Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a compilation of first-person shooter video games in the Halo series for the Xbox One. Released on November 11, 2014, the collection was developed by 343 Industries in partnership with other studios and was published by Microsoft Studios. The collection consists of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4, which were originally released on earlier Xbox platforms. Each game in the release received a graphical upgrade, with Halo 2 receiving a high-definition redesign of its audio and visuals that are exclusive to the collection. The game includes access to the live-action series Halo: Nightfall as well as the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta that was available for a limited time.
Each game in the compilation retained its original story and gameplay, with the exception of Halo 2's cutscenes which were extended by Blur Studio. The collection's multiplayer features every map originally released with each title, including six remastered Halo 2 maps.
Critics generally praised The Master Chief Collection for its updated audio and visuals, as well as its quantity of content, but criticized the multiplayer aspect of the collection due to a significant number of bugs and poor matchmaking experiences. Many of these technical issues were later fixed in a number of post-release patches. On May 30, 2015, the campaign mode of Halo 3: ODST was made available for the collection.
The Master Chief Collection consists of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the anniversary edition of Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4, complete with their full catalog of extras, including all multiplayer maps and gameplay modes. There have been no story or gameplay changes to the original releases. The games are first-person shooters with vehicular combat that takes place from a third-person perspective. All four campaign modes can be played alone or cooperatively via split screen or Xbox Live. Each campaign has four difficulty levels and access to gameplay modifiers known as "Skulls".
As in Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 players can swap between the original and upgraded graphics on the fly. Additions to Halo 2's campaign mode include "Terminals", and new prologue and epilogue cutscenes to link the series for Halo 5's debut. Since only six of the game's multiplayer maps were remastered, there are two Halo 2 multiplayer modes. The Halo 2 anniversary multiplayer mode uses the six remastered maps, while the standard Halo 2 multiplayer mode includes all of the original game's released maps with a full graphical update but no remastering. The Collection multiplayer includes Mission Setlists, curated lists of levels selected from throughout the series.
The Extras menu includes access to live-action video series Halo: Nightfall and the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, until it was removed prior to the game's release. The compilation features new Achievements, and all difficulty and play modes are unlocked from the start. The game launched with a total of 4,000 Gamerscore spread across 400 Achievements—the largest amount of Gamerscore given to a game since its introduction—with another 500 Gamerscore, spread across 50 Achievements, being released in a day-one update. With the release of Spartan Ops a few months later, an additional 50 Achievements, worth 500 Gamerscore, were released. In May 2015, another 100 Achievements, worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore, were released alongside Halo 3: ODST.
The collection was developed by 343 Industries in conjunction with Certain Affinity, Ruffian Games, Saber Interactive, Blur Studio, and United Front Games. Following the announcement of The Master Chief Collection at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft's Xbox division, stated that the collection originally began as just a remastering of Halo 2 to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. 343 Industries decided that it would be a great opportunity to release the other main Halo titles for the Xbox One in preparation for the 2015 release of Halo 5: Guardians. All of the games run at 60 frames per second and have received lighting upgrades; all but the Halo 2 remake have a native resolution of 1080p. On October 18, 2014, the game had been declared gold, indicating it was being prepared for duplication and release.
Combat Evolved Anniversary is based on the high-resolution remaster of the original released in 2011 for the Xbox 360.Kinect features from the Xbox 360 version are not supported in the Xbox One collection. Stereoscopic 3D features from the Xbox 360 version are not supported in the Xbox One collection. Ruffian Games was responsible for developing the Halo 3 and Halo 4 ports.Halo 3 and Halo 4 received only a simple lighting upgrade, and an increase in both frame rate and rendering resolution. 343 Industries designed the interfaces and online networking. United Front Games worked on the unified interface that works across all games. Coinciding with the release of The Master Chief Collection, 343 Industries developed the Halo Channel, an application for the Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. It is a successor to the Halo Waypoint app that was released on the Xbox 360. The Xbox One app is integrated with the collection, allowing players to access Halo: Nightfall and "Terminal" animations, unlock rewards for the game, and launch the games directly from the app.
Halo 2 Anniversary
Saber Interactive, which co-developed Combat Evolved Anniversary, assisted in the remake of Halo 2's campaign. It received a complete visual overhaul. The game's soundtrack and sound effects, such as weapon audio, were updated as well. The refined Halo 2 cutscenes, as well as two new cutscenes created to complement the Halo 5: Guardians story line, were produced by Blur Studio. They feature the same structure and timing of the originals, and motion capture was utilized for the animation.
