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Review: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

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Developer: Bungie (original game), Saber Interactive (Xbox 360 port), 343 Industries (Xbox 360 port), Certain Affinity (Anniversary Map Pack)

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed)

It’s so common to see old games get remakes and ports on to newer consoles these days – like older Sonic games or old Megaman games. Halo: Combat Evolved is different though, because unlike these other games, for once Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that I actually grew up with – it’s weird having a game that you grew up with to be considered “old”, and even weirder to see all of those “old” levels get a complete visual revamp thanks to the increased capabilities of todays hardware.

Halo fans have been asking for this since Halo 3 was released, and people became a lot more interested in the idea of a HD re-release of Halo 1 closer to the release of Halo: Reach. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary manages to make Halo look beautiful again, but retains the exact same gameplay that made the original game so fun in the first place. Yes, I said exactly.

Halo: CEA actually runs portions of two game engines at the same time – the gameplay is running on the same code that powered the original game, and the updated graphics are handled by much newer tech – though if you like you can hit the back button to revert the graphics back to how they were in the days of yesteryear – it’s staggering to see how much extra detail has been added in to the game, as you can see in the screenshot above.

But as I say – the game plays exactly the same as it did way back in 2001 – for both better and worse. Parts of the original Halo have aged well, others haven’t aged quite so gracefully. The core, on foot infantry combat feels as solid and as fun as ever – the original Halo pistol is way more fun to use than I remembered it to be, and the revamped sound effects help to bring the classic weapons up to par. Plasma Grenades in particular look and sound much more lethal than they used to – in fact, I would say that the sound design is stronger than what’s in Halo: Reach at the moment.

Yup, this still works.

The vehicles haven’t aged very well though – the lack of a brake on the Warthog makes it feel slippery to control, the Banshee feels clunky and stiff to fly, and the Scorpion tank can only drive forwards, it can’t “strafe” like its modern counterparts. Consequently the more vehicle focussed levels in the game suffer for it.

Running Halo 1 exactly the way it used to is certainly a double-edged sword – on the one hand the game plays exactly how it used to, but on the other hand, the game plays exactly as it used to. Wort Wort Worts and all. When I think about it, I think I would have preferred it if a few issues from the original game were fixed here, and it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to spruce the game up a little.

I also found it jarring at how repetitive some of the environments still are – you’ll find yourself getting deja vu as you walk through what feels like the same corridor again and again – it would have been better if some visual variety was added in when remaking the campaign – and the samey hallways and rooms could cause some confusion for newer players who didn’t play the original.

The remastered Halo 1 goodness only applies to the campaign though – there’s no real multiplayer aspect to Anniversary other than the fact that co-operative campaign over Xbox Live has been added. Halo 1’s multiplayer hasn’t been remade here, but a selection of classic maps have been released for Halo: Reach – and a code for these maps is included with the game (which I shall review at a later date).

Ultimately this is just Halo 1 with a prettier paint job, online co-op and some new maps for Halo: Reach. It’s a great opportunity for newer fans of the series to see where everything kicked off – though I am somewhat disappointed that Halo 1’s multiplayer wasn’t properly remade. Nevertheless, I’d like to see Halo 2 get a similar update at some point in the future.

What the game looks like

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in action

The verdict

Good: Faithful recreation of Halo 1’s campaign, bundled multiplayer maps for Reach, overhauled music and sound effects, addition of co-op over Xbox Live

Bad: Arguably too faithful to the original game, Halo 1’s multiplayer not remade, The Library still sucks

Written by Pokeh

January 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Opinion: The best and worst of 2011

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Another year, another opportunity to sum up our thoughts on the year in gaming. Rather than do a simple “Top 5” like I did last year, I instead decided to split my best and worse in to different categories – this year has been a good one for gaming and it’s difficult to only post 5 of my favourite games! Nevertheless, here’s what stood out for me this year:

Best Shooter

Game: Bulletstorm

Overlooked by many, Bulletstorm ditched a lot of the modern design choices a lot of modern shooters abide by, favouring that you kill your enemies as stylishly as possible by using aspects of the level to your advantage… like man eating plants. If you haven’t played this yet then you absolutely need to give it a go. Now get to it dicktits.

