Archives for posts with tag: 343 industries


As you may know, last Tuesday saw the release of the Xbox One X, Microsoft’s second bite at the current generation cherry which aims to redress the power balance seen between the base PlayStation 4 and Xbox One since they released back in November 2013. As the Xbox One has been my primary platform this gen, I decided to pick one up, and you can check out our unboxing of the ‘Project Scorpio’ edition console over on A Game with Chums.

Having bought a 4K television in the middle of last year, I’ve been waiting for this console to push some ultra high definition content to it; I have previously borrowed an Xbox One S for a few days, and found myself wowed by Warcraft: The Beginning in 4K/HDR, but I was really looking forward to seeing how games fared on the new system, especially favourites like Halo 5: Guardians, which uses dynamic scaling on original hardware, sometimes reaching as low as 1152×810. Even unpatched, the game should run at a full 1920×1080 at all times, plus receive forced 16x anisotropic filtering, cleaning up textures at oblique angles and making the game just look better all around.

Fortunately though, Halo 5 was one of the (many!) games slated to be updated for the One X, with many patches dropping before the new console even went on sale. In the week running up to release, I had a good handful of my games updated and ready to go on my external hard drive; I just needed to plug it into my new console and get going.

Obviously, being a massive Halo fan, Halo 5 was the first game I wanted to try when my system arrived, and the results were immediately obvious. The game just looks so clean now. It still uses dynamic scaling, but now both the upper and lower bounds are far, far higher. Texture filtering has also been improved, and though the core assets are untouched, the fact that resolution and filtering are so much better just means you can see far more detail than you ever could before – even down to tiny incidental text on weapon models. Halo 5: Guardians was always a pretty game, if a bit blurry. On Xbox One X, it looks spectacular, and I can’t wait to see what 343 can do with Halo 6 on the new machine.

The next game I wanted to check out was Gears of War 4. Honestly, I thought this game looked absolutely ridiculous on the base Xbox One, so I was intrigued to see how The Coalition would update it for the new machine. The answer, apart from a much higher rendering resolution of course, is higher resolution textures. The game already offered HDR if you had an Xbox One S (and I did try it out on that console when I borrowed it – it looked great), but the higher fidelity textures are the real standout here. With the game looking so crisp and clean at 4K, the upgraded texture work really shines, and the game looks absolutely phenomenal. Every time I load the game up, it drops my jaw.

Gears 4 already looked fantastic though, and the game that has impressed me the most so far, offering the biggest leap from base hardware to One X, has to be Dishonoured 2. Just look at the image at the top of this piece, a screenshot I took of the Dreadful Wale’s engine room – it could pass for a bullshot! The textures and materials look spectacular, and there’s not even a hint of aliasing.

Dishonoured 2 is another title that has received upgraded textures, and the difference is immediately apparent. Everything seems to have been improved, from geometry to textures to skin shaders; just take a look at our video below, where you can immediately see the upgrade in texture work on the door behind Captain Mayhew. Then pay attention to the Captain herself, who looks far more detailed than she ever did before. Where her face seemed a little flat on the Xbox One, you can now make out creases, scars and freckles in her skin.

It’s a massive upgrade. When Arkane announced Dishonoured 2, I was extremely excited for it, and watched all the footage the Lyon-based studio put out. I thought it looked wonderful. But when my Xbox One copy turned up, I was a little underwhelmed by it, visually. The excellent art design shone through of course, but it didn’t look great on the console. One Xbox One X it looks like the same game on a different generation of hardware, the leap is that big. In fact, it looks so good that, after recording the above video, I decided to shelve my One X-enhanced Gears of War 4 playthrough to play this instead, finally getting around to my high chaos Corvo run (I previously did a zero kill Emily playthrough).

It’s safe to say that I’m incredibly happy with my purchase, especially as I already had the TV for it. Now I can play console games in the highest fidelity and watch some more UHD blu rays. And that’s without even mentioning how small and quiet the machine is, or what it can do for backwards compatible Xbox 360 games. This thing is an absolute monster, and I can’t wait to see what developers can do with it going forward.

Oh, not that guy again
Since its release last October, Halo 5: Guardians has seen excellent post-launch support from developer 343 industries. New modes, maps and customisation items have been coming at a decent clip, and all for free, subsidised by the entirely optional REQ system. Later this summer, we’ll be getting a meaty new update in the form of Warzone Firefight, though players can get a quick look at the new mode in this weekend’s beta.

