This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X and Windows PC
One of the Greatest Turnarounds in Video-Game History
In November of 2014 Halo: The Master Chief Collection was released on Xbox One. What was meant to be a momentous occasion quickly became a catastrophe. It was obvious that the scope of the project was far greater than developer 343 Industries had anticipated. Online play, be it cooperative campaign or multiplayer were essentially non-functional for months after launch. Eventually, 343 did manage to stabilize the game, but it still wasn’t near what had been promised.
Six years later the amount of effort that 343 has put into fixing the game is nothing short of miraculous. They have fixed every major issue from launch. The campaigns of Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach have been added in as well. Greatly enhanced versions are available for Xbox One X and Series X|S. Perhaps most importantly, for the first time since Halo 2 on Windows Vista these games are available on PC. The Master Chief Collection has finally delivered upon its promise of being the definitive Halo experience.
Failure to Launch
The MCC (Master Chief Collection) was a Halo fan’s dream game. Taking every Halo game to date and putting them into one package. The idea of being able to jump into a playlist and go between various campaigns or all the MP modes was intoxicating.
The enormity of the project was clear from the start. 343 Industries had previously worked with Saber Interactive on the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary release for Xbox 360. They would team up once again for the remake of Halo 2. Ruffian Games were tasked with porting Halo 3 and 4 to the Xbox One Platform. Blur Studios were hired to create all-new CGI cutscenes for Halo 2: Anniversary. Certain Affinity ported Halo 2’s matchmaking and progression systems while also helping with Halo 4’s engine. They also added content to the Forge creation suite and remade 6 MP maps from Halo 2.
Despite all of this when the game launched it was a bug-ridden mess. The online was completely broken, and the game was roundly criticized as a failure. The number of issues in total is too much to list outright but the biggest were centered around online play. The campaigns ran terribly in the online co-operative mode, and there was terrible input lag for whoever was not hosting as well as issues with desynchronization. The MP matchmaking system did not work. Attempting to find a match in PVP would lead to frustration as the game failed to match you with other players. Patches were fast and furious, but the system remained in a poor state for 3 years. The Halo 3 standalone expansion ODST was offered for free in an attempt to quell the anger surrounding the botched launch. When the PC version was announced it brought with it a port of the prequel story, Halo: Reach.
It would take a solid 4 years before The MCC was in a state that 343i could be proud of. An incredible amount of work was done, with constant flights where user feedback was fundamental in fixing the broken systems. What we have now is a testament to the countless hours spent fixing the issues. 343i converted this collection of great games into perhaps the best overall package in gaming history.
PC Master Chief
One of the main catalysts for this work was the decision to release The MCC on Windows PC. It was the first time mainline Halo would appear on the platform since Halo 2 for Windows Vista. This coincided with the game being upgraded for the new Xbox One X console. The PC release started with Halo Reach in late 2019. It finished up in December of 2020 with Halo 4. Through this work the game has transformed. What started as a flawed but competent collection of incredible games is now the best way to play everything included.
One of the biggest benefits of the PC release was the addition of a Field of View slider. Halo 3 was finally liberated from its 74-degree FoV and is a far better gameplay experience at 90 degrees. As impressive was the addition of a 120 FPS mode on Xbox Series X and unlimited framerates on PC. The PC version suffered from a few issues at first with animations being stuck at 30 fps. With this fixed, those with a high refresh rate monitor are in for a treat. Once you have experienced Halo at 120fps or above it is hard to ever go back to 60.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
You are Master Chief, the last of the Spartan IIs wearing your Mjolnir armor. Awakened from Cryo-sleep you are immediately thrust into battle against an alien threat known as the Covenant. Later an alien parasite known as The Flood is revealed in horrific fashion. I’m not sure that there is much left to be said about Halo: CE. It’s the main reason Microsoft had the success they did with the original Xbox. It brought a level of competence to the First-Person Shooter genre that consoles had yet to achieve. While still no match for the precision of a mouse the controls felt better than any console shooter had before. The campaign featured competent voice acting, decent writing, and a truly incredible soundtrack. There was an air of mystery to everything and many were immediately drawn to the universe that Bungie had created.
Halo for the OG Xbox was released in 2001. Halo: CE Anniversary was based on the 2003 PC port by Gearbox. This had the side effect of some legacy issues including a lower FoV, worse textures, and missing shaders. While the latter is still being fixed the FoV issue has finally been solved with the latest update. A fun feature is the ability to swap between the original graphics and updated graphics o the fly. A simple press of the view button allows you to instantly jump between the two versions of the game graphically.
