E3 2014: Why the Halo Master Chief Collection Puts Other Greatest-Hits Compilations to Shame

A monument to all your sins.

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The rumors were true. 343 Industries is indeed working on a 10th anniversary edition of Halo 2, but that classic 2004 shooter is going to be bundled alongside Halo 3, Halo 4, and the original Combat Evolved as part of The Master Chief Collection.

What is The Master Chief Collection? Well, it looks to be one of the slickest greatest-hits compilations in recent memory. On a single Xbox One disc, you'll find remastered versions of all four Master Chief outings, each spruced up to run in 1080p and at 60 frames per second. And because this is the 10th anniversary of Halo 2, 343 is giving that game a bit of extra attention--think of it as a similar graphical upgrade to the one Halo: Combat Evolved received three years ago, right on down to the ability to switch between new and original visuals with the tap of a button. (Halo: CE Anniversary is also included on the disc.)

Halo 2 has been given fancy new story cinematics. Never has Sgt. Johnson's stubble looked so stubbly!
Halo 2 has been given fancy new story cinematics. Never has Sgt. Johnson's stubble looked so stubbly!

The whole thing is organized in a way that feels like listening to your favorite band's entire back catalog on shuffle. See, you don't launch each game separately from the others; instead, you access all of the campaign missions and multiplayer--yes, there's online multiplayer for all four games--from a single shared menu. And from there, you can mix and match in a way that few--if any--greatest-hits collections have ever allowed before.

Here's how it works. While you could load up Combat Evolved and play that through to completion before moving on to Halo 2, you can also queue up a setlist of missions from all four games. So you can play through every single Warthog mission in succession--or all the Flood missions if you're a masochist--without having to jump back out to a main menu. But you can also create your own continuous, cross-game setlists. That's because all these missions are unlocked from the start--343 is assuming you've played all this stuff before--and the overall game works in such a way that each of these older engines is loaded simultaneously under the hood to make it all flow smoothly.

(A quick note about campaign co-op: Like Combat Evolved Anniversary, online co-op has been applied to Halo 2. But all four games are sticking with their original player counts. So that means Combat Evolved and Halo 2 support two player co-op as they originally did, while Halo 3 and Halo 4 allow for up to four players total.)

Now let's talk about online multiplayer. Yes, it's there--even for Combat Evolved, which never featured network support in its original Xbox iteration. That may come as a surprise considering that the reasoning 343 used for not including multiplayer in Combat Evolved Anniversary was that it wouldn't feel the same going from offline to online. Instead, it shipped that remaster with access to Halo: Reach multiplayer. So what has changed?

In short: dedicated servers. All four games feature multiplayer running on dedicated servers. So now, according to 343, the multiplayer for Combat Evolved--and the other three games--won't have to rely on the peer-to-peer networking that the Xbox 360 used, thus providing an experience that better mimics Halo CE's offline immediacy.

Maybe that's the real reason; maybe it's not. Whatever the case may be, it's just cool to see online multiplayer returning for those earlier games--all of which run in their original engines, exploitable glitches and all. So yes, according to 343, all those tricks and exploits (think EXP boosting) you discovered in earlier games are still there, because the developers wanted to preserve the original character of these games--like a snapshot in time from before the dawn of patching and title updates. Except, you know, with all the downloadable maps included.

But what's really neat is that, like in the campaign, you can choose to play in multiplayer hoppers that shuffle up each game on the go. So in the pre-match voting screen where players cast a vote for one of several potential map-and-mode combinations, you might be choosing a match on Halo 2's Ascension, CE's Hang 'Em High, or Valhalla from Halo 3. And just like that, when the votes are decided, you'll be whisked over to that game's original multiplayer engine.

Assuming none of the multiplayer magic was lost in the transition to 60-frames-per-second gameplay, all of this adds up to one very cool package. For $60, you've got what is essentially the ultimate Halo collector's edition, and a ticket to transport back in time to the bygone era of early Halo multiplayer. And for story buffs, there are new cinematics that tease the events of Halo 5: Guardians, as well as full access to Ridley Scott's upcoming Halo: Nightfall episodic series. It's easy to feel cynical about remakes as a quick cash grab, but this is one case that looks to put all those other greatest-hits compilations to shame. The Master Chief releases on November 11 this year.

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