Honourable mentions: Gears of War 3, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Best Platformer

Game: Sonic Generations (Xbox 360, PS3, PC Version)

SEGA has been on a mission to bring the spiky blue Hedgehog back to his former glory as of late, and Sonic Generations was a mighty good effort. Though a touch on the short side, Sonic Generations does feature a lot of replay value with different missions to complete outside of the main game, and if you’re at all like me, then you’ll have fun trying to get the fastest possible time on the games levels. In all, I’ve put over 40 hours in to Sonic Generations just with this simple goal in mind (I get can quite competitive with myself over things like this). If you can forgive the extremely kid-friendly nature of the games main story, then you’ll have fun with Generations. You can read my full review of Sonic Generations here.

Honourable mentions: Super Mario 3D Land

Best Puzzle Game

Game: Portal 2

Quite often puzzle games will fail to grab me, but Portal is one of the rare exceptions to the rule. The core game is simple, but the puzzles that can be presented to you (especially in the games co-operative mode) can be tricky to get through for the first time. Combine this with a well written story and an intriguing cast of characters that keeps you wanting more, and you’ve got a recipe for a great puzzle game, and efforts made by Valve to try and merge console and PC gaming by letting gamers on PlayStation 3 and Steam play together should be praised too, though it’s a shame that Microsofts restrictive policies prevented such a feature from making its way to the Xbox  360 version of the game.

Best Indie Game

Game: Waves

It was a tough choice between this and Bastion, but I eventually decided to settle on Waves because of its simple pick up and play nature. You could just dismiss it as a clone of Geometry Wars – and to some extent you’d be correct, but Waves provides just enough new features that it can stand up on its own. Much like Sonic Generations the replay value comes in trying to beat the high score of yourself and your friends. The soundtrack could benefit from a few extra tracks, but overall Waves is a great little game.

Honourable mentions: Bastion, Solar 2

Best Graphics

Game: Bastion

And with that the Internet shouts out “What the eff bro? Why isn’t Crysis 2 here? Or The Witcher? Or Battlefield 3?” Well, I like to think that a games looks come from more than just how many polygons or how many individual grains of sand a game is rendering at a time – Bastion just looks so gorgeous that if you took away the user interface you could mistake the games locations as real works of art that someone drew as a hobby, or to sell at an art show, not for some “stupid” video game that you can pick up for a couple of quid . Bastion simply looks beautiful, and blurs the line between video games and art in ways that Crysis or Battlefield could only dream of (I also think that Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3 look a little bland). In Bastion you forget that you’re looking at a bunch of pixels and polygons, in Battlefield you do not – and that’s why Bastion wins this for me.

Honourable mentions: The Witcher 2, Gears of War 3

Best Soundtrack

Game: Sonic CD (XBLA, PSN, Steam, iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7)

Is this technically cheating? Sonic CD was originally released way back in 1993, though the recent port of the game was the first time I’ve ever played it. Every stage in Sonic CD is full of catchy tunes that, for me, are very reminiscent of the early 90’s and late 80’s – so to that extent the games soundtrack is somewhat nostalgic to me even though I’ve never heard it before. The game had a different soundtrack in the United States, though as far as I’m concerned the Japanese & European version of the games soundtrack (as you can hear in the video above) is far superior.

Honourable mentions: Bastion, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Best Action/Adventure Game

Game: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

I love Assassin’s Creed: Revelations because it gives us what so many games do not: closure. Games are all too happy to give you a cliffhanger at the end of the game in the hopes that you’ll buy the sequel. Of course Assassin’s Creed: Revelations does this – but as far as Ezio is concerned it’s nice to know that we’ve gotten the whole story. And as strange as it may sound, it’s also humbling to see a video game character age, and to see the changes in character that age brings along with it.

But Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is absolutely a fun game to play, bringing together all of the features that we’ve seen before and bringing them together with a bit more added to them. There’s now a little more to capturing and defending Assassin headquarters, recruiting and training Assassin’s has been expanded upon, and there’s a simple yet deep bomb crafting tool. I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed: Revelations so much that I’ve decided to go back and play through the previous two games that Ezio starred in – Assassin’s Creed 2 & Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I do wish, however, that Ubisoft would hurry up and add a co-operative mode to the Assassin’s Creed series.