"Terminals", a feature first introduced in Halo 3, were added to the Halo 2 Anniversary campaign. Their purpose was to create a "connective tissue" for stories within the Halo universe that explores the relationship between the different races within the Covenant and extensively covers the events portrayed in Halo 2. Terminals also gave 343 Industries the opportunity to introduce Spartan Locke, a main character in Halo 5: Guardians. Visual effect studio The Sequence Group collaborated with 343 Industries to provide the animation; the group had previously performed similar work in Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 4. Several voice actors reprised their roles including Keith David as the Arbiter, John DiMaggio as the Heretic Leader, and Tim Dadabo as 343 Guilty Spark. Mike Colter provided the voice-over for Spartan Locke.
Once the Halo 2 Anniversary project was green-lit, executive producer Dan Ayoub at 343 Industries reached out to Max Hoberman of Certain Affinity for assistance on the multiplayer component. Hoberman originally designed Halo 2's multiplayer and founded Certain Affinity after leaving Bungie in 2006. Certain Affinity was asked to remake several of the multiplayer maps from Halo 2. The team found it difficult to decide how many of the original 24 maps to redesign and eventually settled on six – two small, two medium, and two large – to provide some variation.
Along with the visual upgrade, Halo 2's original score was re-recorded with the San Francisco Symphony at Skywalker Sound studio. Guitarist Steve Vai returned to the franchise to play on additional tracks with Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor. The Halo 2 Anniversary soundtrack was released on November 11, 2014.
On June 9, 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo with a trailer titled "Hunter and the Hunted". The trailer was created by animation company Digital Domain, which had previously collaborated on other Halo commercials. The trailer recreates a moment from Halo 2, in which the Master Chief rides a bomb into a Covenant ship. It is narrated by Keith David, who voices the Arbiter. Several other trailers were released prior to launch, showcasing the updated cinematics and Terminals featured in Halo 2 Anniversary, and gameplay from all titles across the collection. On October 31, 2014, 343 Industries released a documentary, Remaking the Legend – Halo 2: Anniversary, chronicling the history of Halo 2 and the development of Halo 2: Anniversary; it also features interviews with developers at Bungie and 343 Industries. The documentary was initially broadcast on Twitch.tv, and was later available on the Halo Channel, Xbox Video, and YouTube.
In August 2014, UK retailer Game revealed two special editions of The Master Chief Collection. The "Limited" edition includes a steel book case, a map book, and an in-game modifier, while the "Mjolnir" edition includes all the content from the Limited edition, along with a 1-foot (0.30 m) statue of the Master Chief. In October 2014, Microsoft announced a white Master Chief Collection Xbox One bundle for Brazil and other "select markets". A second Xbox One bundle containing the collection was announced for release in the United States during March 2015.
The collection was released worldwide in November 2014. 343 Industries confirmed that the collection would be available to download from the Xbox Games Store on the day of release. A 15-gigabyte patch went live to those who had digitally preordered it through the Xbox Games Store on November 6, 2014. Players who preordered through the Xbox Games Store also received early access to the "Boom" Skull, which provides double the explosion physics in the Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 campaign mode; it became available to all other users on December 12, 2014.
At launch, many players experienced problems with online matchmaking modes. 343 Industries released numerous updates to address these issues. On November 24, 2014, Bonnie Ross, head of 343 Industries, issued a public apology noting issues "that have resulted in a frustrating experience, including long matchmaking times and low session success rates". On December 19, 2014, Microsoft announced that as an apology for the issues, it would give a free month of Xbox Live Gold, a special avatar and nameplate, and a free downloadable copy of the Halo 3: ODST campaign to those who played the game between its launch and December 19, 2014. The campaign mode of ODST was released to the public on May 30, 2015, and with it, 100 additional Achievements. It is available to purchase separately to those who are not eligible for a free code for the add-on.
Spartan Ops, the episodic content originating in Halo 4, was released as downloadable content for The Master Chief Collection on December 22, 2014. Additional Achievements for Spartan Ops and the multiplayer mode were released on January 8, 2015.
Halo: Nightfall—a series of weekly, episodic digital videos directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan and produced by Ridley Scott—launched soon after the collection was released. The series was designed to connect the stories of previous Halo games to the upcoming Halo 5. The Halo 5 beta launched on December 29, 2014, and ran until January 18, 2015.
