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Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary preview: Like falling off a log

I haven't been particularly skillful at any of the Halo games that succeeded Halo -- a direct result of the fact that the original game possesses a language that the rest of the series eschewed. Perhaps it was a language of simplicity; after all, true success only demanded proficiency with one weapon, the pistol, which could take enemies down in a handful of well-placed headshots. Forget armor abilities, dual wielding and deployable items: There was only gun, and the manner in which you used gun.

While playing Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary earlier this week -- in its single-player, multiplayer and multi-dimensional varieties -- I was struck by how quickly that language came sailing back to me. I probably didn't realize it until that moment, but in the ten years that have passed since the original launch of Halo, I've really come to miss Halo.

Gallery: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Gamescom 2011) | 5 Photos

The most jarring part of this realization was that most of that longing stemmed from the game's single-player offerings. With four other Halo titles (and four other Halo campaigns) saturating my collection, I couldn't see the deep reservoirs of nostalgia I harbored for the setting. After placing boots down in 343 Guilty Spark after years of sabbatical, the game's absence jumped to the forefront of my mind.

It just looks so good, you guys. Sure, it's simply a remake of a game that's quickly approaching its tenth birthday, but the love and care that's gone into updating each visual element of the world -- which is, keep in mind, perplexingly stacked upon the bones of the old, 2001 Halo -- is quite tender indeed. The 343 rep who guided me through my demo mentioned that the ability to switch between the two renderings with a touch of the Back button isn't just a neat feature, but a history lesson for how games have evolved over the past 10 years. He was right.

But, of course, there are sacrifices that must be made for that kind of fidelity. The Old World moves with unreproducible smoothness, the kind you'd expect from a 10-year-old game running on a six-year-old gaming console. The New World, however, with its quadrillions of new textures and fancy lighting effects, is somewhat choppier; a rational (but unfortunate) cost of doing business in the modern gaming industry.

That cost can pay for some pretty wonderful purchases, like the new 3D visual mode that will support both passive and active glasses tech. In a standard firefight, the added dimension is something special, especially when you consider Halo's propensity for grenade-blasting foes in your general direction. In some cases, it's something breathtaking; the Needler, for example, is a standout, as the new depth really sinks in when your projectiles move at one half of a mile an hour.

3D or not, I'm excited to hop back into Halo: Combat Evolved's campaign, especially since the new visuals promise to include navigational improvements to help make a certain reviled level more easily traversable. Perhaps more surprising than that, however, is how inviting the multiplayer component was to my decidedly non-twitchy sensibilities.

And the reason for that rediscovered bond with the multiplayer component is almost too dumb to mention: It's because I know the maps, and because the pistol is stronger. These two changes, while almost insultingly basic, change the face of the game entirely. The few matches I played under these conditions felt intrinsically different from the current Reach formula: It was a recalling of the Wild Western days of Pistol vs. Pistol on the banks of Beaver Creek.

Of course, being built on the Reach engine, the multiplayer component includes conceits such as armor abilities. To help incorporate the applications of these new tools, 343 will include slightly updated, retooled versions of each map. For instance, that one ledge in Damnation might be moved upward a bit, to make it singularly jetpackable terrain. There will also be classic, untouched versions of each map in case you're absolutely terrified by change.

For my part, I wouldn't say change is something to be feared. The double engine rendering process which props up the husk of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is something new entirely, breathing life into something ancient and honored. It was good to be back on the rim of that first ring-shaped world. Most of all, it was good to be good at Halo again.

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