Honourable mentions: Saints Row The Third

Biggest disappointment of 2011

Game: Battlefield 3

Yes that’s right Internet, I just went there. Battlefield 3 is a game I have given hundreds of chances and fails to entertain me every time. I originally tried the beta on my Xbox 360, and I wasn’t impressed. I eventually moved on to trying the beta on my PC, and wasn’t impressed again, and I was close to cancelling my pre-order. However I eventually decided to give Battlefield 3 the benefit of the doubt because hey, it’s Battlefield – I’ve liked them all since the first Bad Company, so why would this be any different? I simply put it down to Operation Metro being a crappy map.

Launch day comes and I install Battlefield 3 to my PC, open the campaign and I’m bored out of my mind at the second level. I don’t think I have ever played a campaign that’s so… boring before – with the possible exception of Homefront (which I knew would probably be pretty bad before I spent a whole £2 on it, so to that extent Homefront wasn’t really a disappointment because I had low expectations). I do the logical thing and jump in to the multiplayer modes – and, in fairness, I enjoyed it at first.

My problem is that I work 12 hour shifts in my job – and when I get home I just want to chill – I’m not really in the mood for video games, so because of this I start falling behind the crowd – and it’s gotten to the point now that everyone has the best weapons, the best perks, the best upgrades for their vehicles and I feel like I’m still at square one. I’ve been left behind and playing catch-up is proving to be too frustrating. I simply don’t have the patience for shooters where you have to play 24/7 just to remain relevant. For these reasons I’ve already abandoned Battlefield 3 in favour of Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3 and Team Fortress 2.

Dishonourable mentions: LittleBigPlanet 2

Most anticipated for 2012

Game: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 absolutely, categorically, without question is what I’m most excited for next year. Mass Effect 2 was a masterpiece and I loved every second of it, and I have no doubts that Mass Effect 3 will be the same. My only problem is that I’ve played through Mass Effect 2 so many times that I’ve lost count of what I’ve done through each play run of the game, so I’m going to have issues when it comes to importing my character. Or I could just play through Mass Effect 2 again! I’m sure that won’t be a problem.

Honourable mentions: Halo 4, Assassin’s Creed 3 (we all know it’s going to happen)

That’s the year in a wrap for me, though my back log of games has increased dramatically this year so I’m kind of annoyed I haven’t had the chance to play all of them before writing this up. Nonetheless, this is how I feel about the games that I’ve played this year. Here’s hoping that 2012 will be a good one!

Review: Defiant Map Pack for Halo: Reach

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Halo: Reach launched last September to much controversy among Halo players. Some people loved Armour Abilities, others not so much – some liked the smaller tweaks like bloom and the removal of the Battle Rifle – others thought it was the worst thing to happen to the series (talk about hyperbole, right?).

Indeed the Halo player base is so diverse it seems that the community can’t seem to agree on anything – so from what point of view am I reviewing this map pack from? I consider myself to be in between the casual and competitive crowd – I’m probably average in terms of player skill, and I generally don’t care if I win or lose a multiplayer game. If you’re the type of person who rages about Armour Lock and Bloom this review probably isn’t for you.

An interesting note to make is that these are the first maps for Reach that aren’t made by Bungie, the developer of the game. Instead this map pack was made by a division of Microsoft called 343 Industries (Or 343i as it’s often called) and Certain Affinity – a developer made up of a number of ex-Bungie employees, and it’s also played a hand in some previous Halo related content – such as the Blastacular Map Pack for Halo 2.

The Defiant Map Pack was released on the 15th March and comes with three new maps: two are traditional multiplayer maps, and the other is a new Firefight map. The Defiant Map Pack will set you back 800 Microsoft Points (approximately £6.85, or $10). So lets get this review underway by taking a look at each individual map:

Highlands

Highlands is the biggest map in the Defiant Map Pack – and it’s suited to 6 v 6 or higher games. Highlands feels like it could be a spiritual successor to Valhalla from Halo 3 – with two bases on either side of the map and key areas in the middle of the map that are worth defending.

On paper Highlands has all the right pieces to be a good map – there are key areas to hold, some vehicles to play with and different paths around the map so everyone doesn’t get congested in to one spot (an issue that Valhalla in Halo 3 used to suffer from). Instead of placing power weapons in the middle of the map, they’re placed on the sides, giving you some breathing room.