Warzone Firefight isn’t quite the same wave-based survival mode we knew and loved from ODST and Reach. Gone is the ability to simply sit and play for hours with a group of friends; Warzone Firefight is built on the foundation of Warzone, the new-for-Halo 5 PvPvE mode that sees the battle escalating as the REQ level climbs, and so it goes with this new co-operative PvE experience. Eight players take on five waves of increasingly-difficult objectives, with each having a time limit of five minutes – fail to complete your objective in time, and it’s game over. These goals are pulled from a pool of differently-weighted objectives that the game selects for your team of Spartans as the match unfolds – you might be tasked with eliminating a large number of jackals in one round, and then with defending a base against a hundred invaders in the next. In the final round, you’ll have to face off against the new Mythic-tier bosses, with upgraded health and abilities.

For the beta, Warzone Firefight is only playable on Escape from ARC, and it feels like a good map for it, funnelling players through the large map’s various structures to get to their objectives. At first, it can seem a bit chaotic, with your goals appearing in different places all over the vast map, but after a few games you’ll learn where to head when you see that objective marker pop up in the lower-right corner of the screen. And speaking of those objectives, it soon becomes clear that there is quite a diverse set of them on offer; even the final round isn’t set, with a fight against three Warden Eternals sometimes being replaced with a pitched battle against four Serpent Hunters in one of the game’s Home bases. Not all objectives are created equal however, and you’ll find you’ll have an easier time of it in round three if you’re facing off against a pair of Knight Marshalls, rather than defending the Garage against dozens upon dozens of tooled-up Prometheans.

Warzone Firefight

You might want to do things the hard way though. The main complaint I have with Warzone Firefight right now is that matches feel a touch too short. The maximum time you can spend in one match is, theoretically, 25 minutes, and that’s if you’re just managing to complete your objectives. Often, you’ll fly through the early rounds in a couple of minutes and finish the five rounds well under the twenty-minute mark. It’s a far cry from the endlessly-tweakable Firefight in Reach, which you could play for hours on end if you so wished. Of course, with this being more score-attack focused, it makes sense that the matches don’t last all day, but quite often it feels like it’s over before it’s really begun – certainly in your early games, as you get to grips with the mode.

That’s not to say the challenge isn’t there, however. Enemies in Warzone Firefight hit hard and fast, and there are a lot of them. Perhaps it’s simply an effect of the pressure to score high in a short amount of time making me play more recklessly, but they feel slightly north of Heroic difficulty. Handily, REQ energy seems to build quite fast, so by the time you’re a few rounds in you should be able to bring out some powerful SAWs or Railguns to help you deal with the masses of tough enemies. By the time you’ve used all the ammo, you’re a decent way back to earning another one.

One thing that does irk me somewhat is the spawns. Should you die, you’ll generally be quite some way from the fight when you get back into the game. I understand that you need to be able to spawn in a safe place, but it often means you have to hoof it across the map, potentially missing out on a chunk of the round, which will obviously affect your score. This can be especially tough if you’re defending the Garage in round three, as you’ll spawn in the tunnel opposite, and with tough enemies between you and the base and phaetons patrolling the skies, it’s possible to get pinned down in the tunnel for too long.

Warzone Firefight is also the best way to show off your custom Spartan armour and colours

Warzone Firefight is also the best way to show off your custom Spartan armour and colours

But this is a beta, and 343 are running it months in advance of launch so that player feedback can be taken into account, much like the game’s original Arena multiplayer beta that hit almost a year before the full game landed – things can and will be tweaked between now and release. For my part, I’d quite like to see Warzone Firefight given its own playlist, with a bunch of different varieties to choose from. Or at least one more, maybe with ten rounds rather than five, and with multiple objectives per round, as is already the case with the current offering’s final round, which tasks you with two waves of boss battles. Even better would be to open it up to customs and allow players to tweak to their hearts content. I’d love a co-op mode where I can just sit with a bunch of chums and shoot grunts in the face for an hour or two. And honestly? I want more objectives like ‘defend the garage’. It shows Warzone Firefight at its manic, nailbiting best, the screen alive with dozens of enemies and explosions, the air thick with lead and laser.

As things stand though, it’s still fantastic fun, and it gives players a better chance at seeing what all those REQs actually do, without the fear of being immediately ganked after spawning with a legendary rocket launcher, as so often happens in Warzone. For someone like me, who only plays Warzone once or twice a week, it’s exciting to know I’ll soon have a new mode that allows me to get some use out of all those high-powered cards that I rarely get the chance to bring out. And the fact that it includes matchmaking means you can play it even when your friends are busy.

The beta runs until Monday, so make sure to jump in-game and try out Firefight while you can. There’s no specific date as yet for when the mode will launch in full, but it’s expected some time in the summer. Until then, get some games in, and be sure to get yourself over to Waypoint to let the developers hear your feedback.

The pressure was surely on. After some missteps with Halo 4, and in the wake of the disastrous launch of last year’s series celebration The Master Chief Collection, 343 industries had quite a bit too prove. Seemingly against all odds, that’s exactly what they’ve done with Halo 5: Guardians.