The multiplayer was limited to local split-screen or LAN (local area network) parties. The mix of melee, shooting, and vehicles with up to 4 Xbox’s (and 16 players) hooked up together through a local ethernet setup was revolutionary for the console gamer. It had been done before, but not to this level of excellence. In the MCC now you can play all of this at a massively improved framerate and resolution while online. 343 has been busy adding in new weapon, spartan, and vehicle skins through a free experience-based battle pass system.
Halo 2: Anniversary
Halo 2 the game that created the online matchmaking system as we know it. Released in 2004 and remade in 2014, Halo 2 is the progenitor of the modern online competitive matchmaking system. Gone were the days of requiring a server browser. Instead, you simply chose from a playlist and were matched with other players almost instantly. You did this all while staying in a group with your friends and talking through the new Xbox Live network.
Alongside this revolutionary system was a solid campaign. While good looking, it didn’t quite live up to the promises shown in promotional materials. There was a great mix of familiar firefights and bold story choices. A rather abrupt ending soured many at the time of release, and it would be a long wait for Halo 3 to “finish the fight”. Thankfully in the MCC your wait can be as short as 10 seconds thanks to modern SSDs. The job that Saber Interactive and 343 Studios did upgrading the graphics, sound effects and music are up there with the best remakes of all-time.
Graphically what had been a decade-old title was upgraded to be what I still consider one of the best-looking games on Xbox One. The sound effects were re-recorded where the developers felt the original ones were lacking. Finally, the music was remastered in such a comprehensive manner that it is quite frankly jarring to press the view button and go back to the original. That graphical swapping feature is back here and it now changes the audio as well. It is even possible during cutscenes.
One of the big departures in Halo 2 is that you jump back and forth between Master Chief and a new Elite protagonist named The Arbiter. You could also play as the Elites in PVP though quickly people realized their heads were easier to hit and they greatly preferred to play as Spartans. The campaign was a trip across multiple locations in the Universe starting with orbital space stations above the Earth. Greater depth was given to the Covenant and Flood protagonists with a new race of Ape like aliens known as the Brutes being introduced.
This remaster was the impetus that led to the creation of the MCC. Thanks to years of work it is now realized in a way most never could have dreamed of, and it is still a blast to play.
Master Chief and the Arbiter team up to take down the Covenant and Flood threats once and for all. 2007’s Halo 3 was one of if not the biggest release of all time when it came out and for good reason. An excellent campaign was matched with a breadth of options for MP as well as a new Forge creation mode. As the emotional end to 6 years-worth of world-building, the campaign Halo 3 was roundly praised as a fitting finale. The graphics have a great sense of style which is matched perfectly by a rousing soundtrack from series veteran Marty O’Donnell.
The biggest upgrade for this title graphically is the bump to resolution. Halo 3 originally rendered at 540p on the Xbox 360, a 720p console. This was paired with a field of view stuck at 74 degrees, resulting in a narrow and fuzzy picture that is rough to go back to. Playing at 4k and 60fps on Xbox One X, Series X, or PC is an enormous upgrade. The next-gen systems and PC also allow access to the FoV slider which was perhaps the most requested feature in the game’s history.
Multiplayer was a “more is better” type of approach taking the ideas of Halo 2 and growing them in meaningful ways. Perhaps most meaningfully was the addition of the Forge mode. This was a set of tools that allowed users to create their own maps for multiplayer. The development of Forge started only 6 months before launch, yet it became one of the most beloved parts of the entire game. The creative freedom helped sustain the MP population as it fought against an ever-increasing number of high-quality FPS foes on the platform.
Halo 3 had an open-ended ending that left the future of the Chief up in the air but Halo was nowhere near done.
Halo 3: ODST
ODST originated as a small-scale DLC for Halo 3. Over time it grew in scope, shifting to a standalone product. It ended up becoming the top-selling game worldwide for the 360 on its release. Using a distinctive noir style, the campaign featured a team of Orbital Shock Drop Troopers (ODST!) A first for the series was a central hub that interconnected each of the campaign’s levels.
You played as the Rookie trying to reconnect with your team after your insertion to the surface in the city of New Mombasa in Africa goes poorly. This happened thanks to a gigantic wave of energy sending you off course courtesy of the Covenant. Through archival footage you end up re-living each of their stories as they fought for survival. This all took place accompanied by a big change in the game’s background music. Instead of the normal bombastic orchestra, Marty O’Donnell gave us some groovy Jazz. It was a big departure from the normal Halo soundtrack, but it fit the mood of the game well.
In the MCC the MP mode of ODST is not included as it was mainly an expansion of what was already available in Halo 3 itself. 343 has started to roll over some of the ODST only weaponry into the Halo 3 MP modes.
