I’m going to try out an analogy here, so please, bear with me if it starts to get away from me.
Buying Halo: The Master Chief Collection is like purchasing tickets to a museum opening that’s still under construction when you show up. You’re walking around, checking out different paintings while a bunch of employees are wheeling statues around and setting them up. Oh, and if you want to read any info about the artists, you have to shuffle on over to a separate building that won’t let you in unless you’re connected to the Internet.
Ok, yeah, that… wasn’t great. Still, it should get my point across that The Master Chief Collection is an incredibly impressive feat by anyone’s account, combining four complete Halo campaigns, each game’s entire multiplayer suites, and a whole slew of extras to sweeten the deal. But rather than being a definitive document of the history of one of the most iconic first-person shooter franchises ever created, the collection feels like a work in progress, as the developers at 343 Industries continue to add to, tweak, and update each game. That’s certainly not a bad thing, and the Master Chief Collection is one of the most ambitious remastering projects ever attempted. Just… make sure you get that patch.
The first thing you notice when you boot up the disc is how everything is unlocked for you and waiting to be explored. Are you new to the series? Start at Halo: CE and work your way through. Are you a series veteran, and just want to play the hits? Go ahead and pick and choose your level, difficulty, and other modifiers and get to work. Multiplayer, the map editor (known as the Forge), point-multiplying skulls, even the hidden terminal videos are all there at your fingertips.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to see is how much the series has evolved since its humble beginnings on Microsoft’s fledgling console. Halo: CE’s wide open spaces seemed impressive at the time, but now feel downright empty. This issue was remedied in Halo 2, which added a much deeper narrative, dual-wielding, and far more interesting level design to the mix. Halo 3 ratcheted up the pacing, increasing the speed of the combat, and introducing bubble shields and other boosts you can use at the push of a button. And Halo 4… well, Halo 4 is simply gorgeous. Hopping from one campaign to the next lets you see exactly how the series moved forward, taking certain ideas and improving some while jettisoning the rest. And while some moments have certainly aged better than others, taken as a whole, the Master Chief Collection provides some of the best shooting gameplay you’ll find, hands down.
But the collection doesn’t simply throw these games onto a disc and call it a day. Each game has also received a bit of a facelift––though some much more than others. Halo Anniversary is essentially a port of the Xbox 360 version of the first Halo game, which let you switch between the old Xbox textures and the newly designed ones at the push of a button. The changes made here, as well as in Halo 3 and 4 are minor, but they benefit greatly from the improved resolution and framerate upgrades. Halo 4 in particular has some godly lighting effects that looked good on the Xbox 360, but look even better now.
Out of all of the games in the package, Halo 2 has received the brunt of the work in this collection, and it shows. All of the cutscenes have been recreated by the fantastic CGI artists over at Blur, and these videos breathe all new life into Halo 2’s story. Textures, sound effects, and music have all either been remastered or recreated entirely to give Halo 2 that new-game sheen. And while Halo 2 Anniversary doesn’t look much better than a well-designed Xbox 360 game, considering its source material (which you can flip back and forth between instantly), it’s far more impressive-looking than it should be.
On top of all of the single-player content, you’re getting each game’s full multiplayer suite, with every level, mode, and option there just as you remember it, as well as a handful of newly remastered multiplayer maps from Halo 2. The best part is how easily you can jump back and forth between content. Whether you’re feeling like Halo 3 multiplayer or wanting to hop into a playlist of rearranged campaign maps, you can do all of it without swapping a disc out of the tray.
It’s an absurd amount of content that Microsoft could have easily charged for individually, and it comes at a cost––namely, it doesn’t all fit on one disc. No, if you want to play everything the Master Chief Collection has to offer, you’ll need to download a 15 gigabyte patch that effectively allows you to play pretty much anything outside of the main campaign modes. It would simply be a minor inconvenience (or a major one, depending on your own personal access to high-speed internet), but that huge patch also houses a slew of bug fixes that make the whole experience run much more smoothly.
Before the patch, Halo 1 and 2 experienced intermittent framerate spikes––a far cry from the buttery 60 frames per second promised. Plus, Halo 2, 3, and 4 all crashed on me at some point. Halo 2 hardlocked my console four or five times, erasing my save data half of the time. Halo 4 experienced a huge scripting error that caused the game to continue, even while the level itself wasn’t completely loaded. And Halo 3 gave me this doozy before crashing halfway through Tsavo Highway:
This is all in addition to minor bugs, like the achievements list not displaying the correct information. Many of these problems are addressed, but they’re all held hostage by that gigantic 15 GB patch. For many, this isn’t a big deal, but for some, the disc-based experience is all they’re going to get, and my experience with the Master Chief Collection pre- and post-patch is like night and day.
You know what else won’t fit on the disc? All of those videos! Everything except for Halo 2’s cinematics are relegated to the Halo Channel, an online experience that will stream all things Master Chief directly into your eyeballs. It makes sense in theory, as the Halo Channel is essentially a one-stop-shop for all of your supplemental content, from the hidden terminal videos to the new Halo video series, Nightfall. But you’re constantly beholden to whether or not your internet connection is up to snuff, or whether the Channel feels like working when you access it––and for most of my time reviewing it, it was either down, or playing Halo Anniversary’s videos in Japanese. It’s nice that the content is there in some form (and it helps that the Xbox One is actually capable of multitasking). No internet, though? No videos for you.
And all that doesn’t even take into account Halo 4’s Spartan Ops mode, which won’t be arriving until some time in December. I’m all for more content, but this, coupled with the buggy nature of the game before applying the patch, leads me to believe that many of the game’s features weren’t quite ready for prime-time at the game’s launch. Still, more is better, and I look forward to digging into Spartan Ops just as much as I did with everything else.
Even with these issues both great and small, there’s no denying that Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a feat the likes of which few companies would even attempt to pursue, and it’s a bargain that hasn’t been seen since Valve’s Orange Box. Just remember to download the patch.