Review: Halo TMCC is the best excuse to buy an Xbox One yet
Here's a conundrum. How do you review a collection of what were upon initial release some of the greatest, most formative console shooters ever crafted? Each of the games included in this pack, Halos 1 through 4, consistently bagged high review scores on CVG.
Surely such a collection would require recovering Spartans, gearing up for the launch of Halo 5: Guardians no less, to fire their money at Microsoft faster than a Needler round stuck in the backend of a Ghost-riding Elite with an unhealthy desire to get to the next service station for a toilet break? But we're talking about titles that arc backwards through gaming history, here.
First-person shooters have covered an immense amount of ground since 2001. Can the old guard still cut the mustard? When you pick up a copy of TMCC for yourself - and let's get this out there front and centre, if you've got an Xbox One sitting under your goggle box you'd be mad not to - just where should you begin?
As a series Halo has gotten progressively better. Combat Evolved is a very different game to Halo 4 and no amount of spit and polish will change that. Action in this ancient outing feels sluggish, and textures, despite the Anniversary edition re-do and the welcome boost in resolution, look about half as nice as you remember.
Until you tap the View button on your pad, that is. In Halo: CE and 2 you can switch between original and Anniversary editions instantly. The results are astounding, shoring up just how far we've come in the previous decade and how favourably our nostalgia-tinted memory glands have stored our experiences of the original games.
343 has clearly attempted to use every presentational tool at its disposal to improve the otherwise untouchable foundations of these two original titles. Expansive new sky boxes, such as the one you drink in from within the besieged Cairo Station at the outset of Halo 2, do much to impress.
The team's sound engineers have been busy, too, implementing fuller, flashier, fleshier effects throughout. Sometimes it feels like ou're playing through a museum exhibit, flipping between old and new to see how the minutiae has changed.
Unfortunately the level design, which relies more often than we remember on samey corridors and objectiveless wandering, feels archaic and occasionally bothersome. Move on up through the titles, rather than backwards, and you'll come to appreciate the little tweaks and the monumental shifts that Bungie and 343 have gifted the genre with over the years.
Sticky plasma grenades inspire knowing nods, while first-person melee that actually works and that connects with a meaty satisfaction will set your grin faculties into overload. Iconic setpiece after iconic setpiece rolls out through the campaigns. Whichever way you approach it, as a sentimentality-tainted veteran or a relative newcomer, jumping atop the achingly slow-moving Scarab mecha tank, firing rockets as you go, will always feel awesome. Answers on a postcard if you can name that level.
Moving on to Halos 3 and 4 feels like coming home. If you do decide to tackle these games after the first two then it's even easier to appreciate Bungie's storytelling finesse finally hitting its stride in 3 and 343 finding its feet with unprecedented style in its first solo gig.
'Each of the multiplayer engines you delve into plays significantly differently'
Halo 4 is especially enjoyable, as it now runs smoother than an orca's slippers at a solid 60fps. You'll wander through the spectacular wreckage of the Dawn at the outset of the Requiem level and find yourself wondering in awe how this ever ran on a 360 without exploding and setting fire to your living room curtains. And we've not even got onto the multiplayer, yet.
The realised dream, of course, is to have access to all of Halo's multiplayer maps and modes, from across the series, in one place. To jump from Halo 2's Zanzibar (one of six of the original maps that have been remastered entirely), straight into The Pit from Halo 3 and then Exile from Halo 4, one after the other, is a heady experience, but not one without its unexpected drawbacks.
Each of the multiplayer engines you delve into plays significantly differently, whether that's because of the inability to sprint or the fluctuating effectiveness of certain weapons (Halo 2 era M6C, anyone?).
'The true value of this collection is in the slow rediscovery of one of gaming's greatest series.'
As such, if you do flit around the eras you'll have to get used to altering the way you play. For the first few maps we tried across the generations we had to wrap our head around the melee button, for example, which would sometimes be perched on the right bumper and at others be attached to the B button.
A much better way to play is to pick a certain era and stick with it. Do this and it becomes easier to enjoy the moment-to-moment brilliance that this dream package should inspire. Halo 2's map collection, for example, is definitive. Not just of this assemblage but for a generation of online multiplayer-attuned gamers.
Sure there's an antiquated UI, which weirdly hasn't been given the en-smoothening new-gen do-over treatment, apart from in that sextet of remastered stages. Sure, the plasma pistol plus anything combo is woefully over powered, but we defy any self-respecting shooter fan to point at another collection of maps that features as many hits in one bundle.
Lockout, Headlong, Burial Mounds, Ascension, Colossus, Midship, Ivory Tower. This simple list of map names will mean nothing to those uninformed in the delights of Halo circa 2004, but for those that are TMCC presents a treasure trove of emergent multiplayer stories ready to recreate and to explore anew.
The true value of this collection is in the immediate journey back and the slow rediscovery of one of gaming's greatest series. If you're jumping into the Chief's Mjolnir trousers for the first time many of the nods, tweaks and, most potently, quirks of the older titles will at best fly over your head or at worst tarnish your ability to play without cussing like a sailor.
For these poor individuals, our score will likely seem overcooked, too. You just had to have been there. Those that were will know exactly where we're coming from.
Disclaimer: The mutliplayer portion of this review was tested at a Microsoft review event.