ODST is also fondly remembered for the introduction of a new mode, Firefight. This was Halo’s take on Gears of War’s beloved Horde mode. You faced waves of increasingly difficult enemies as you desperately tried to survive. Doing this on harder difficulties with a group of friends on the newer hardware is still a blast. While some of the voice acting in the campaign may not hold up to modern standards it’s still a hell of a lot of fun solo and especially with friends.
Bungie’s final entry in the Halo universe may also be their most divisive. Set just before the original game timewise Halo Reach features Noble Team. They are a group of battle-hardened Spartan II’s tasked with trying first to stop and later to simply delay the Covenant fleet that is attacking the planet. Reach is the main military hub for the UNSC and houses many of their most important secrets. The story had been told in book form years before, but Bungie threw that out and reset the history of their lore.
One of the biggest improvements for the MCC is the clarity of the graphics. Reach was notoriously blurry as Bungie pushed the aging 360 hardware to its limits. Moving it up to a crisp 4k resolution at a high framerate leaves you with a damned pretty game and, if the next game in this list didn’t exist, the best-looking game in the package by far.
Reach’s gameplay changes remain rather divisive among the fanbase. Bring up the term “weapon bloom” in a group of Halo fans and you’re guaranteed to hear many loud groans. This is when the reticle widens after each shot, requiring you to give it a small period of time before you return to full accuracy. It was a big change and one that was not especially well received.
Reach had its fair share of criticisms in the multiplayer mode as well. The biggest of these being the reintroduction of equipment pick-ups and the bane known as “Amor Lock”. This was a short period of complete damage invulnerability that was just a pain in the butt to deal with. Of all the mainline Halo games Reach is the one I still have the most difficultly enjoying in the competitive PVP modes.
Thankfully Reach’s firefight suite was greatly expanded upon from ODST’s and is perhaps my most played mode in any of the games in this collection to date. I find few things more soothing than playing a round of “Gruntpocalypse”. It is a version of Firefight that is all grunts with headshots giving a satisfying “hooray!” and shower of confetti.
Thanks to the emotionally moving campaign and excellent Firefight mode Reach is still a delight to play through.
343 Industries was formed to take over the property as Bungie left Microsoft to find their fortunes on their own. Returning to Chief and Cortana, Halo 4’s campaign is my personal favorite, though I know that may be sacrilege. There is a level of quality to the writing that I felt was a step above the previous entries. The music from Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge is still one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all time.
Gameplay-wise Halo 4 is known in large part as “the one that finally put sprinting into Halo”. It was limited in length but was a huge departure from the old floaty-tank style of light jogging Spartans that Halo fans had grown up with. Another major change was not descoping when you were shot. This change felt a bit strange but overall I felt was a positive one. Graphically Halo 4 was the standard-bearer for the Xbox 360. A 4k resolution and high framerate make this one of the best looking games of the Xbox One generation.
Story-wise Halo 4 introduced a new faction, the Prometheans. They were led by a Forerunner known as “The Didact”. The Forerunners were a race of beings who had fought Humanity and the Flood over 100,000 years ago. A lot of the story, including the reason for the antagonist hating humanity, was hidden away. They could be found in an excellent trilogy of books titled “The Forerunner Trilogy” as well as in-game terminals that played cinematic videos. These cinematics were key to understanding the backstory but were quite easy to miss. This led to a lot of confusion by people who just wanted to pick the game up and have a good time. Players genuinely were not sure why the big bad hated them. Overall though, the game is looked at more fondly than it was at launch.
Multiplayer was in a rough place when Halo 4 first released. It chased too many of the trends that games like Call of Duty had made popular. Weapon load-outs and kill-streaks were a bridge too far for most Halo MP fans. Thankfully 343 did some darned good work adjusting to those issues though it did take months before it was fixed. Modes like Big Team Battle are genuinely fantastic to play in their 2.0 forms. Forge also returned with a wealth of options for making high-quality maps. Finally, a new mode known as Spartan Ops was introduced.
Spartan Ops replaced the firefight mode and was a major disappointment. While the pre-rendered opening cutscenes were solid the missions themselves tended to be short and they do not offer much in the way of replay value. It was good to have another cooperative mode but not at the cost of losing Firefight. Thankfully in the MCC package you get to have it all!
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is one of my favorite videogames of all time. It cannot be stated just how incredible the work that 343 Industries and multiple other studios have put into it over the past 5+ years to get it here. Any future compilation of titles should look to this as the benchmark for what a collection of beloved titles should be. If you like first-person shooters, love Halo, have never played Halo, or anything in-between then you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t give this collection a try. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is available on the Xbox One and Series families of consoles. It is available on Game Pass for both console and PC and is also available on Steam.
This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X|S and Windows 10 PC