The rebuilding is thorough. Here we have a campaign comprising eight playable characters across two four-person squads, that takes place across multiple planets playing host to expansive environments populated by dozens of enemies. Multiplayer showcases what was always great about Halo – tight arena gameplay, equal starts, on-map pick-ups, and balance, balance, balance! To that end, gone are Halo: Reach and 4‘s equippable Spartan Abilities, replaced by a suite of standard abilities that every player always has at their disposal, meaning you always know what your opponents are capable of.

sanghelios

The most visible of these is a directional dodge that you can use to quickly boost a few meters, even changing direction in mid-air, and coupled with a Titanfall-style clamber you can use to quickly climb over everything in the environment to get the drop on your foes. There’s also an incredibly powerful melee charge, a quick slide, and, most interestingly, stabiliser jets that will keep you in the air for a few seconds when you zoom your weapon, and with a bit of momentum behind you, can even be used to extend your jumps. If you’re feeling particularly gutsy, you can also aim a jet-powered ground pound at enemies below you, at the cost of hanging in the air for a few seconds while it charges up. Halo has always been a relatively mobile, vertical shooter, and these new abilities continue that tradition while adding a number of new wrinkles to the much-loved golden triangle of guns, grenades and melee.

All of this added mobility also informs the level design. Campaign spaces are the densest, most intricate environments the series has ever seen, with multiple paths through, over and under, with tons of hidden areas for you to wall-charge through to find an advantageous overlook to perch on. Wider levels also make use of your squad members, who can be ordered about with a single, contextual button press. Want them to pick up a specific weapon? Aim at it and press up on the d-pad. Want them to take up position on a gun emplacement, jump in a vehicle or focus fire on a certain enemy? Same deal. It’s simple, clean and elegant. Best of all, the AI won’t get in your way; while they’re competent enough, they aren’t going to complete the game for you, and if you’d rather not have to worry about them, those slots can always be filled by real human friends in four-player drop-in, drop-out co-op.

Then there’s Warzone, 343’s new 12v12 PvP plus PvE-ish mode. Taking place on huge maps with multiple objectives to capture, AI enemies and super-bosses to clear out, a typical Warzone match quickly descends into utter chaos as players get access to better weapons, vehicles and power-ups. This is where the Req system comes in, selectable cards that work much like Titanfall’s burn cards – use them once and they’re gone, die immediately after spawning with a shiny new power weapon, and yep, it’s gone too. This mode is certainly not balanced in any sense of the word, but then it’s not supposed to be. It’s gloriously insane Halo sandbox mayhem.

Blue Team's Kelly

There are some chinks in the Mjolnir armour, of course. The narrative could certainly use some work, and while I’m planning on writing a more in-depth piece specifically about that, character motivations are the first casualty of the expanded cast. While there’s plenty of in-mission banter, there are no real character moments in the cutscenes, which exist solely to push the story on at the expense of giving players someone to latch on to, empathise with, and thus contextualise the story through. Enormous, galaxy-changing events happen in Halo 5, but the delivery sometimes falls flat.

In gameplay terms though, Halo 5 is utterly sublime. The new additions to character movement, the adherence to a strict 60 frames update, and the fantastic, intricate level design all come together to offer perhaps the tightest Halo gameplay we’ve seen in years – it just feels so damn good in the hands. When you’re jumping, boosting and clambering through huge environments scoring headshots left and right as you soar through the air, before dropping a ground pound on an unsuspecting foe, Halo 5: Guardians is a triumph.

Halo 5 victory bros
The Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta begins in earnest next Monday, but this past weekend members of the Xbox One dashboard preview were allowed a short peek past the curtain. We got to take a look at the content that will make up the first week of the three-week test: 4v4 arena multiplayer on two maps, Empire and Truth. Empire is a small, asymmetric map set either on Earth or a human-controlled colony, while Truth, a remake of Halo 2 classic Midship, offers a little more room to manoeuver.

What everyone really wants to know about however is how the game plays. Well, it plays like Halo. To anyone not particularly interested in Microsoft’s premier FPS series, that might seem like an obvious descriptor, but Halo fans will be sceptical after 343’s first turn at bat, 2012’s Halo 4, experimented with a few things – like loadouts and killstreak perks – from other shooters, in the process tarnishing that Halo feel that fans expect. Here, there’s no need to worry. Everyone starts with the same guns – the classic MA5 assault rifle and another take on the series’ iconic magnum – and other weapons are back on the maps as pickups, where they belong. Ordnance drops? They’re gone too. It’s pure arena slayer – fair starts for all, and map knowledge and control is paramount.

There are also no armour abilities – selectable, rechargeable power-ups introduced by Bungie in Reach and inherited by 343 in Halo 4 – which means you’ll no longer be facing off against an entire team of Armour Lock spammers. What replaces them in Halo 5: Guardians are Spartan Abilties, base skills that every player has access to right from the start. These are mainly abilities that enable you to get around the environment more fluidly, and I’ll talk about each in turn, starting with my favourite, the thruster pack.