The trouble with Highlands is that there’s too many different places to go – the map is generally too big and there are too many places to go. In a 6v6 match (the only way you’re guaranteed to get a match on Highlands at the moment) the map feels empty and I found myself getting bored of wandering around with nothing to shoot. Objective games like Capture the Flag give the map a little more focus, but it’s not enough to save the map from becoming a complete snoozefest. If Highlands was a little narrower things could be better – what’s worse is that the Forge palette for Highlands is extremely limited, so if you want to change the layout of the map by adding in walls or doors then you’re out of luck, so what we’ve got is a map that’s too big for most game modes with no easy fix.

Condemned

Condemned is the second multiplayer map in the Defiant Map Pack and focuses more on infantry combat rather than the more large scale, vehicle focussed affairs provided on Highlands. The general layout of the map is simple: A large circular structure with a small, low gravity room in the middle.

Condemned works well for 6v6 games and is probably the best map in the map pack but it’s hard to imagine it working for less than twelve players unless you’re playing a free-for-all game. The middle, low gravity room is a fun gimmick, but you quickly realise that the entire room is a death trap since you can’t jump (or fall) as quickly as you can in regular gravity, opening you up to fire from all sides.

Condemned features a slightly better Forge palette than Highlands does but it’s still something that could be improved. You can spawn small scenery items and items that change the special effects on the map (Like changing everything to black and white, increased colour saturation, etc) but there aren’t any options for adding in doors or walls to block parts of the map off – so if you’ve got an idea for a cool map varient then you’re out of luck.

While playing I found that Condemned worked particularly well for Elite Slayer (as seen in the video above) and other objective game modes, but I found that the experience fell flat in standard Slayer modes.

Unearthed

Unearthed is the Firefight map that comes with the Defiant Map Pack – and promises to provide a more vehicle focussed take on the survival game mode. Similar to Beachhead (a Firefight map that shipped with the full game) you get a Rocket ‘Hog to ride around in.

Those of you who don’t feel like slaying hordes of xenophobic aliens in a four wheeled death machine with an unlimited supply of rockets (and if you don’t – what’s wrong with you?) can take advantage of the elevated walkways to get the jump on some unsuspecting squid heads. Bip Bap Bam!

Unearthed is a great map – and it’s nice to get some more Firefight maps that take advantage of the arsenal of vehicles within Reach – it’s just that I think that 343i are missing a trick with this one. So far all of the Firefight maps in Reach only have Rocket ‘Hogs, Ghosts, Wraiths and Mongooses – but what about the rest? No Falcons, no Banshees (none that you can use at least), no Revenants, and no Scorpions. I’d really like to see future Firefight maps that properly take advantage of the vehicles in the game, rather than just having Beachhead 2.0.

The biggest problem with Unearthed isn’t necessarily with the map itself, but rather the monumental effort it takes just to get Matchmaking to give you a game on it. It took twelve attempts over the course of about 30 minutes just to get one game on Unearthed – and after that I decided that I couldn’t be bothered any more. Perhaps this is a situation that’ll improve over time as more people get the Defiant Map Pack, but my initial thoughts weren’t positive – what’s the point in a new Firefight map if you never get to play it?

Overall thoughts

The Defiant Map Pack isn’t bad – but it’s not great either – we’ll file this one under “it’s okay”. More Firefight maps are a welcome addition but I feel that these should be bundled separately from the other competitive maps – so that way people who aren’t interested in Firefight don’t get forced in to buying a map that they don’t want.

Beyond that the two competitive maps are okay, but nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, and at times lack the smooth flow and focus of other Halo maps, with Highlands in particular being devoid of any action in even the most populated game modes.

Only the hardcore Halo fans need apply here – more casual players will probably be content with what’s already on the map, or would be better off buying the Noble Map Pack that was released several months ago. I feel that there’s a serious issue with the value that these maps provide – since outside of the dedicated Defiant Map Pack playlist it’s unlikely that you’ll see these new maps appear in Matchmaking. Is it worth paying 800 points for three maps that you’ll rarely get to play? I’m not convinced that it is.

Written by Pokeh

March 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Review: Halo 3: ODST

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In 2007 we finished the fight – with the galaxy saved and the threat of an xenophobic collection of aliens known as ‘The Covenant’ put to an end gamers thought that Halo 3 would be the last installment for the Halo series – certainly as far as Bungie were concerned.

