[Review] Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Posted by | November 19, 2014 | Reviews | 4 Comments
Halo is not a religious title.

November 9th marked the 10th anniversary of the release of Halo 2, and 343 Industries has released Halo: The Master Chief Collection to commemorate it. It includes the remastered versions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, as well as Halo 3 and Halo 4, all for the price of one game. If you haven’t played all of the games in the Halo main series, then this is a great opportunity to pick them all up.  If you’re a longtime Halo fan and have already played them all (like me), then this is still a great opportunity to have all four games on one disc.

And there is no shortage of long-term fans. The Halo franchise includes the four main games, several ancillary games, and a bunch of novels and graphic novels. It’s one of the most popular video game universes and franchises of all time, and each entry in the series is anticipated by some portion of the fanbase with near-religious fervor. Even though there are no new games in this release, buying it gives you coveted access to the multiplayer mode of the next big Halo release, the Halo: Guardians Multiplayer Beta (starting December 29th). You also get access to the new live-action digital TV series “Halo: Nightfall.”

All the Halo games have an M (17+) rating, but they are extremely popular among teenagers, and many parents allow Halo when they wouldn’t allow other M-rated games because the story is science fiction and the violence is directed mostly against horrible aliens who want to destroy humanity. Plus they’re well-designed AAA games that fans of first-person shooters love to play.

Story

Master Chief (officially named John-117), besides being a video game icon, is a cybernetically enhanced super-soldier. Throughout the arc of the Halo series, he works to save humanity from the Covenant, an alliance of alien races, with the help of an AI named Cortana. In the first Halo game, Master Chief awakens from suspended animation on a ship that is being pursued by the Covenant.  The ship is damaged and forced to land on a mysterious ring-shaped space station, which the Covenant reveres and calls “Halo.” Master Chief must fight off the Covenant and whatever else might call Halo home.  In the course of their fight, Master Chief and Cortana discover that Halo is actually a weapon of mass destruction capable of eliminating all life in the galaxy and decide that it must be destroyed.  In Halo 2, the Covenant invades Earth.  Master Chief helps stop the invasion, and when the Covenant retreats he is on the ship that pursues them.  When they catch up, they find that they have arrived at another Halo installation. The Covenant means to activate it, and Master Chief means to stop them.  In Halo 3 the Covenant finds the Ark, a facility from which all Halos in the Universe can be activated.  Master Chief resolves to destroy the Ark but is stranded in deep space as a result, drifting toward a mysterious planet. In Halo 4, Master Chief and Cortana arrive on the planet.  When they get there, they discover that it was created by the same ancient race of highly advanced aliens that created the Halos. They accidentally release one named the Didact, who was imprisoned for using a device called the Composer to forcibly turn humans into digital intelligences to act as his soldiers.  The Didact plans to repeat this process on all of humanity, and Master Chief takes it upon himself to stop him.

halo alien

One of Halo’s bug-like aliens.

Although the Halo universe is great—its history and the distinctiveness of the various factions of aliens that you face throughout—the main character, Master Chief, is hard to relate to.  He is literally faceless; you never see him take off his helmet.  He rarely speaks and doesn’t have much in the way of personality. The developers did this on purpose; Master Chief is supposed to be a stand-in for the player.  It’s fairly common for characters in video games to be somewhat nonspecific—it’s supposed to make it easier for players to immerse themselves in the story that way. And sometimes it works well, as in the case of The Legend of Zelda, where the story is fairly simple. But it can be a problem when you’re trying to make a mature and complex story come to life. It means that there’s very little in the way of character development. The essence of Master Chief is that he is a tragic, lonely hero trapped in an endless war. Master Chief doesn’t grow or change much; he just continues stoically plowing through every obstacle that the plot throws at him. At least said obstacles tend to be consistently intriguing, though.

Special Features of the Master Chief Collection & Gameplay

You get a lot in The Master Chief Collection.

You get a lot in The Master Chief Collection.