With the release of The Master Chief Collection, Microsoft and 343 Industries announced an official competitive gaming league, the Halo Championship Series (HCS). 343 Industries partnered with the Electronic Sports League, live-streaming platform Twitch.tv, and other tournament organisers to foster the competitive multiplayer community in Halo. The first season of HCS, featuring Halo 2: Anniversary's multiplayer, launched in November 2014 and ran until March 2015. It served as a test bed for ideas and future plans that 343 Industries has for esports in Halo 5.
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Halo: The Master Chief Collection received generally positive reviews. Aggregating review website Metacritic gave it a score 85 out of 100 based on reviews from 69 critics. Reviews praised the graphics, frame rate, and content included in the bundle, but criticized the prominent matchmaking issues that prevented players from playing online multiplayer modes on release day.
The technical issues deeply affected the game's online experience. Forbes' Paul Tassi wrote the game on release "was just flat out broken", and though improvements have been made, it "may very well be the worst major game release in a decade." Stuart Andrews of Trusted Reviews commented that "Halo 3 looks and feels surprisingly dated" when compared to the rest of the collection, particularly Halo 2 and Halo 4.
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Four major Halo remasters are included in The Master Chief Collection, but the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition is quite the package itself - a fitting tribute to a classic game celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Saber Interactive returns from Halo Anniversary duties to handle the re-mastered campaign, while Certain Affinity, formed by ex-Bungie employee Max Hoberman, is tasked with remaking six of the game's multiplayer maps. On top of that, Blur Studio has recreated key cut-scenes as high-end CG renders, while 343 Industries facilitates the whole project. So what we have here is one game featuring three engines and four developers - five if you factor in Bungie's work on the original game. What could have been a disjointed mismatch of elements is anything but: the results are remarkable and the package is a significant leap over what was achieved with the original Halo's Anniversary release on Xbox 360.
Despite its cliffhanger ending, the Halo 2 campaign is still generally well regarded and we were excited to see how it is transformed for its Xbox One debut. Unlike the bulk of the Master Chief Collection, the campaign portion of Halo 2 Anniversary doesn't actually operate at a native 1080p which is no doubt the result of running two rendering engines simultaneously. The team has opted instead for a 1328x1080 framebuffer, which in terms of pixel count, actually contains fewer pixels than the default 900p choice. However, the end results generally look good, and appear visibly sharper as a result of scaling in just one direction. While still a fair bit blurrier than a full 1080p presentation, the end results are pretty acceptable considering the fluidity of the frame-rate. Both the classic campaign and multiplayer modes operate at full HD resolution - although it has to be said that Bungie's original visuals could sure use some anti-aliasing.
While we would have preferred the option to disable classic mode completely in order to sustain full HD visuals through the game, it has to be said that the switching technology is much improved from the original Halo 1 remaster on Xbox 360. This time, it's a lot faster. Saber has taken advantage of the extra memory and processing power to allow an instantaneous switch with no fading, pausing, or skipping. You can jam the button rapidly and marvel as the game flicks seamlessly back and forth. It really helps drive home the massive improvements the team has made and makes the option more interesting and usable.
Saber's initial work in remastering the original Halo was an interesting effort but there was always a sense that the artwork didn't faithfully recapture the look and feel of the original game. Halo 2 Anniversary sees great strides made to overcome this with a presentation that feels refreshed, yet true to the original designs. Colour schemes, texture patterns, and the raw artistic style all feel more in line Bungie's original work while the new layer of detail brings it up to speed with a more modern visual design. A completely new set of assets is created for this project with significantly more geometric and texture detail present throughout every scene.
A back-to-back comparison showcasing the new assets created for the campaign against the original Bungie art. We've presented this comparison at 25 per cent speed in order to more closely observe the changes and improvements.
It's amazing to see the new level of detail present throughout each scene - surfaces that were once completely flat have been replaced with intricate pipework and chunks of machinery, giving a new life to the level design. Foliage is plentiful where appropriate, with the transformation of Delta Halo in particular taking flat textures and replacing them with complex layers of foliage and trees. Normal maps were used extensively in the original Halo 2 to give the impression of greater detail, and the remaster adapts this effect into real geometry, while also utilising superior textures. Overall texture quality is excellent throughout with a nice boost in fidelity that goes well beyond what was achieved in the original Halo's Anniversary release on Xbox 360. All of these changes are cosmetic so you won't find yourself getting stuck on new pieces of scene geometry here. However, by directly tying the game to its original form the door is closed on improved animation or level tweaks - which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity in some ways.