How wrong we were – 2009 provided a double whammy of Halo goodness with the Real Time Strategy game Halo Wars making its way on to the Xbox 360 and Halo 3: ODST making its way to our consoles later on in the year.

Halo 3: ODST was poised as a standalone expansion to 2007’s Halo 3 – it would run on the same engine as Halo 3 did, and it would take place about halfway through the campaign of Halo 2. The key difference? You weren’t going to be playing as the Master Chief – the main protagonist of the Halo series – instead you were going to be thrust in to the boots of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper – or an ODST for short.

This means several key differences – you weren’t going to be as strong as you were in previous games, your health wouldn’t regenerate, you no longer had a motion radar, and you ran slower and couldn’t jump as high.

At least, that’s what Bungie and Microsoft tried to convince us of – and during the run up to the games release they suddenly decided that ODST was a full game and as such, would be worthy of a £40/$60 price tag. Could an expansion pack really be worth that much?

The short answer: no, it wasn’t. But don’t scroll down to the comments section to call me a noob or a Call of Duty fanboy or whatever – trust me I’ve heard all of the insults. Halo 3: ODST took a year to develop – and went gold in May 2009, has a 4 – 5 hour campaign and the same multiplayer that gamers had been playing for two years at the time of the games release.

Does that necessarily make ODST a bad game? Not at all. I enjoyed my time with the games campaign and the new survival mode, it’s just that everything wasn’t executed particularly well.

Between each level you get to wander around New Mombasa – the city that the entirety of the game takes place in after it’s been attacked by The Covenant – your role as The Rookie is to scour the city for clues about your scattered squad so that you can reunite with them. The city serves this purpose well, but the problem is that finding these clues is pretty much the only purpose of the city.

There are hidden audio logs that you can collect if you so care to do so, but beyond that there’s nothing to do. Groups of enemies are few and far between and you’ll often find your way walking down identical roads and buildings with nothing interesting to do. It seems like a huge shame to waste this enormous play space that Bungie have given us, but that’s exactly what Bungie has done here.

There are a few nice touches though – an AI that’s in charge of maintaining the city will change roadsigns to provide you with some guidance along the way. It’s a subtle change, but a nice addition nonetheless.

Bungie were clearly aiming for a more ‘human’ story in ODST but again it’s something that falls short with characters that are basically just male stereotypes. The voice acting is done well but it’s let down by the script – none of the characters are particularly interesting and, well, you just don’t have any reason to care for any of them.

Your squad mates are also let down with their terrible AI – Buck is the only character in any video game I’ve played that I hate because of his poor AI on the last level of the game on the Legendary difficulty. The man has no concept of target prioritisation whatsoever!

With all this said the game is still entertaining enough to keep you occupied and there’s certainly fun to be had in ODST. If you enjoyed any of the previous Halo titles then ODST is certainly still worth checking out if you’re a fan of the series. Outside of the admittedly dull city are more traditional Halo levels which is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. As always in a Halo game there’s a good mixture of infantry and vehicle missions to keep you occupied.

In addition to the campaign there’s a survival mode called Firefight – pitting you and up to three other buddies against endless waves of Covenant forces. Skulls turn on after certain intervals that change the way that the AI behave – anything from making enemies avoid grenades more often to giving enemies more health. Firefight’s certainly a fun experience, but the lack of any customisation options and the lack of Matchmaking for it make the fun short lived and rather repetitive after a few games.

Technical issues also hinder the fun of the game – co-operative campaign and Firefight games over Xbox Live often suffer from hideous bouts of lag that can ruin the fun of the game – controls feel delayed and it often feels like you’re fighting the controls of the game just to play. If you want to play with your buddies online then you better make sure you’ve got a top-notch connection, and if you live overseas then you should just forget about it.

With a short campaign, a survival mode that didn’t reach its full potential and the same multiplayer that gamers have been playing for over two years Halo 3: ODST was tough to recommend at £40 – but how about a year later? Prices for ODST have since shrank and the game is generally at a much more reasonable price these days and can easily be bought for under £15 – which is certainly a much more reasonable price.

What the game looks like

Halo 3: ODST in action

The verdict

Good: Fun campaign, good voice acting, excellent soundtrack

Bad: The open world city is underused, Firefight didn’t meet its full potential, recycled multiplayer, co-op over Xbox Live lags

Written by Pokeh

November 23, 2010 at 2:04 pm