Review-in-progress: Halo: The Master Chief Collection is nearly gaming’s first Criterion Collection

This review-in-progress is being unleashed from the constraints of its embargo almost 10 years to the day since Halo 2 launched. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is being released just four days after the ten year anniversary of Halo 2, the game I bought from a sketchy Seven Eleven worker for ten bucks extra almost a week before it was supposed to come out. That felt good in 2004. Let this be a lesson to you, PR company – don’t trust Seven Eleven workers, ever. 

So what is Halo: The Master Chief Collection? And what’s a review in progress? Well, there was a delay in the servers coming up, so I could only get in limited multiplayer sessions this compilation’s main draw, thus, considering I only played half the game, I can’t help but say this is an incomplete review until I log a few more hours. This isn’t about Master Chief’s journey (it is), it’s about 100+ maps, and one of the greatest bundles of value in gaming’s history! Right? 
Pretty much.
While Halo:TMCC isn’t the Criterion Collection of Halo, it’s probably the closest we’ll ever come to such a thing. The game throws The Halo: Combat Evolved remake from a few holiday season’s ago, a brand-new and gorgeous remake of Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4 into a Spartan capsule for your enjoyment. 
Yes, that’s every Halo multiplayer map ever created under one roof. Yes, even the Halo 1 PC-only maps, all of the DLC from back when DLC was a bonus and not a given, and all of the Spartan Ops from Halo 4 (to come around December in a patch, supposedly). That’s a ****-ton of content. I don’t even know what a ****-ton of content truly is, as it’s immeasurable, and an obtuse measurement to boot. 
The big drawing factor is 2004’s Halo 2 campaign, completely remastered and fleshed out with some slick new cutscenes. Overwhelmingly considered the worst Halo campaign, Halo 2’s new coat of paint helps the difficult plot, but the old flaws are still there. Confusing labyrinths of alien hallways will become your best friend as you wander aimlessly between battles. Halo 2 looks better than Halo 4 on 360, but worse than Halo 4 on TMCC, if you get what I mean. All four Halo games are running at 60 FPS now, and if you’ve played a 360 game’s iteration on a solid gaming rig (PC (personal computer)) in the last few years, you know what to expect out of this collection. The games run smoothly, with only a few instances of slowdown when things get really hot and heavy. Bloom, and other dynamic lighting effects made easier by the powerful new hardware really make the games come to life, and this is demonstrated by being able to switch between the old Halo 2 graphics and music and the new presentation with a press of a button. We’ve come far in ten years. Scarily far. From the audio design, music and obviously graphics, the differences between this replay and the original are vast.
Alright, so the next announcement makes the back of my right eye itch, but it’s also wonderful – The Master Chief Collection boasts a 4500 Gamerscore. There’s 450 Achievements. That’s Halo 1-4 in 1080p and 60 FPS all over again on Legendary. That’s a lot of little bloops to let me know how far I’ve come and how far I must go.
Must unlock them all.
This may seem like a slog at first, but you can’t understate how well these games play at 60 frames per second and looking gorgeous every step of the way. While the level design is still frustrating at times, and the AI has seemed deadlocked in 2007 levels of problem solving, but each title is still a lot of fun. Halo 4 looked gorgeous and played well on 360, but it chugged on the old tech. On Xbox One the game rivals anything released in the last year, and I’ve really enjoyed replaying that campaign.
In terms of superficial graphics changes, it’s ranked like this – Halo 2, Halo: CE, Halo 4, Halo 3. I don’t know if they plan on going back to remaster Halo 3, I think it’d be weird if they did, but part of me wants 343 Studios to go full George Lucas and add in cutscenes and upgraded models to Halo 3. The title played well, but didn’t look the best nearly a decade ago, and it looks really, really rough now compared to the remastered Halo 1 and 2 (and optimized 4). When the action gets explosive, none of this matters, and the hardware upgrades alone make Halo 3 look even more impressive. When it comes down to it, it’s fun. That’s what matters. 
Oh yeah, and no ODST. This is the Master Chief Collection. The completionist in me wishes this had ODST and Reach, but 343 decided to only pack in the Chief’s story. Maybe they’ll add those games as DLC. There’s so little else to add, why not? I’ll buy it.
But enough about the campaigns, you’ll likely play through at least the Halo 2 campaign again, you really should play through them all, but I get it, the multiplayer is where it’s at. Here’s where the review becomes an official review in progress, as I’ve only gotten to play a few matches online, but the embargo lifting means I must get something up. I simply must.
It’s about ethics in game journalism, actually.
So, this isn’t a complete re-release of Halo 2, but it’s close. You can superjump and certain glitches are left intact, but the game feels like more of its later counterparts. It seems like all of playlists are mashed up so the community populates more consistently across maps. It’s a big bummer for some (like Gary) that want Halo 2 and only Halo 2 online in its most pure form, but it could still happen. For others this adds the greatest and most diverse multiplayer suite ever produced. With Forge, Spartan Ops coming, the weekly challenges and campaign playthroughs with friends, there’s hours of fun. You could realistically cycle through all the maps and take hours before you play the same map again. In some cases that’s awesome, in others it may turn into a roofie circle of suck, but variety is the spice of Halo, at least in my humble opinion. 
Multiplayer is obviously a blast, and there’s tons of diversity in the game modes and it hits the nostalgia button perfectly on the nose with some of the older levels. There’s even a remake of a remake of an old classic. Meta. 
You can’t deny that the collection is impressive and incredibly diverse. It’s a great value for any Halo fan, and let’s be honest, there’s nothing really else out that is blowing away your next-gen console at the moment. Would you rather play a new COD game or 4 great Halo titles is the question, I suppose. This isn’t to say more maps = better, but you can’t deny the tried and true Halo formula. If you aren’t a fan of Halo, the Master Chief Collection won’t go changing your mind, but in a fall void of a truly great console shooter, maybe a Spartan helmet full of nostalgia splashed into your face at 60 FPS and 1080p resolution will wake you up? I can realistically see myself booting this title as-is for years, but I’m a Halo guy. Which leads me to a further dilemma – how the hell do you even review something like this? It’s a collection of all 9+ games that now play better and have migrated multiplayer suites. This seems like a dream to 2008 Jason, but with this ambition comes expectations, and I’m not really sure if 343 Studios meets the expectations it set out for itself, if they are realistically at a baseline just that of a re-release. This could’ve been one of the greatest piece of fan services ever, and it’s near perfect.
Yes, the games all run great, but Halo 2 gets the most attention with the impressive cutscenes and extra exposition. Why not flesh out Halo: CE and Halo 3 with even better looking models, cutscenes and extras? As it is, this is a plasma grenade Hail Mary throw that sticks one guy and only brings down the shield of the two next to him. It could’ve set a standard, but as it is it only raises the bar slightly. Like the difference between the floaty jumps of Master Chief in Halo 2 compared to Halo 3. 
I’m not sure if that’s a fair gripe considering how this game is almost everything you want it to be. Maybe that’s why it stings that much more when it comes up short. I’m not angry at you, 343, just disappointed. 
We’ll update the score in the coming days, but as of right now, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a solid… 8.9. That could go up, that could go down. It’s hard to say. I need more time in the multiplayer.
That said, in an age of discounts and Steam sales, you won’t find a better bang for your buck. Hell, you could play this for years. I know because I already did.
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