Finish the fight, 343.

Don’t make a promise you can’t keep – especially in the video games industry. It’s the equivalent of lip-syncing during a televised concert, dousing yourself in gasoline and handing a pyromaniac a flamethrower: you’re going to get found out and inevitably burnt alive.

And that’s exactly what developer 343 Industries has managed to accomplish with Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Since the game launched, its failed to live up to such a tantalising promise due to numerous issues, leaving a sizeable dent in Master Chief’s shiny new armour. Worse still, it’s left a blot on 343 Industries’ reputation and cast a flood of doubt over whether they can deliver the spectacle fans expect from Halo 5: Guardians. The pressure has certainly been cranked up.

Living On A Prayer

When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was first announced back at E3 2013, I was shocked by the game’s unthinkable ambition. How could Microsoft and 343 Industries possibly include Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4 remastered all on one disc, plus all the online multiplayer maps and a slew of match types from every game? The truth, it turns out, is that they couldn’t.

After requiring a separate download and a whopping 20GB of hard drive space for the multiplayer mode to even function, 343 fired an early warning shot that something was awry – something which, even today, isn’t quite perfect. Of course, I’m talking about the game’s online matchmaking.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection Halo 2 Ascension

Six of Halo 2’s most popular maps have been remade. And they’re glorious.

The online matchmaking system arrived as a shambolic, barely playable mess at launch. Matches took an eternity to get into or failed to load at all, the teams were horribly unbalanced, and playing with friends was an almost impossible task. It was about as stable as my labrador’s hind legs during her morning constitutional.

The game’s four single-player campaigns also suffered. I’ve lost my save progress on more than a few occasions (infuriating when you’ve been playing on Legendary) and encountered my fair share of bizarre bugs and glitches during my time with the game.

What the hell was going on, 343?

Hope Slayer

As you can imagine, the game’s plethora of problems led to fully-warranted consumer backlash. I’m no expert when it comes to human psychology, but when people are creating in-game tags such as “343 Catch Ebola”, I’m pretty sure they might be peeved off. Telling a developer to catch an infectious and deadly disease may be extremely harsh, granted, but it’s indicative of how badly the game performed at launch. After all, hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned.

So 343 Industries messed up. Big time. And what was supposed to be an irresistible proposition for so many gamers slowly turned into a passable option. Some people have stopped playing entirely, others have demanded a refund. And that’s fair enough.

halo: the master chief collection covenant

“Wow, what a colourful sword you have!”

But there’s one factor that cannot be disregarded: this is Halo we’re talking about, in one incredible almost too good to miss package. Make no mistake: for a game not to work as intended at launch is a practice that needs to be eradicated, and fast. But The Master Chief Collection is still a dream purchase for Xbox One owners – there’s just so much quality on offer here.

Your Shield’s Regenerating

343 have done an admirable job at providing regular title updates (that’s patches to you and me) which have drastically improved the game’s multiplayer matchmaking component while squashing a number of campaign and UI bugs. The online’s saving grace was that when you did eventually get into an online match, the games would run wonderfully smooth. After nibbling on delicious crumbs of multiplayer mayhem for the first few weeks, it’s easy to see how The Master Chief Collection quickly became the biggest tease in video game history. Thankfully, the situation is a million times better than it was at launch, with most games connecting relatively quickly.

I had honestly forgotten just how brilliant Halo can be online.

Even though the game is still currently running on peer-to-peer servers (instead of the dedicated ones we’re promised in the future) lag is barely susceptible and the onscreen action that ensues is refreshingly addictive. No more hyperspeed reactions, annoying kill perks or abusive ten-year-olds spouting hate down the mics. It’s a nirvana of competitive action, full of seasoned vets and eager newcomers.

halo 2 anniversary red vs blue

The bitter war between red and blue continues.

I had honestly forgotten just how brilliant Halo can be online (and I’m including Halo 4 in that statement, despite a few polarising gameplay choices). Every one-on-one encounter is exciting, tense and most importantly, balanced. There was a reason Halo used to dominate the Xbox Live play charts every week and Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a welcomed reminder.

Worlds Apart

But what if multiplayer isn’t your jam? Well, you need not worry because there’s a phenomenal amount of offline content for you to gorge on. As I mentioned earlier, The Master Chief Collection contains Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4 remastered for the Xbox One. Playing through each campaign again (or potentially for the first time) is an absolute blast. Of course, everyone will have their personal favourites, but there’s no denying that Bungie were at the peak of their powers when they gave birth to John-117.

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If you’re sick to death of playing ‘whack a mole’ shooters like Call of Duty, Halo’s sandbox style gameplay is a thrilling change of pace. I still haven’t encountered AI who are as fun to tackle as the Covenant from the Halo universe. They ooze character and charm and they’re actually intelligent! There’s so much more freedom, too, thanks to the scope of each level and the inventive weaponry. I defy anyone not to get a kick out of sticking an enemy with a well-thrown plasma grenade.

Well, Halo There

So, you’ve got four incredible campaigns, online multiplayer from every game with well over 100 maps – what more could you want? Well, those who purchase The Master Chief Collection also get access to the Halo: Nightfall TV series and perhaps more importantly, access to the Halo 5: Guardians beta which launches this month. There’s also over 4000G of Gamerscore to rack up, co-op, Forge mode and playlists, where you tackle premixed missions and attempt to achieve high scores. There really is a dizzying amount of content for players to enjoy.

Halo 3, in particular, feels completely reborn.

Finally, it shouldn’t be understated just how spectacular each game looks and feels. A quick press of the View button on the Xbox One controller during Halo: CE or Halo 2 reveals a startling contrast between what the games used to look like all those years ago and the sparkly new versions. Halo 3, in particular, feels completely reborn running in 1080p, 60 frames per second (the game used to run at 30fps and at upscaled 640p resolution no less). Halo 2’s reimagined cinematics are probably the finest computer generated imagery I’ve ever seen and Halo 4 – an already graphically impressive game for Xbox 360 – manages to hold its own against the current-gen big hitters.

A review copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection was provided courtesy of Xbox. 

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