In my opinion, the coolest feature of the Master Chief Collection is that you can select from several playlists that let you play on a variety of maps from different entries in the series, or playlists with just maps and game modes from a single game. For example, I really liked Halo 3, so I think I’ll probably be playing a lot of that playlist. I’m pretty tempted by the Team Slayer playlist, too, though, which offers a mix of maps from Halo: Combat Evolved through Halo 3.

Halo player-versus-player mode (PvP) has long been my favorite kind of PvP among first-person shooters.  It’s one of the only series I can think of that has energy shields, allowing you to take a pretty good amount of punishment before dying. This tends to make matches more interesting.  Unlike certain other popular series, it’s really possible to score a fast kill only under certain circumstances, with a shotgun or a sniper rifle, for example. You won’t be taking someone down within a second using the standard rifle you spawn with. This makes matches more dynamic and unpredictable. The maps tend to have a lot of bottlenecks and areas where both teams can become entrenched and engage in a drawn-out battle, a style more or less unheard of in other games, where leaving cover for a split second can mean death if you have more than one other player shooting at you.  Thanks to the science-fiction setting, the weapons can be as weird and interesting as the developer wants to make them.  From the Needler to sticky grenades, no other series has weapons that are as fun to use.  Halo PvP really has a lot going for it.

Unfortunately, I haven’t played a lot of matches yet.  343 Studios seems to be having trouble getting the matchmaking to work properly; it tends to take a while if it works at all, and when the match is finally ready it usually isn’t an even 5v5 match.  But they say that a fix is coming within the next week, so my fingers are crossed.  Being a huge Halo fan, I won’t be put off by a short wait and I really look forward to it being fixed.

In the meantime, thankfully I have four full campaign modes to enjoy.  One of my favorite things about the Halo series’ campaigns is how many different types of enemies there are.  They have cool back stories which are slowly explained in the plot throughout the series, and you have to develop strategies to fight them all in slightly different ways.  Instead of adding short, gimmicky-but-pretty sections or cheesy Quicktime events to mix up the action and make it more cinematic, Halo for the most part just sticks to its guns (literally and figuratively speaking).  Occasionally there are sections of the game that involve driving a vehicle for a little bit, but that’s about it. And usually said vehicle has some kind of mounted gun you can play with anyway, so I think of them more as guns that you ride.  It’s also worth mentioning that the campaigns work great with co-op.  The way the missions are designed makes it easy to simply turn the difficulty up to compensate for having added help and fight through it with a friend or three.  I have some great memories of playing through Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 3 with various friends over the years.

Possible Objectionable Content & Ratings

The ESRB synopsis gives a handy summary of the Master Chief Collection’s violent content: “players use pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and futuristic weapons to kill humans and fantastical enemies in frenetic combat.” Yes, that’s about right. A desperate war with genocidal aliens is being depicted, and there’s plenty of violence, blood, and explosions. There’s no sex, though, unless you count Cortana’s costume.

Master Chief and the AI Cortana

Master Chief and the AI Cortana

Despite the violence, teens may want to play the Halo games because their friends are playing it. We know from recent research that first-person shooters can improve hand-eye coordination; teens may also learn social skills, teamwork, and leadership skills from Halo’s sophisticated multiplayer gameplay.

The Upshot

I should mention the graphics. On Xbox One, the older games look amazing, and of course so do the newer ones. Here’s a comparison of classic and remastered graphics in Halo: The Master Chief Collection:

Halo Ancient Secrets classic version.

Halo Ancient Secrets classic version.

Halo Ancient Secrets remastered version

Halo Ancient Secrets remastered version

Halo has always been about delivering an extremely solid and, more importantly, unique first-person shooter experience that is a blast to play alone or with several friends. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a great tribute to that legacy.

Chris Jaech

About Chris Jaech

Chris Jaech is a voice-over actor and writer. His voice-over work is featured in HER Interactive's video game Nancy Drew: The Silent Spy. He lives in Seattle.