Halo 5 thruster evade

This should be immediately recognisable to anyone who played Halo 4, as it’s essentially that game’s thruster pack armour ability, except made actually useful. It’s no longer a canned animation that takes you out into third person, and you can use it in mid-air without losing momentum. For the uninitiated, it does exactly what it says on the tin and gives you a short, sharp boost in whichever direction you’re moving. You can use it to back up or close distance quickly, or speed-strafe out of the way of an incoming sniper round perhaps. That may sound overpowered, but it’s balanced quite nicely.

First, remember that everyone can do it, which means they can match you move for move if so inclined, and if you’re trying to use it to get out of danger, you’d best have somewhere to go – boosting in a direction in the middle of an open room is likely just going to prolong the inevitable. Secondly, it requires a short cooldown, so don’t think you’ll be boosting all over the maps; if you’re going to use your thrusters to burst into an area, you need to have a plan, because you can’t just immediately fly back out if things get hairy.

I mentioned that you can use the thruster pack in mid-air, and this will ideally be combined with a bit of sprint momentum to move across the maps more quickly. Add to this another new skill, the ability to mantle up to higher ledges by holding the jump button – so long as you can physically reach them – and the result is a pleasing degree of extra mobility in what has always been a relatively mobile series. These two things in particular – thruster and clamber – feel like a very natural fit for the Halo formula; we’ve long been used to clambering all over the furniture in this series via skill jumps and the like, and these added extras slot in perfectly, allowing players to maximise the verticality that has always been a part of Halo multiplayer.

There are also a few other things your increased mobility allows you to do, such as a thruster-enabled shoulder charge melee attack that can quickly close distance and catch you unaware, and you can now slide by crouching during a sprint. Holding crouch when in the air also stabilises you, slowing your descent and maybe allowing you to fire off a killing blow if you’re chasing a weakened opponent. There’s also the Ground Pound ability, which allows you to get the drop on an unsuspecting enemy at the expense of hanging in the air for several seconds to charge it up. In a small arena game, it seems borderline suicidal, but I imagine it’ll come into its own on larger maps – it seems custom made for BTB, where you’ll have much more space to move around and catch opponents unaware.

Sprint has also seen some balancing. A lot of players hated the unlimited sprint in Halo 4, feeling that it served to stretch maps out and give people an easy way out of fights they probably shouldn’t have engaged in in the first place, and 343 have made a decent attempt to answer that criticism, too. You can sprint indefinitely if you wish, but your shields won’t recharge while you do, meaning that using it to get out of trouble carries a risk as you greatly lengthen the amount of time you remain vulnerable. Stop sprinting, and your shields will begin to refill. It’s a small yet smart way to allow faster movement while keeping it in check.

Focusing on Halo 2: Anniversary‘s more arena-based maps seems to have sharpened 343’s vision for Halo 5: Guardian‘s multiplayer, and it’s obvious that the team are aiming for the competitive circuit, at least where arena is concerned. Team mates automatically call out enemy positions, thrown grenades and power weapon respawns, which means it’s not absolutely necessary to be communicating with your team – a useful addition for a player like me that tends to play Halo multiplayer alone. Prior to playing, I imagined I’d find this off-putting, but in practice it gives me a greater awareness of the battlefield and allows me to be a more productive member of the team, even while playing solo.

Power weapon placements are also marked on your HUD, so everyone always knows where they are and when they’ll be back. This may seem somewhat antithetical to the accepted way of playing Halo – that is, to learn the maps through play – but it helps to keep everyone on an even keel, meaning your skill with weapons, grenades, melee and movement is what counts most.

Halo 5 Battle Rifle Scope

I do have a couple of complaints, however, and the main one is that automatic weapons seem quite overpowered in this build. It feels like they’ve had a substantial boost to both accuracy and range and my immediate gut feeling is that they need a bit of nerfing. If 343 wanted to make automatics viable (which seems to be the case, given that every game in the early access period was AR starts), they’ve certainly done that. But when an SMG beats out a battle rifle at mid-range – which happened to me on Truth – then they might have gone a touch too far. I wouldn’t like to see them completely neutered however, as it it’s quite nice to actually be effective with the trusty old MA5. A bit more fall-off in effective range will surely help.