It does allow for clear upgrades in other areas though. Fully dynamic shadows have been implemented throughout the campaign, giving extra depth to each scene, bringing the game more in line with Bungie's original vision for Halo 2. The team spent more than a year creating and ultimately scrapping a renderer that used stencil shadows to allow objects to cast and receive shadows. While it proved too demanding for the original Xbox hardware, those dreams have been fully realised in Halo 2 Anniversary, albeit with a different rendering approach. Shadow resolution isn't remarkably high but the quality of the filtering leaves them appropriately soft and free of any noticeable LOD 'pop-in' issues. Scene depth is further expanded with a solid ambient occlusion implementation that provides appropriate contact shadows where applicable. Anisotropic filtering is also utilised in both renderers, retaining crisp texture detail even at a distance. Impressively, it seems that AF was also selectively employed in Halo 2 on the original Xbox, but the implementation here is far more complete.
Particle effects also see a huge boost in quality, with nicely animated and well-lit explosions coupled with smoke plumes giving a real sense of body to the carnage. In addition, particles and smoke now properly receive lighting and shadow from surrounding objects. Unfortunately, the resolution of these effects is compromised in order to maintain a high frame-rate - looking closely at any explosion effect reveals some pretty serious pixellation. It's not usually a problem, but when the screen is filled with explosions and plasma it becomes pretty clear that resolution has been sacrificed.
Our performance analysis of Halo 2's remastered campaign across several different areas. While the 60fps target is maintained most of the time there are instances when performance falters and we're left with dips and torn frames.
Additionally, a beautiful implementation of high-dynamic range lighting has made its way into the game, producing results not unlike Bungie's own work on Halo 3. Transitions between cramped interiors to expansive exterior environments use this to create some remarkably dramatic lighting that is completely absent in the original game. Dynamic lights also play a larger role with every plasma shot producing its own light source, playing nicely off the texture work. This makes for some particularly dramatic moments while battling the Covenant, particularly within the game's darker environments. On the more subtle side, there's a nice glass shader utilised to give large panes of the material an appropriate appearance, while water has also been improved, though perhaps not to the same degree as the fully dynamic pools seen in Halo 3. Walking through these pools produces simple particle effects to simulate splashes rather than deforming the water mesh.
The classic mode, looks mostly as you would expect - sharp and angular. At 1080p60 many of the game's original assets just don't really hold up that well. The game's visuals were designed to be played at 480p on older CRT televisions, where it still looks quite nice, but under close examination on modern full HD displays it looks rather ugly - more so than the original Halo: Combat Evolved, in fact. The reliance on normal maps to simulate detail completely falls apart at a high resolution when their low resolution becomes obvious. So while it's nice to be able to look at the original visuals, this collection doesn't really allow users to see them as they were originally intended.
Then there's the matter of the newly remastered cinematics: select cut-scenes have been replaced with new high quality CG movies created by Blur Studio that look absolutely stunning. As impressive as they look however, they do create a rift between the in-game visuals and cut-scenes - the jump between the two very different visual styles can be rather jarring. Interestingly, you can toggle the original real-time Halo 2 cut-scenes at any point but they definitely don't hold up under the 1080p microscope. Animation is jerky and awkward, while character models are simply of too low a quality to work well at full HD resolution. It would have been neat to see the new graphics engine take on these sequences in real-time, but we still appreciate the effort put into the high quality renders. At least texture pop-in has been completely eliminated on the classic cut-scenes, allowing these sequences to be viewed as Bungie originally intended.
In the first of two videos, we get to grips with three of the six remastered Halo 2 maps, presented with 60fps video - use Google Chrome at either 720p or 1080p resolution to get full frame-rate. Here we're looking at Stonetown, Shrine and Warload (remakes of Zanzibar, Sanctuary and Warlock respectively).
