At the beginning of 2019, my wife and I decided this was the year we’d start trying for a baby. So, knowing that my days of gaming for hours on end and late into night (morning *cough*) would soon be coming to an end, I made a shortlist of my favorite games to replay before our bub arrived. As a former ‘Lone Wolf’ tournament champion on Halo 2, and ‘Forerunner’ on Halo: Reach, of course ‘Halo: The Master Chief Collection’ (MCC) had to feature on my shortlist.
Before I get into a substantive review of the MCC (finally completed with the addition of Halo: Reach on December 3), it’s worth mentioning that Microsoft and 343 Industries did a major service to fans of the Halo series by bringing every instalment of the series onto one console. Halo: Infinite is also expected to release on the Xbox One in addition to the Xbox: Series X. So, top-job Microsoft!
Halo: Combat Evolved & Halo 2
Halo: CE and Halo 2 are where you’re going to have the most fun playing the MCC. They carry the deepest nostalgia, have the best narrative, most diverse missions (seriously, who didn’t take down that Scarab 1,000 times!?), most challenging difficulty, and just overall best gameplay.
Being originally released on the first Xbox console, these two games also feature the ability to toggle back and forth between the original and updated graphics in real-time. This adds a really nice touch.
If there is any downside to these two games (and you’ll struggle to find one, really), it’s the garbage achievements. Again, these two games were released before the adoption of in-game ‘Achievements’ and ‘Trophies’ – back when we had to come up with our own challenges like the ‘Warthog Jump’ – and so many were looking forward to some new and interesting achievements on perhaps the most beloved instalments in the Halo franchise. They were disappointed. For the most part, most of the achievements surround beating par scores and par times, or finding innocuous collectibles and invisible music cues. However, even with this MASSIVE COP OUT, there’s very little that detracts from these genuinely enjoyable and faithful ports from the original Xbox.
If you ask any gamer who was a teenager in 2007, they can probably tell you where they were when Halo 3 was released. Pretty obvious, actually – they were at home playing Halo 3.
While not the final Halo game to be released by the franchise’s original developer, Bungie, Halo 3 really was their swan song. Although this instalment doesn’t quite live up to the difficulty standard set by its predecessors, you can tell that Bungie went all-out with this game. Even at over 12 years old, it stands up to some of the ‘Best Game’ contenders being released today.
Before I move on, something must be said about the music in this game. With the lone exception of John Williams’ orchestral work in Star Wars, no other medium comes close to setting the mood with music in the way that Bungie did with Halo 3. Whether it’s during the charge into the Ark, the arrival of the Flood, or the faithful Warthog mad dash ending, the music never fails to add an element of real emotion and poetry to the moment.
Halo 3: ODST & Halo: Reach
These games are not part of the ‘stock-standard’ issue of the MCC. As neither actually allows you to play as the Master Chief, it would seem antithetical to join them to the Master Chief Collection. However, anyone who’s serious about any ‘collection’ – the ones who will buy a book or movie they didn’t like just to complete a collection – knows that you need to have every instalment for before that collection is complete.
So, having listened to their fans’ requests, Microsoft and 343i blessed us with ODST and Reach as quite affordable DLC (seriously – the prices are insanely good for what you get).
ODST and Reach are the Halo games you want to play when you get tired of the rinse-and-repeat machinations of the early Halo games – introducing new characters, enemies, weapons, and abilities. Honestly, these served as welcome *breaks* from the core Halo games, as playing them all in the same year gave a very ‘Back to the Future’ vibe, selling the same movie three-times over just in different time periods.
In fact, it is their departure from the traditional Halo games that make ODST and Reach enjoyable. ODST’s unique style of storytelling breaks the story down into easier-to-digest bites after the epic campaign that is the original Halo trilogy, and the closed environment does a great job of making the player feel like a soldier trapped behind enemy lines.
Comparatively, Reach is…Reach is…how can I say this? Reach is not good.
Originally sold on the platform that “From the beginning, you know the end”, I remember playing this game with the same fondness with which I watch ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Even though I knew how the story ends, I enjoyed it nonetheless.
This certainly wasn’t my experience in playing Reach again. As soon as you realize that the entire premise of the game is a competition between the members of the ironically-named ‘Noble Team’ to see who can have the most ‘noble’ death, all enjoyability flies out the window faster than Carter can crash a Pelican into a Scarab.
Halo 4 is where you can really feel that something went wrong. Very, very, terrible wrong.
For me, playing the Halo games almost back-to-back in the MCC exposed just how disjointed the narrative became after the hand-off from Bungie to 343i. However, unlike the similar disjointedness between Star Wars’ ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Rise of Skywalker’, the later Halo entry doesn’t compensate the disaster-plot with satisfying fan-service.
Multiplayer (Coop and Competitive)
Finally, something must be said about the collective multiplayer experience of the MCC. It’s good. It’s really good.
To this day, you can pretty-much find a full lobby of folks to play competitive modes from any of the Halo games (now including Halo: Reach’s beloved ‘Invasion’ mode). The maps, graphics, and game-mode limitations make for more than just a dose of nostalgia, and actually deliver a wholly satisfying multiplayer experience that quickly becomes addictive and brings you back for more.
Additionally, jumping online to play what used to be ‘split-screen only’ coop campaigns is a heck of a lot of fun, and you’ll quickly find yourself laughing as you shoot Scorpion tank rounds at your friend trying to run up the rails of a suspension bridge (sorry Jason!).
On the Whole
Playing the Master Chief Collection is a lot like seeing a good friend after a long time apart. It’s nostalgic, you can see how much you’ve both grown, and it’s good for a while. Once all that wears away, however, you realize why you fell out of touch in the first place. These games are great. Truly – just great. However, there’s a qualifier. These games are great for their time. Sadly, for us and 343i, the gaming market – both the developers and the players – has evolved beyond what the Halo franchise offers.
Today’s video games offer faster-paced combat, greater diversity in environments, and require more complex solutions to the challenges presented by the game (seriously, I shouldn’t be able ‘John Wick’ every game Solo on Legendary difficulty). Fortunately, the MCC is not a new release, and isn’t trying to be one. However, if Halo wants to reclaim its seat as one of the core multiplayer games and compete with the likes of Modern Warfare, Fortnite, and Battlefield, Halo: Infinite will need to offer something completely new to its franchise. Otherwise, it risks becoming the FPS equivalent to EA’s annual sports releases.
The Master Chief Collection is a must-have addition to any Xbox One library. Will it become one of your favorite games again? Probably not; but it will give you plenty of contented smiles, and one hell of a dose of nostalgia.