My other complaint concerns something that had me very worried when the first glimpses of Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer appeared online, yet as it turns out, it’s a very small objection. It’s to do with the game’s new scope animation, which looks for all the world to be Call of Duty-style ‘aim down sights’. ‘ADS’ is something I am resolutely against seeing in Halo, and it’s probably the one thing the player-base can agree on. Thankfully, it’s pretty much just a cosmetic change, and serves the same mechanical purpose as scope zoom did in the previous games; movement remains unrestricted, meaning we can still strafe and jump unhindered as before, and de-scoping also makes a return, dropping you out of zoom should you take a hit. Just as important as freedom of movement is the fact that there’s no penalty to hip fire to force you into scope in order to be effective – precision weapons are as accurate as they always were, and scoping just gives you a bit of zoom. Many, including myself, had worried that the new mechanic would make the game feel too much like other shooters on the market, but in practice that just isn’t the case. It’s really just a new animation for a signature Halo mechanic, and the combat loop is still unmistakably Halo.

The only real difference with scoped weapons is the addition of extra screen furniture in the form of a physical scope, rather than the full-screen zoom we had before, and it’s this I take issue with. It’s not too bad with the Battle Rifle, as there isn’t much to get in the way, but when you zoom the DMR, the scope takes up quite a chunk of your field of vision, obscuring a decent amount of the scenery around what you’re scoping on. It clouds your peripheral vision more than ever before, even if it doesn’t particularly affect the way the game plays.

In the grand scheme of things though, and taking into account that this is a beta of a game a year out from release, these are both relatively minor issues considering how much the game feels like Halo to me. It feels like what Halo 4‘s multiplayer should have been, and I get the feeling that working on the more arena-focused Halo 2 for the recent Anniversary remaster has allowed 343 to remember Halo‘s core strengths – that is movement, teamwork and map control, along with the holy trinity of guns, grenades and melee. It’s maybe a touch faster, a bit more mobile, but, so far at least, Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer is Halo through and through. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the beta brings when it goes live on December 29th. Until then, you can enjoy 18 minutes of gameplay captured on my Xbox One.

Master Chief Remastered Cutscene Halo 2
Before it was formally announced at this year’s E3, I didn’t really believe that Halo: The Master Chief Collection was actually a thing. Being a massive fan(boy) of the franchise, I wanted to believe, but it just seemed like too big of an ask – four games remade for Xbox One over the course of two years? Madness.

Of course, we know now that only one of those games is getting such lavish treatment, but fans will still be getting plenty of content for their money. And while the Master Chief Collection will be very handy for anyone looking to jump into the series for the first time before Halo 5: Guardians drops next year, what this really represents is a glorious celebration of the Master Chief saga. It’s pure fanservice.

The package collects all of the main games in the series (meaning that ODST, Wars and Reach are all left out in the cold) and unites them under what 343 is calling the ‘Master Menu’. From here, you can launch any of the four games, or just jump straight into a specific mission; because 343 understand that fans will have played, and thus know, these games inside and out, everything is unlocked from the get go. Fancy a trip through Halo 3‘s ‘Covenant’ level? Go for it – you can jump straight in. But even better than that, the developer will be curating campaign playlists, selections that will group together similar levels from across all four campaigns, such as levels featuring warthogs or scorpion tanks. There will also be one mega-playlist for the committed Halo fan which will take in all four games, from the start of Combat Evolved to the end of Halo 4.

Halo Master Chief Collection Master Menu

Of course, while this is a collection, there are two big draws for fans to look forward to this November, the first of which is a remastered Halo 2. 2014 is the ten-year anniversary of the original Xbox game, and so, like Combat Evolved three years back, it’s getting the full-on remake treatment. Just like Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary will be running two game engines; the original 2004 iteration underneath, and a new rendering layer on top to offer more modern character modelling, environmental lighting and more. This means that players will again be able to switch between both the old and the new looks at the press of a button, and while this incurred a short fade-out before, it’s now instantaneous.

Audio has also been completely re-recorded at Skywalker Sound, and switching between modes will also switch between the original and remastered soundtrack. Lastly, Blur (the studio responsible for Halo Wars‘ fantastic cutscenes) have remade all of the game’s cinematics, replacing the original in-engine cutscenes for incredible new pre-rendered versions, even reframing them where necessary. They’re mind-blowingly good, verging on photorealism here and there – just look at character faces.

But enough of what’s new. That other big draw I mentioned? That’ll be the multiplayer suite, which preserves the PvP modes from across all four games and brings them together just like the campaigns. The collection contains every map ever released for Halo (including some which were previously PC-exclusive), meaning there are over a hundred to battle through, all accessible through one interface. Select a playlist, and the game will throw up relevant maps from across the entire saga for players to vote on. Once a map is selected, it’ll be loaded up – in that game’s original multiplayer engine, meaning that every game played, every shot fired, every grenade thrown will play out just as we remember it, just as we expect it to.