What they did not intend, however, is the addition of loading screens where once there were none. One of the feats of the original Halo 2 was the seamless nature in the way the game weaved between missions - once the game was loaded, the player wouldn't see another loading screen throughout the run of play. On Xbox One, however, loading screens pop-up following the end of each mission segment and sequences that once felt seamless are now broken up into chunks. This situation arises throughout the campaign but proves most jarring during the introduction sequence, where we see three cuts to loading screens before the game proper begins - somewhat disappointing when the original experience was completely seamless by comparison. Furthermore, replacing the stylised animated loading screens with static images was another bad move that detracts a touch from the quality of the overall presentation. This was always an element that separated Halo from other games and it's disappointing that something more in line with this design wasn't created here. It's an issue that persists throughout the entirety of The Master Chief Collection.
More positively, the developers deserve kudos for the revised audio mix - the entire soundscape has been remastered, with the intention of capturing the feel of the original audio, while taking advantage of improved hardware and techniques. The sound design makes better use of surround channels, providing a more immersive audio experience while additional channels and higher quality effects are used to create a more effective soundscape. The soundtrack too has been remixed in a higher quality, though the changes aren't always to our liking when compared to the original score. Toggling between the original soundtrack and the remastered audio along with the visuals is a nice touch though.
The multiplayer component of Halo 2 Anniversary is a completely different beast from the single-player campaign. Based on an updated Halo 4 renderer, the new Anniversary maps all operate at a full 1080p with some impressive design work throughout. Unfortunately, while the bump to a full 1080p is nice, some of the other improvements haven't made there way into this portion of the game. Most noticeably anisotropic filtering is completely absent, leaving otherwise excellent texture working looking a bit blurry at oblique angles. This is particularly frustrating as the new texture work is excellent and image quality is otherwise great.
Here's the second part of our Halo 2 multiplayer remaster showcase. The focus is here is on Lockdown, Zenith and Bloodline - these are the remastered versions of Lockout, Ascension and Coagulation, respectively.
The new Anniversary maps were created by a completely different team than the campaign and this manifests itself in the form of asset variation between the two modes, leading to some curious disparities. They're close enough that it may not initially register that there's a real difference, but if you look closely, you'll discover a completely different set of assets. Weapons and vehicles all look and sound different, explosion and particle effects have nothing in common between the two modes and at a higher resolution in multiplayer, the lighting effects are handled more like Halo 4 - on top of that, even the HUD is completely revamped. It's actually rather fascinating to see two completely different interpretations of Halo 2, especially when you consider the fact that this package also includes a third set of unique assets - the originals from Bungie. Since the multiplayer maps are not tied to legacy animation and design they do look and feel a bit more modern even if the campaign improvements are more drastic on paper.
One of the key features of The Master Chief Collection is its promised frame-rate - a full 60 frames per second across all four games. Replaying each of these games at 60fps has been a treat and thankfully, Halo 2 Anniversary manages to mostly deliver on this promise across all three engines. Not surprisingly, the campaign and multiplayer modes both handle slowdown completely differently though. Single-player has the odd torn frame manifesting at the very top of the screen, along with some dropped frames, but it's clear that lowering the resolution was the right move in the campaign as the end results are quite smooth. The same is true of the classic campaign, which manages to hold 60fps for the vast majority of the time. Surprisingly there are a few instances in which slowdown rears its head even in classic mode, leading us to once again conclude that utilising two renderers simultaneously is putting quite a strain on the system.
However, the updated multiplayer does not suffer from any screen-tear and instead uses a pure v-sync setup, in common with the Halo 4 conversion where the core tech hails from. Matchmaking wasn't enabled at the time of testing so we were limited to a smaller multiplayer match comprised of five players across all six of the new maps. Throughout the run of play the game does an exceptional job of maintaining a rock solid 60fps most of the time. Five of the maps pass muster with barely a blip but, unfortunately Zanzibar/Stonetown isn't quite as solid as we would like. With just five players on the map we encountered dips into the 50s (and sometimes lower) any time we were facing the central area with the large turbine. The drop in performance wasn't severe, but similar to Halo 4 on Xbox One, the game feels quite jerky and unresponsive when it does occur. Ultimately, while it's always disappointing to run across any frame-rate dips in a game, especially in multiplayer, the results are still very solid overall and it's safe to say that most users won't notice these issues. We're curious to see how Stonetown holds up with more players and we should have some additional information on that next week.
The engine-driven cut-scenes of the original Halo 2 are substituted for these full HD CG renders, created by Blur Studio. They are a little jarring compared to the game's remastered art style, but they're quite the upgrade from the original Xbox cut-scenes.