When the franchise shepherds at 343 Industries say they're collecting all of Master Chief's Halo games to preserve his many accomplishments on Xbox One this year, it's tempting to dress the talk down to something practical. 343's general manager, Bonnie Ross, says "it is about his past, it is about his future," but what you hear is, "Okay, Halo 5 won't be out this year, and there has to be a Halo game for Xbox One like, yesterday, so how about these old ones?"
Halo: The Master Chief Collection inspires cynical thoughts at first, but from what I've seen it's one of the most comprehensive and smartly organized efforts in the realm of remakes. Here's everything you get in the package, and it all runs at 1080p, 60 frames per second, and approximately 17 covenant deaths per minute:
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Halo 2: Anniversary (E3 Gameplay)
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
The first Halo has already been remade once in the Anniversary edition, which updated the Xbox's iconic first-person shooter as soon as it turned a creaky ten years old. Developed by Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary kept the original engine running underneath, but brought in a modern look at the press of a button. The game also featured updated sound effects, a re-recorded soundtrack, enhanced cutscenes, and was faithful enough to still include "The Library," a level that people either love for being a Doom-like killing spree, or lament for being a slog through generic sci-fi corridors.
Halo 2: Anniversary
Halo 2 gets a little extra love in The Master Chief Collection, becoming an Anniversary edition with the help of Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity. As before, players can switch between the old game and the redone artwork and sound of the updated version (in a much faster transition). Halo 2's cutscenes have been completely redone by visual effects outfit Blur Studio – if you've been impressed by an elaborate CG trailer for a buzz-craving game, it was likely made by Blur.
Halo 2's multiplayer will appear "verbatim," Microsoft says, dual-wielding and obscure glitches intact. There will also be six completely remade maps, including fan-favorite "Ascension," but that's just a sliver of The Master Chief Collection's multiplayer suite.
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Halo 2: Anniversary (Old vs. New)
The first time Master Chief's journey ended, it was in Halo 3. The first Xbox 360 game in the series isn't getting the same kind of overhaul as the original Xbox games, but it's being visually spruced up to better suit the collection's 1080p and 60 frames-per-second output. Halo 3 also marked the introduction of four-player co-op, which Microsoft expects to keep for The Master Chief Collection. Remember: the mantra is reproducing each game engine "verbatim."
Halo 4 represented the first major step for the franchise after Bungie's goodbye game, Halo: Reach. 343's game is getting a visual update, though being the most recent Halo game (2012) means it was sharp looking to begin with. Halo 4's multiplayer suite and the Spartan Ops co-op campaign will also be available in Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Halo 5 Beta
We don't really know much about Halo 5 yet, though fans with The Master Chief Collection will be the first to play it in a multiplayer beta, scheduled to start in December 2014.
Multiplayer and the interface that unlocks everything
Halo: The Master Chief Collection includes every multiplayer map and mode ever released for Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4 – making for over 100 maps. There's still delineation between games, however, as each map will run on the engine it was intended for. Halo 2 maps should still play and feel as they did in Halo 2, for example, and not like old maps running with the new rules of, say, Halo 4. Rather than fiddling with different games and engines, The Master Chief Collection's overarching interface automatically loads up the right engine and game, depending on the next round called for in custom games or online matchmaking.
As for single-player games, 343 has smartly dispensed with the need to unlock or progress through the collection. Every campaign level and multiplayer map, across all four games, is available from the start. Though you can play each Halo in linear fashion, 343 is including a helping of playlists that span different games. You can, for instance, play a string of back-to-back levels hinged on Halo's beastly vehicle, the Warthog, or play a set of the last four levels from each game.
As for multiplayer, you're able to set up custom online games composed of several maps and modes, no matter which game they belong to. When they load up, they'll be in the associated game's engine automatically.
Update: We've confirmed that Forge mode is included too.
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Halo 2: Anniversary (Cinematics)
Halo: Nightfall and the connection to Halo 5
Halo: The Master Chief Collection will grant owners access to a weekly live-action series called Halo: Nightfall. Produced by Ridley Scott, the show will examine a few characters that will play a larger role in Halo 5: Guardians. The collection itself will be further tied to Halo 5: Guardians with "book-end" cinematics, also done by Blur Studio.
The price of a Master Chief buffet
Master Chief's grand collection, his 4000-Gamerscore journey, will only be available in one package when it launches on November 11, 2014 for $59.99.