Back in May, when the collection was still just a rumour, I started thinking about what shape the multiplayer component might take. What we’re actually getting is pretty close to my dream mode:

If I could have my dream Halo multiplayer mode included in this collection, it would be one experience rather than four disparate, game-specific modes. This single Halo multiplayer universe would be a relatively ‘pure’ Halo experience, perhaps modelled after Halo 3‘s multiplayer, and would include all the maps from all four games. If people wanted to play a more Halo 4-style game, have that as its own playlist – its own mode, like Griffball or Infection, but again, playable across all the series maps

In fact, what we’re getting is even better – the actual multiplayer from all four games, as it was, but all accessible in one mode. It’s like a museum for Halo multiplayer, encompassing everything it has ever been (minus Reach, of course), but all in one place. Microsoft closed down the original Xbox Live a few years back, rendering Halo 2‘s genre-defining online modes unplayable, but now we’re getting it back, as it existed back then. And Combat Evolved? That never even had online multiplayer over Xbox Live, but we’re getting it here. And best of all, it means no splitting of the playerbase; at least until Halo 5: Guardians is out, the entire Halo community on Xbox One will be concentrated around one title – one title with the potential, not to mention the variety, to keep people hooked in for literally the rest of the generation.

As an extra sweetener to the deal, 343 are also remastering six of Halo 2‘s most iconic arenas for a new multiplayer experience built on an upgraded Halo 4 engine, so fans get the best of both worlds – an unadulterated Halo 2 multiplayer experience, and the chance to see those maps that are burned into their retinas in glorious 2014-o-vision.

Zanzibar Halo 2 Anniversary

What makes this more than just a simple remake project is 343’s dedication to making sure everything is as we remember it, from how the game plays to the glitches (such as Halo 2‘s notorious BXR button combo) that fans exploited in multiplayer. To this end, they even went as far as keeping two separate bug lists during development – one for already-existing bugs that they wanted to leave in, and one for anything they might introduce during the porting process that they do want to squash.

It’s this attention to detail that really elevates the collection into fanservice territory – newcomers wouldn’t know about the skill jumps, the glitches, the button combo exploits. But fans do, and they want them to be there, they want the games to feel right. Of course, this runs the risk of alienating newcomers – no one is going to have fun if they’re being constantly steamrollered by veteran, ninja players – and so Frank O’Connor, Franchise Development Director at 343, has a plan. “[B]ack in the Halo 2 days, for example, we tried to not expose… things like BXR and stuff because they gave people an unfair advantage,” he told the audience at SDCC. “I think our approach this time will be a little bit different and pretty opposite, and where there are things like fun glitches we’re gonna try and explain how those work to people so that they’re not in the dark, and, you know, there’s like five jerks on the other team not telling them why they have infinite ammo.”

As well as acting as a compilation of the series’ history, the Master Chief Collection also looks to the future of the franchise: included in the package is the digital series Halo: Nightfall, which introduces us to Agent Locke – a character that will be starring alongside the Master Chief in Halo 5: Guardians – as well as including access to a multiplayer beta for the upcoming game. It adds to that feel of the collection as a museum for the Halo franchise; by looking to the series’ past and gaining understand from it, perhaps we can chart the course for its future. 343 is further reinforcing this by adding new ‘bookend’ cutscenes in-between the existing games that somehow tie into Halo 5: Guardians – perhaps framed as Locke poring over the details of the Master Chief’s exploits as he sets out to find the legendary Spartan?

Halo Anniversary 2 Master Chief Grunt

Of course, more cynical gamers will always look upon remakes and remasters as nothing but a cash-grab designed to fill the gaps in a release schedule, but in this instance that kind of attitude just isn’t warranted; 343 seem intent on respecting both the source material and their audience. Clearly, a lot of work has gone into the Master Chief Collection, and at the price of a single game, it represents fantastic value for money. And, for me at least, it’s great to see publishers willing to celebrate the great series that give us so much joy. Games are often deeply personal things to the people that play them, so it’s always nice to see their creators respecting that connection.

And this approach seems to be gaining some traction in the market right now. Square-Enix’s Theatrhythm titles are basically playable compendia of Final Fantasy music, with tracks set to famous landmarks and cutscenes from across the series, starring dozens of characters from throughout the franchise’s history. Likewise, Nintendo’s upcoming Hyrule Warriors packs in so many references to multiple games from across the Zelda series that it can only be seen as a great big slice of fanservice, even if it is approaching it from the angle of a Dynasty Warriors mash-up. But with the amount of content, thought and effort 343 is packing into their very own fanservice project, it manages to effortlessly outdo either.

Before Halo 4 launched, fans rightly had doubts as to whether the series could thrive with Bungie out of the picture. That game proved that 343 has what it takes to make a Halo game, and the Master Chief Collection proves that they really understand where the series came from. With Bungie now hard at work on the excellent Destiny and 343 continuing to expand the Halo franchise, it’s a good time to be a fan of this particular breed of sci-fi shooter.

