How does one commemorate a series so influential, so groundbreaking to the first person genre? A series that has created a mythos that goes way beyond the console and has firmly embedded itself in people’s imaginaries?

By sticking to its basics and bringing forth the “essence” of Halo into a new generation.

It’s to this pinnacle that the Master Chief Collection (MCC) reaches. It anthologizes the entirety of the Master Chief saga up until Halo 4 in one sleek, bound-up package for newcomers and Halo-hardened players alike. While this has certainly been done in the past (one only need to look towards the Final Fantasy Anthology and other similar fan-service compilations that have come out over the years), Halo sets itself apart by doing it differently. It doesn’t simply copy and paste the original game unto their newest console; it completely revitalizes the franchise and makes it accessible for all those who wish to jump into a deep and complex world that has spawned countless spin-offs, books, parodies and more (you can check out my favorites over here).

MCC Image by Microsoft Studios

MCC Image by Microsoft Studios

The experience starts up straight away as you load the MCC. The opening screen features fragmented halo rings circling a blue planet accompanied by Halo’s introductory score and Gregorian chants. At once, you feel that this is something special. And I can’t deny it: it truly is. This collection has been germinating in the minds of i343 since it first took over the reigns from Bungie back in 2007. At that time, three Master Chief titles spanned two separate consoles and they understood the inevitability of a console generation’s limited shelf life; thus the MCC was born.

MCC Halo 2 Anniversary Playlist

MCC Halo 2 Anniversary Playlist

 Navigating the main interface of the MCC relies on its incredibly user-friendly functionality. Since a major goal of publisher Microsoft Studios and developer 343 Industries was to create a seamless experience for players and allow them to be absorbed into its cosmos, every campaign, gametype, multiplayer package and customization tool falls into one place, allowing you to go back and forth between different modes. Gone are the days of having to get up and switch between discs depending on what you felt like doing.  You even have access to the upcoming Halo:Nightfall series as well as the Halo 5 Multiplayer beta that’s launching on December 29th of this year.  You will also have access to fan-favorite customization options including creating your own emblem and clan tag. The return of my two-shaded skull on a star was probably the first thing I did when I jumped on a few weeks back.

You also get to customize your controls. While they’ve tried replicating original schemes onto the new Xbox One controller, you can basically choose which ever suits your gameplay style. Whether you want to challenge yourself by using the schemes of each specific game or (like I did) choose a universal scheme that’ll span all four games and multiplayer packages, you and only you get to choose. And, personally, I found those options really important.  It’ll negate the chances of you trying throwing a grenade when you really meant to aim down sights, and you can actually tailor the way you want to play.

MCC Interface - Image by Microsoft Studios

MCC Interface – Image by Microsoft Studios

The campaign section of the MCC features some really neat aspects that are welcome to Master Chief’s compendium. All four games are accessible in this one location, and you don’t need to finish its predecessor to play a specific game. It even takes it a step further by having all the campaigns and skulls unlocked. So if you had a glass of whisky to celebrate its release on November 11th and feel confident enough to dive into the MCC by running sniper alley solo on LASO (don’t), you’ll be able to.  The philosophy behind this is that many people have poured hours into the game, unlocking everything already once. While newcomers can obviously take advantage of this feature, I don’t recommend it at all. Central to Halo’s success was its poise in creating a deep and engrossing narrative, one that would be ruined by starting on mission 3 in Halo 4. Regardless, the MCC was tailored to maximize players experience, so play as you feel.

343 Industries also introduced the “Campaign Playlists” feature, which aims to capture specific themes and elements that fit a particular storyline or plot found both within specific games and across different ones. While at its release, the “Campaign Playlists” will be those that the developers have pre-constructed, they plan on adding a sort of build-your-own-Halo-game sometime in the future.

Another new, neat feature implemented into the campaign is the overlay in the UI that shows par times and scores that you can aim to beat, as well as competitive scores that those of your friends or random people have achieved.  Depending on which difficulty you do a campaign, you’ll get a score multiplier which will increase your score as you hit Heroic or Legendary proportions.

Halo CE MCC- Image by Microsoft Studios

Halo CE MCC- Image by Microsoft Studios

 The MCC’s Halo: Combat Evolved is the Anniversary edition that was released for the 360. It boasts the same features, including it being run on two graphic engines, allowing you to hop back and forth between its original rendering of graphics or its updated version. The same goes for the music; you can either listen to the original score or its remastered rendition.  The story, obviously, stays true to both the original Halo: CE and its 2011 counterpart and its enhancement on the Xbox One makes the game run at 1080p 60 fps, constructing a more visually pleasing and smoother experience for all.

Halo 3 MCC - Image by Microsoft Studios

Halo 3 MCC – Image by Microsoft Studios

Jumping into Halo 3 was, admittedly, quite anticlimactic when it comes to the entirety of the MCC collection. It’s port was practically untouched, save for it being optimized at 1080p 60fps for the Xbox One. While no one will turn their noses up to smoother framerates and “enhanced” graphics, the fact that the 2007 title looks worse than its predecessors was a let down. It didn’t matter that I knew from the get-go that only Halo 2 would be remastered; I was just expecting more. Then again, it can be viewed as an ode to Halos, and by extension, gaming’s evolution. Much has changed and progressed in 7 years and playing Halo 3 will leave you with all the bittersweet and nostalgic feels a game can offer. As for the game and story itself, Bungie’s final bow to Master Chief remains as triumphant as we all remember.

