Playing through Halo Anniversary this weekend with my brother-in-law I had a very eye opening experience. After all of the PR fluff and critic reviews based more on nostalgia I found myself more critical of the quality of the updates to the original Halo: CE. I wondered why I was knocking all of these little issues I found when I was having a blast playing through a game that can still suck me in. Then it hit me: Bungie didn't work on Anniversary, and that's who I was comparing 343's work against. Sure, Saber Interactive provided the new HD graphics layer and Certain Affinity developed all of the multiplayer maps, but as the primary developer 343 had the end say as to whether something qualified as Halo-worthy or not.
But what if they had done all the work? What would be different? I quickly realized that I wasn't on the gravy train that is the "343 hit it out of the park" club. Bungie hit it out of the park 10 years ago. 343 put a new graphics API over the top, added co-op over live and a few other minor features. They were too scared to give it that update it truly deserves. So many things were left undone, rushed, or just plain dismissed. Here are some examples:
Issues that remain/have appeared – Play co-op with a friend. Have that friend slowly walk away from you. Though they're moving slowly the animation will be running at full bore, like some sort of Scooby Doo episode. In 2001 that would have been called a quirk. In 2011, however, that's unacceptable. And it's not just limited to animation. In my co-op playthrough we noticed the flashlight stopped working for an entire level, that sounds would occasionally refuse to play (such as the Warthog's engine), and more.
No polish on the HD version – It's in the little things that we noticed the rush of the HD version. Take the first few moments of the game, for instance. Jump out of the cryo tube in HD and you're greeted by a pudgy guy in a grey jumpsuit with a shaved head. Flip over to Classic mode and he's suddenly a fit man with a full head of hair and a red jumpsuit. On the way to the bridge you'll see wounded marines. Look at one in Classic and he'll look like he's in pain. In HD he'll just be holding his arm, looking just fine otherwise. And what about some of the Elites? The red elite (Major?) has an HD counterpart that looks like a first-time modder did it. He's much darker, and has this MSPaint white stripe around several parts of his body.
Classic mode looks… different – For the most part switching to Classic mode will net you a carbon copy of how it was in 2001. But there are times when things are dark. Really dark. Like abnormally so. We fired up the old Xbox and took a look at how it was in the original, and though it's close the original was never quite that dark in these particular areas. It's as if something was either lost in translation or modified to coax players to stick with HD.
Kinect-required features – I'm sorry, I usually stick up for Microsoft when people give them that "The Man" branding, but this really does seem like a way to shove a Kinect sale down our throats. Kinect-enabled would be fine, Kinect-exclusive isn't. If I buy Kinect it won't be just to use the analyze/scan/Library features. In the end it just seems like a jerk move.
No modern features – I think this is where the non-Bungie quality sticks out most. Bungie wouldn't have settled for a port with shiny new graphics, they would have actually enhanced it. They would have made it possible to do things that people expect to be able to do, like hijack vehicles or pick up an energy sword or fuel rod gun. They would have given boost to Covenant vehicles and updated the controls for human vehicles. And for the purists out there they would have provided skulls or options to turn these things off. They wouldn't have been scared of 10 year old gameplay code, and that really worries me when it comes to 343 and the future of Halo.
Incomplete multiplayer experience – Don't get me wrong here, the new maps are great, but the overall experience feels short changed. Why did we only get five of the 13 original maps? (one map is technically a Halo 2 map) Why didn't they put in some Forge-based map to knock out a half-dozen or so of the classics? I'm pretty sure it has to do with a five letter word that starts with "m" and ends with "oney".
I guess in the end I'm torn. I'm grateful to be able to replay Halo with enhancements, but disappointed in the lack thereof. It feels like they only charged 2/3 the standard retail price because they only put 2/3 the effort in that Bungie would have. It's a great game, but it's Bungie's great game, and I have serious doubts about 343's ability to lead Halo's future when they're not even willing to put some real love into the game that started it all. I'm excited as anyone else for Halo 4, but the Microsoft-owned developer hasn't proven themselves to me yet.