'Halo 2: Anniversary' edition shows some games get better with age

Updated ·6 min read

Halo: The Master Chief Collection promises to be the ultimate compilation for fans of John-117's adventures and online competitors alike, featuring remastered versions of all four numbered Halo titles (and access to the Halo 5: Guardians beta when it's live). Undoubtedly the most exciting part of the package is Halo 2: Anniversary, a fully remastered version of the 2004 title that set the bar for online multiplayer gaming on consoles. With attentive level design, balanced gameplay and a strong online ranking and matchmaking system, the game spawned a pro scene that's persisted from sequel to sequel, console to console. Halo: Combat Evolved may have introduced us to Master Chief's world, but it was Halo 2 that assured the franchise's legendary status, and it's coming back for more.

Microsoft's 343 Industries, the studio compiling The Master Chief Collection, showed off more footage of Halo 2: Anniversary at Gamescom last week. Four fantastic games updated for a new generation of hardware is a mouth-watering proposition, but Halo 2 is the jewel in the crown, being the only title to receive a complete visual overhaul. The other three main installments in the saga haven't needed nearly as much attention. Halo 3 and 4, which both made increasingly efficient use of the Xbox 360's horsepower, have improved lighting and run at higher frame rates. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has received more or less the same treatment, since it's a heavily remastered version of the original game anyway.

It's key to the modernization of Halo 2 that the core experience remains unchanged, emphasized by a player's ability to switch between classic and remastered visuals on the fly. The transformation is remarkable. The graphical detail is so far improved as to be almost incomparable to the original, and jumping between these two views instantaneously is something to marvel at in itself. As an ex-Halo 2 addict, I expected nostalgia to impact my enthusiasm for the reboot in the same way the remake of your favorite childhood film is always a disappointment. Instead, I'm only excited for a new game -- one that just happens to have a multiplayer experience I already know and love. Not to mention online co-op has been included in the Anniversary version, previously only a feature of the Halo 2 PC release.

Halo 2's online ranking system, which is based more on won/lost games than play time, remains intact. (In fact, all games in The Master Chief Collection will use this rating method, though progress will be separate for each one.) The studio has even made a point to preserve Halo 2's glitches, many of which were an important part of high-level play -- I got the impression from 343, however, that including an option to disable them is being considered. Every multiplayer map ever conceived for the game will be included in Anniversary, and they'll be old and new matchmaking modes, as well as a few favorites that were created for later games. Six remastered versions of popular levels have also been rebuilt specifically for the Xbox One and modified with power-ups, additional weapons and a new vehicle, the "Gungoose."

Long story short, whether you're an old hand or new blood, you're getting an all-access pass to revisit one of the most important console games in history. Multiplayer appeal has been so carefully considered, in fact, I'd be surprised if we didn't see a healthy resurgence in competitive play when The Master Chief Collection launches this November, 10 years after Halo 2 graced the original Xbox. And I mean beyond promotional tournaments like the one held at Gamescom. It's never been easier to drum up interest in such competitions, either. No longer is the community reliant on complicated streaming setups and highlight clips buried on YouTube. Ten years on, Twitch is our window to that world; Twitter is our forum. You can even bet on e-sports matches these days to make watching them a little more interesting.

A solid fan base is what allows 343 to invest in making things like Halo 2: Anniversary and The Master Chief Collection happen. And as if the game compilation wasn't fan service enough, true devotees will also be able to get all the UNSC-approved content they could ever want through the new Halo Channel.

The Halo Channel

Launching for the Xbox One, Windows 8.1 and its mobile equivalent on the same day as The Master Chief Collection, the Halo Channel is a portal to all manner of video content related to the game franchise. Some may have played around with Halo Waypoint on the Xbox 360, which was a similar front for hosting interviews, strategy tips, machinima, the Halo Legends animated shorts and more. You could also digest news and fiction, buy games, review your Halo career and earn in-game achievements and new gear for your Avatar.

The Halo Channel is more than just a Waypoint update with a prettier UI. It wants to be the HBO of Halo, with scheduled programming and on-demand content connecting seamlessly with The Master Chief Collection and later, Halo 5. Rather than just a video dump, you'll be able to interact with practically everything on the Halo Channel in one way or another -- a new weekly show called The Bulletin, for example, will run polls and solicit viewer feedback from within the Channel's apps. Twitter is fully integrated, too, so you'll be able to check your feed and tweet about the new episode of Red vs. Blue while you're watching it. The Channel will also be tailored to individuals based on their viewing habits, though you can bet everyone will be seeing a lot of the new live-action series Halo: Nightfall on their home screens.

Nightfall's narrative will intersect with Halo 5: Guardians, and watching the show will unlock things in-game, and vice versa. Even when you're enjoying an episode, more content will never be far away; 343 used a clip from Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn to show an overlay that'll give you a synopsis of the scene, the characters involved, the gear in-shot -- everything you need to know from Halo lore about what's on-screen.

Personally, I've never cared much for Halo media outside of the games, which is why I was most interested to hear about the Twitch integration. The Halo Channel not only pulls streams and their associated chatrooms from Twitch, but also bundles in other game data like an activity log and team/player scores. This feeds into making the multiplayer aspect of The Master Chief Collection and Halo 5 extra accessible, and I can't wait to catch a stream with this richer, more informative layout. And when you're pumped after watching someone nail a long-range sticky, you can jump straight into matchmaking right from the Channel app. In which case, see you online.