PAX: Halo Anniversary Hands-on

What was old is new again.

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris


I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the original Halo changed the game for first-person shooters. The original Halo launched in 2001 and proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that the FPS genre was more than possible on something other than a PC with a mouse and keyboard. Fast forward to 2011 and home consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3 are now the main destination for shooter titles, for better or worse. We can thank Halo for that.

And now, 10 years after the original game’s launch, 343 Industries is revisiting Halo: Combat Evolved to push out the door an HD remastering of the title to celebrate the franchise’s 10th anniversary. To usher in the PAX Prime weekend, Microsoft and 343 Industries opened the doors of “Halo Fest” early to press to let us get a taste of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s multiplayer component before it becomes available to the general public of PAX. I got to check out a handful of maps and left the experience with a simple, yet promising impression: what was old is new again.

As intended, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a stroll down memory lane. See, Halo and I go way back. The original Halo got me to buy an Xbox and it was my first real taste at the power of addictive multiplayer. I remember meeting up with my high school friends, system linking our Xboxs together and playing Halo all night long. While I play a lot of multiplayer games these days, none of them measure up to my experiences with the original Halo. It’s not even close. While I’ve become burnt out on the Halo franchise over the last few years, the original game will always hold a special place in my heart.

And this brings be back around to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. I picked up the controller, loaded into my first multiplayer match on “Prisoner” — a recreation of the same map from the original game — and immediately felt at home. For fans of Halo who have been around since the beginning, the multiplayer of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary will feel incredibly nostalgic. It’s like meeting up with that high school buddy that you haven’t talk to in years, but after a quick handshake it’s like you haven’t been separated for more than a few hours. That’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary multiplayer in a nutshell.

However, 343 Industries did more than just copy and paste the maps from the original game and apply an HD overhaul. If you’re familiar with the muliplayer setup of Halo: Reach, then you’ll feel comfortable with Halo Anniversary’s multiplayer. For instance, loadouts return, allowing you to sprint, use force fields and jetpack around maps. Melee take-downs also factor into the multiplayer of Halo Anniversary. Essentially, Halo Anniversary’s multiplayer is Halo: Reach on classic maps. But that’s simplifying it a lot, maybe more than it deserves, actually.

The maps of Halo Anniversary might be classics from the original game, but they’ve been tweaked and overhauled quite a bit to play to the strengths of features such as the jetpack. Secret tunnels and overpasses have been added to introduce new wrinkles into familiar formulas. But for the diehard nostalgics out there, there is the option to play the maps of Halo Anniversary in classic mode as they were originally imagined.

As I said prior, the original Halo brings back a lot of great memories for me, as it probably does for a lot of gamers. It’s kind of insane to think that this now 10-year-old game spawned the major blockbuster conglomerate we have today. But here we are, 10 years later and the Halo franchise is still kicking ass and taking names. It might be easy to brush Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary aside as a cheap cash grab by Microsoft to capitalize on their premiere gaming franchise. But don’t be so hasty. 343 Industries is doing some awesome stuff with the title to make it both a nostalgic trip down memory lane for longtime Halo fans and a completely accessible game for those new to the Halo-verse. I can tell you this, I’m excited for the game’s release on November 15, 2011 so I can relive some of my favorite gaming moments ever now 10 years wiser.

Read the rest of our PAX Prime 2011 coverage.