Cross-posted on 16bitkings

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With the recent announcement of Halo 5: Guardians, and the subsequent confirmation of its 2015 release, speculation has renewed as to what this year’s Halo title for Xbox One will be. Back at E3 last year, 343 head Bonnie Ross promised fans that their Halo journey on Xbox One would begin in 2014, a promise she reiterated when announcing Guardians.

And so, the oft-rumoured Halo 2: Anniversary pushed its way to the fore again; 2014 marks ten years since the game’s original release after all, so it seems like a no-brainer. But a rumour emerged over the weekend concerning an altogether larger plan for this year, something that would tally with Ross’ claim that Halo‘s Xbox One journey would begin with “a giant leap, rather than one small step”; according to Engadget, we’ll be seeing not one but four remastered Halo games this autumn.

Apparently dubbed ‘The Master Chief Collection’, the set is said to gather up remakes of all four main-story instalments thus far and serve as a story catch-up to fans old and new alike. As the collection is focused on the Chief, Engadget’s unnamed sources say that it’s unlikely that Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach will be a part of the package, which makes sense if the idea is to get players up to speed for Halo 5: Guardians.

While something quite similar was rumoured back in January of this year, I personally think this it’s a bit too good to be true. Can 343 really remaster four separate games in the two years that will have passed since Halo 4‘s release? Even with an external development partner (such as Saber Interactive, who 343 collaborated with on 2011’s Combat Evolved Anniversary) it seems like an absolutely colossal amount of work. I really, really want it to be true, but I remain sceptical (as an aside, I really hope if it is real, it’s not called ‘The Master Chief Collection’, because that’s just an awful name. Maybe call it Halo: The Great Journey, instead).

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun with the rumour and speculate a little. As such, I’ve been wondering what shape the multiplayer component of such a release might take. Would they include all four games’ multiplayer modes? Would it be something based on Halo 4? Perhaps a beta for Halo 5? Or maybe something else entirely?

My first thought was that perhaps the collection would include just the single-player campaigns; Engadget’s sources are positioning it as a story catch-up, so multiplayer doesn’t necessarily play into that (and really, who’s going to complain about missing MP when you’ve got four campaigns to play through?). Secondly, if we consider that remastering four campaigns is a hell of a job alone, remaking separate MP modes for all four would surely be a nightmare.

Perhaps then, it’d be a port of Halo 4‘s multiplayer? Other than an extended Halo 5 MP beta, this seems the most logical idea. However, considering that ‘The Master Chief Collection’ seems very much like (massive, exciting) fan service, and that some series fans have reacted with annoyance to some of Halo 4‘s more mainstream contrivances (such as ordinance, loadouts, weapon unlocks), that may be seen as something of a black mark against the package.

But never mind what we’re likely to see. If we’re speculating here, why not draw up a wishlist? If I could have my dream Halo multiplayer mode included in this collection, it would be one experience rather than four disparate, game-specific modes. This single Halo multiplayer universe would be a relatively ‘pure’ Halo experience, perhaps modelled after Halo 3‘s multiplayer, and would include all the maps from all four games. If people wanted to play a more Halo 4-style game, have that as its own playlist – its own mode, like Griffball or Infection, but again, playable across all the series maps. Hell, you could even throw in a Reach playlist and all of that game’s maps, weapons and vehicles too.

Additionally, I’d like to see private lobbies where you can get together with friends and filter everything to create your own, pitch-perfect Halo experience. Make everything tweakable – rule sets, weapon sets, vehicles, kill limits, gravity, everything. If it’s going to draw on the entire history of the series, then why not allow fans to throw everything they want into a private match.

Then – and this is the most important part – it would be included with ‘The Master Chief Collection’ via a download code. That’s right, I want it to be a separate download. Why? Because I’d like to see 343 decouple Halo multiplayer from a collection of disparate games and have just one separate Halo MP experience that gets updated with new maps, modes, weapons and vehicles when a new Halo title comes out.

Just think about that for a second. It’d be like everythingHalo multiplayer’ in one place, updated and run as its own thing throughout the Xbox One’s lifespan. It’d mean no splintering of the community, no dropping an older game’s multiplayer to jump into the new one – just new additions as the series goes on, updated independently. It’d encompass both the past and future of the series in one fell swoop, and bring all Halo fans into one experience. And just think, you could launch it straight from your hard drive whenever you want, without having to put a disc in the drive.

Of course, I can’t see this ever happening, much as I’d like it to. I imagine it’d require 343 to staff up enough that they’d have an entire team always beavering away on the ongoing multiplayer service. But hey, if any platform holder has the money to do such a thing, it’s Microsoft.

But if I can’t dream, there’s one big issue I’d like the next Halo to address: please, please, please remove map voting. I know it sounds almost perverse, a player asking for less choice, but here’s the thing: the players can’t be trusted, and I don’t want to play Team Slayer on Ragnarok all day, every day. While most people will point to some kind of ‘CoD-ification’ as the reason why they’re not as fond of Halo 4‘s multiplayer as previous titles, for me this map repetition was what drove me away from the game. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen the DLC maps that I got for free with the limited edition, let alone played on them, and that needs to change.

