single Player Verdict

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a must-buy for FPS lovers. Where else are you going to get four games for the price of one, let alone the mainline entries in one of the most famed gaming franchises around? Graphical, audio, functionality and game mode changes have been made for the better. 1080p and 60 FPS play just makes combat that much more surreal. Technical problems do plague performance in odds ways throughout each title, however it is but a sacrifice needed to maximize the amount of games available on disk. It’s easy to heap praise on games cherished by millions; it’s hard to say no when the opportunity arises to revisit those memories once again.

Final Overall Score

Between single and multiplayer action, Halo: The Master Chief Collection has very much been a tale of two cities. Making its first appearance on the Xbox One, the Halo series had been recalled to life in its single player offerings, with each outputting at 1080p and a mostly-constant 60 FPS (outside of Halo: CE cutscenes). Yet, one golden thread of design has yet to be seen; matching the quality of the campaign missions with an outstanding multiplayer service. It is therein where we come to the track of a veritable storm, with outright inability to reliably engage in online co-op missions or find match-made online competitive matches.

The potential for a quality set of games is absolutely possible, here; there’s just no way that one can recommend picking it up right now if you’re not interested in the campaign experience. A definite “wait until it is fixed” title that dearly deserved a couple more months worth of development time.

(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.)