Archives for posts with tag: Halo: The Master Chief Collection

nightfall
Everyone remembers that Xbox One reveal. It was so memorable for its focus on things other than gaming that it spawned its own “TVTVTV” meme. Everyone remembers the subsequent u-turns, many made after the appointment in March of this year of Phil Spencer to the Xbox Department’s top job – decisions made in an effort to right the ship after months of negativity toward the Xbox brand.

And so, it came as little surprise when, a few months after Spencer assumed control, Xbox Entertainment Studios was shut down. Formed in 2012 to create interactive television content for Xbox Live, the studio never got a chance to show us what it could bring to the table. While a couple of the studios projects, like the subject of this piece, survived that closure, it would have been interesting to see where such a venture might have lead in the fullness of time, especially if they were to focus primarily on gaming-related content; as a big fan of extended universe stuff, I like that the worlds we explore in games can exist in more places than just the consoles and PCs we play them on.

As with any project that ties into a franchise’s extended universe, the result is of course that these things often end up being very obviously ‘for the fans’, and that’s no bad thing: it’s the most hardcore fans that are going to care about the wider universe these things sit within.

Which is why it’s a little odd, on first starting up episode 1 of Halo: Nightfall, the Xbox Live-exclusive miniseries from Scott Free Productions that requires ownership of the Master Chief Collection to even access, that there’s a short text intro to set the scene. Fans don’t need the Human-Covenant War explained to them, nor the resultant unsteady peace, yet newcomers are unlikely to even see the series (at least for the time being).

locke

Thankfully, pretty much everything from here on in is pure fanservice. Right from the moment we’re introduced to Jameson Locke as he and his team track an alien smuggler on a human colony world, we see that the soldiers are equipped with Halo: Combat Evolved‘s iconic pistol. Following the smuggler, the team witnesses a Covenant Spirit flying low overhead, looking and sounding exactly as you’d expect. Later, when we meet Aiken, a colonel in the local Colonial Guard, the mistrust between the colonists and their UNSC ‘guests’ is palpable, yet the show wastes absolutely no time explaining why this is; hardcore Halo fans will likely understand, and so it’s left at that.

The story follows a small intelligence team as they track an alien smuggler on the human colony of Sedra (population: 92% human, we are reliably informed). Witnessing the smuggler hand over a package, thought to be a bomb, to an Elite in the forests outside of Sedra’s capital, Locke’s team give chase, losing the alien as it escapes into the city. Before it can be stopped, the Elite detonates the device in a crowded shopping centre. Rather than explode however, it emits a strange pulse that quickly infects humans – and only humans – leaving them to slowly perish from an unknown malady.

Realising that the Covenant could now possess a biological weapon that only targets humans, Locke’s team, assisted by a colonial guardsman named Macer, manage to track the substance to a fragment of Alpha Halo (“the one destroyed by the Master Chief!” – again, no explanation deemed necessary), and set in motion a plan to travel to the fragment, apprehend the smugglers that are collecting the substance, and destroy it if possible.

As you’d expect from a Scott Free production, it’s very nicely composed and shot, and holds up well against other recent sci-fi like Battlestar Galactica, at least in the audiovisual department – unsurprising perhaps, given the choice of Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (whose credits include Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Prison Break, alongside the aforementioned Battlestar reboot) on directorial duties. The overall tone isn’t too far removed from something like The Sarah Connor Chronicles either, going for a reasonably grounded feel, despite the fact it’s set in the 2550s. CGI shots of the Covenant Elite seen in this first episode could probably be better, though it’s no worse than, say, a computer-generated Cylon Centurion.

macer

Though we’re only half an hour in at this point, I can’t imagine I’ll be quite as complimentary about the script and performances. Prison Break‘s Paul Scheuring is on writing duties, and though Mike Colter seems likeable enough as Locke, so far everyone else is simply adequate, if a bit flat. Dialogue is generally fine, but the occasional dramatic line falls flat, too (sample line: “He says it’s sourced from a place no one will go. He says it’s sourced from Hell.”). While Aiken obviously hides some secrets in his past, Locke’s team remain mostly anonymous, and I can already imagine the cast shrinking somewhat to focus around the core of Locke, Macer and Aiken as we go forward.

But then, standing up to genre stalwarts most likely isn’t the point of Halo: Nightfall. It’s an excessively expensive piece of fanservice meant to introduce players to the character of Jameson Locke, someone who will become increasingly important in the Halo universe the closer we get to next year’s release of Halo 5: Guardians. It fills a similar role as 2012’s Forward Unto Dawn, then, serving to bridge the gap between sequels while introducing a new character or two along the way. It feels like an expansion of that idea, yet at thirty minutes per episode it isn’t quite television length – Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming live-action adaptation (another survivor of the closure of XES) will likely cover that role, and it’s easy to see Nightfall as something of a practice run for the larger project

It’s difficult to recommend Halo: Nightfall to newcomers to the franchise, given how much knowledge is assumed, but for fans it’s as shiny and lavish a piece of extended universe fiction as we’re likely to see – at least until Spielberg’s offering materialises. And as a look at what might have been had Xbox Entertainment Studios continued, well, it’s a shame that it never really got a chance to get started.

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

chiefponcho
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.