Oh and also: bring back Invasion. Oh, and Firefight, too.

We’re just a couple of weeks away from E3 now, where we will surely hear all about 343’s plans for the rest of 2014. Only two weeks, to find out if my crazy fever-dream of a perfect, standalone Halo multiplayer service will come true. Who am I kidding? Of course they won’t. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be any less excited for whatever they unveil on June 9th, and while I may be sceptical about the rumoured collection, I’ll be absolutely over the moon if that’s what Bonnie Ross ends up unveiling on stage.

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In a post on Xbox Wire titled ‘The Halo Journey’, 343 General Manager Bonnie Ross has made Halo 5 official. For the first time since Combat Evolved, the game will carry a subtitle; Halo 5: Guardians is expected to be released in Autumn 2015 for Xbox One.

Calling the project “massive and exciting”, Ross outlined some of the core tenets that will shape Xbox One’s first Halo outing. “In the past, Halo games have pushed the Xbox forward, showcasing the console and its ecosystem in entertaining and innovative ways,” she said. “Making a Halo game that runs at 60 frames per second, on dedicated servers, with the scope, features and scale we’ve been dreaming of for more than a decade, is non-trivial. It’s a task that we, at 343 Industries, are taking very seriously to ensure we deliver the Halo game that fans deserve, and a game that is built from the ground up for Xbox One.”

Halo 5: Guardians is a bigger effort than Halo 4,” she continued, before announcing that the game will run on an all-new, more powerful engine. “Certainly there are some core elements carried over from prior games, but we’ve invested a huge effort in retooling our tech to take full advantage of the Xbox One’s hardware and ecosystem to create worlds and experiences worthy of next-gen.

“It’s a game that will hopefully demonstrate the talent, learnings and abilities of the 343 Industries team. A game that will incorporate the things we learned from Halo 4 about technology, aesthetics, performance and scale – and perhaps more importantly, understanding and embracing a community of gamers who love what lies at the heart of this game, and the limitless potential of the Halo universe.”

Accompanying the post was a piece of artwork depicting series’ protagonist the Master Chief, along with a mystery character. Both of them seem to be set against a backdrop of the dusty, sandy planet the Chief was seen traversing in last year’s E3 reveal trailer. But who is this other character? Their armour seems to mark them out as a Spartan, so the immediate conclusion to jump to would be Sarah Palmer, who played a supporting role in 2012’s Halo 4 (and was thus a character introduced to the franchise by 343), but looking closely, one can pick out an ONI symbol on the armour’s chest piece. If it is Palmer, she’s been moved from Spartan branch to intelligence. Of course, it could also be someone else; it’s a long shot, but perhaps it’s Serin Osman, a Spartan II candidate that didn’t make it through the augmentation process and later went to work in ONI. Though, given that she did not undergo the bone strengthening enhancements necessary to wear MJOLNIR armour, this seems unlikely.

Either way, I can’t wait to find out. I’ve said before that I’m a massive Halo fan and I look forward to seeing what 343 can achieve with the Xbox One hardware, especially considering what they managed to squeeze out of the then-seven-year-old 360 with Halo 4. That game seemed to be 343 saying, “See! We can make a Halo game!”, and while I thought it was an excellent addition to the franchise, I’d like to see what they could come up with having now taken full ownership of the series.

Interestingly, Ross also took time to reiterate that we’ll be seeing something Halo-related this year, calling back to a previous announcement that insisted our Halo ‘journey’ would begin in 2014. There have long been rumours that this year will see a Halo 2: Anniversary release (the game is ten years old this year, after all), and announcing Halo 5: Guardians for 2015 almost seems to confirm this. Ross assured readers that we’ll find out more at next month’s E3 conference, adding the tantalising promise that our “journey definitely begins in 2014 with a giant leap, rather than one small step.”

Perhaps then, it’s something more than an HD remake for Halo 2? Maybe the rumours of a HaloWar Collection‘, comprising Xbox One versions of Halos 2, 3 and 4 is a reality after all? One thing’s for sure; it’s not the forthcoming TV series being made in collaboration with Steven Spielberg, as Ross clarifies: “We’ll have more to share on the Halo television series as we near its projected fall 2015 release.”

Meanwhile, over on Halo Waypoint, Franchise Development Director Frank “Frankie” O’Connor also chimed in, adding that 343 “have significantly more to say about that at E3 and beyond. Suffice it to say, another shoe has yet to drop.” He also shared a new piece of concept art, which you can see below.

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Whatever form the beginning of our Xbox One Halo journey takes, I for one am very excited to see it.