Halo: The Master Chief Collection collects all of the existing Halo games that feature Master Chief as the main protagonist, including the original Halo: Combat Evolved, right up through Halo 4. You can play the games in a number of ways, by either going through each campaign as they were originally designed in a linear fashion, or by jumping into any mission of your choosing directly, or by playing through custom-built playlists of levels from each title designed to focus on highlights.
First off, I take for granted that anyone who seriously loves Halo will pick this up. It’s a must-have for Halo fans, but that’s a given, and Microsoft didn’t need to do much to convince that group to buy anyway. The thing is, work has been expended and attention has been paid, and this box set is much more than a simple repackaging of what was already available separately.
There’s the graphics overhaul, of course. The curious effect of these reskinning of old titles is that you tend to forget what they looked like previously, and since our imaginations are powerful things, they can trick you into thinking the HD remakes of original titles actually don’t make that much of a difference. The Master Chief Collection anticipates this, and provides a button that lets you switch back to the original graphics engine, which illustrates just how much work went into creating new and improved textures that look at home on next-gen hardware like the Xbox One.
The entire experience is made better by the improved graphics, but it’s a special treat to be able to enjoy multiplayer maps from games of old with glorious new visuals. Multiplayer here will be a real treat to fans of the series, as each game inherits its specific multiplayer engine, with the added benefit of being able to run each title in four player split-screen local combat mode. This makes for some amazing nostalgic gaming sessions, taking me right back to any number of high school classmate’s basements. You can almost smell the pizza.
Halo’s overall appeal remains the same as it has always been – great gaming experiences, including co-op fun and a single player campaign that, while it acts as a distraction from the main multiplayer show for many, still holds up with a fun, and sufficiently rich narrative storyline, as well as gameplay that while repetitive, doesn’t somehow manage to get boring. The Master Chief Collection recaptures all the original appeal of each title in the series, but manages to add something new into the mix as well, both through updated visuals, through the unique remixing of existing content, and through additional content in Halo 2: Anniversary that points to what’s to come in Halo 5: Guardians.
Microsoft’s software goal this holiday is evident, between this title and Sunset Overdrive: Bring new buyers to the Xbox One. Halo: The Master Chief Collection does so by appealing to things fans already love about Microsoft and its past successes, while Sunset Overdrive appeals to a crowd that might not necessarily be swayed by a chance at a second dance with the Master Chief. The Halo compendium is strong regardless of its motives, however, and should indeed convince some fence-sitters to come back to the fold. Plus, if you’re new to the series, then I envy you the experience of playing through this collection.