Halo 4 MCC - Image by Microsoft Studios

Halo 4 MCC – Image by Microsoft Studios

 Halo 4’s inclusion into the Master Chief Collection actually makes you forget that it was originally released for the Xbox 360. Bumped up to 1080p, 60fps, it is easily the most beautiful game within the collection.  It runs, looks and feels like it was designed with the Xbox One platform in mind.  As with all the other games, all multiplayer playlists and game types have been brought over, including all 10 episodes from Spartan Ops. As it was only originally released 2 years ago, not much has changed and I’m quite pleased with that.

Halo 2 Anniversary MCC - Image by Microsoft Studios

Halo 2 Anniversary MCC – Image by Microsoft Studios

 As satisfied I am with what the Master Chief Collection offers, it’s crowning glory doesn’t reside in adding Halo 1, 3 and 4 onto a disc; it’s true purpose was to offer a remastered Halo 2 experience in conjunction with its 10 year anniversary.

Halo 2 is probably one of the most anticipated sequels in gaming history. Other than it’s frustrating cliffhanger of an ending, the game cemented Halo 2’s legacy. Similar to what was done to Halo:CE Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary runs on two engines, allowing you switch between old school and new school renditions of the game. Though not quite running on 1080p, it is stabilized at 60fps and suffers few drops in framerate. But to be honest, I truly didn’t notice it wasn’t 1080p. It’s overhauled cinematics are truly breathtaking, and it includes a brand-new sneak peek at upcoming Halo 5’s mysterious Spartan Locke, tying in the stories together.

They didn’t just update the graphics; they updated the sound as well. The gun sounds are piercing and heavy, and you can hear Master Chief’s clanking footsteps as you play. So much that a few times I thought there were enemies around me. Alas, there wasn’t; it just sounded like what a MJOLNIR assault armor would actually sound like when running through reverberate halls.

And, oh the Halo music. One of the most remarkable features of the Halo franchise is its incredible soundtracks. Martin O’Donnell is a genius, and his instrumental pieces  are only enhanced by Halo 2 Anniversary’s remastered version. While you can listen to it in its original form, the one 343 industries has redone is fantastic, especially the “Outskirts” score. Pure musical pornography, I tell ya.

Again, the story remains the same in its newest form. While there may be some naysayers, Halo 2’s plot is probably my favorite.  For spoiler sake, I won’t say too much but the revival of the genocidal war pursued by the Covenant added much depth Halo’s narrative.

Halo 2 Anniversary Multplayer Shot - Image by Microsoft Studios

Halo 2 Anniversary Multplayer Shot – Image by Microsoft Studios

I’ve had the unfortunate inability to play any multiplayer games as of yet.  So as far as my opinion goes, I can’t say much until I’ve fully experienced it, and when I do, I will be updating my review. That being said, a huge chunk of Halo’s success was due to its revolutionary multiplayer mechanics and the one thing I’m praying for is that that original spirit is translated in the MCC.  The only part that I’ve been able to use is its campaign couch co-op which, HURRAY, you can play split-screen with someone.

As for general multiplayer info, you will be able to play the campaigns and Spartan ops through local or online co-op. The entirety multiplayer maps from all 4 games (including those that were originally PC only) are included, as well as a special Halo 2 anniversary playlists that have been reimagined for the MCC. While you can still play the original Halo 2 multiplayer map packs, 343 industries have promised that the remastered playlist aims to invoke the spirit and fun of the original release. I’m hoping that that means that they went in an entirely different direction than Halo 4.  So yeah, we’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out. They did include (which I screwed around in for a bit) a new, more intuitive and enhanced Forge mode as well as  custom games and theatre modes.  I do have high hopes for the multiplayer aspect of MCC, though. I don’t think 343 Industries will screw around too too much this time around on a formula that has been proven works.

Halo 2 Anniversary MCC 2 - Image by Microsoft Studios

Halo 2 Anniversary MCC 2 – Image by Microsoft Studios

You see, ultimately, the Master Chief Collection is about choice. It allows you to take the reigns on how you want to explore the game, whether it’s your first or a hundredth time.

Everyone remembers their first experience with a Halo game. Whether it made you discover a hidden thirst for competitive multiplayer, or you were left awestruck at its compelling story; these personal anecdotes and feelings speak to the impact that this franchise has had on the gaming community. Adding the element of “choice” throughout the MCC cements the personal involvement people have invested into the series over the years. You get to choose how Halo plays out for you.

Is the MCC perfect? No, it isn’t.  There are some framerate drops that occur, a few glitches that find your enemies dead and twitching, with their head firmly stuck in cement.  A couple of times Hunters either wouldn’t drop onto the scene when they were supposed to, or they’d be DOA. And the AI in the earlier games are as derpy as ever. You’d have either Elites or Brutes facing a wall shooting at it instead of you. But some of those are just quirks that made the original series all the more endearing. Probably my biggest complaint would be how out-of-place Halo 3 looks. I know they didn’t have the time to produce a remastered version (not to mention that it goes against their 10-year anniversary releases) but still, it is a low point in the game.

But through all its faults, the MCC comes out victorious. The game is a fantastic deal for both veterans and those wanting to jump into the series. You not only get to see the progression of video games in general, but you get to witness first hand how its mechanics have evolved and improved itself throughout the years. It gives you the perfect opportunity to not only experience the hype that is Halo Nation first hand, but it also allows you to get ready for 343 Industries own Master Chief arc, with Halo 5 coming out sometime in the next year or so. It really sets the standard for gaming anthologies, which I’m sure many are planning on doing. And why not? Yes, you’re technically paying for a game twice if you’ve already play it, but not everyone starts gaming at the same time so it provides an opportunity for new gamers to immerse themselves in this beloved series.

Priced at $69.99, the Master Chief is beyond a good deal. You can pick it up on November 11th and is only available for the Xbox One.