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[Editor’s note:  when you purchase Halo: The Master Chief Collection you will be given exclusive access to the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta from Dec 29 – Jan 18, 2014.]

A story as old as time. A story about a guy and a girl…. and a galaxy full of xenophobic religious nut aliens who think our existance is heresy. Master Chief, Halo, Cortana… names that meant nothing to us as we entered a new millenium, one year later and everything was different. Now of course we’ve come to know these two well… very well judging by the sales figures and rampant cosplay. 343 Industries, new caretaker of this storied franchise, together with MIcrosoft have thrown together a little compilation title for your consideration, with Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is produced by 343 Industries, and published by Microsoft Studios

Release Date: November 11, 2014

Consoles: Xbox One

Genre: First-person Shooter

Rating: M

We’re Making History Here

2560459-e3-2014-halo-2-anniversary-comparison-ascension-jpg-1.jpgI’m on the record about for my experiences with Halo on several occasions. But I remember first time I crossed paths with Combat Evolved very well, and just how mind blowing it seemed. It was one of those moments where games reached out and slapped me in the face.  It led to my first experience with multiplayer, and just how much fun was had with LAN parties, feeling like kings because a few of our friends knew how to hook up some Ethernet cables. That whole multiplayer experience became just ‘playing games’ in a single hardware generation, but at the time it felt like some high level hack… that we were getting away with something…and man do I feel old all of a sudden.  In any case, the tales of Master Chief and Cortana are a modern day epic. Whether you dismiss game story telling or not, we followed two unlikely characters through an incredible journey. Two lonely souls together against the tide. As they went they broke a lot records (to date that’s somewhere over the 60 million copies mark, with 3.5 Billion with a B in sales) and all within mankinds newest storytelling medium, the videogame.  Remember when the ‘old white folks’ (think of out of touch rich white guys who want to sit behind a desk and make ALL the money in the world so it’s theirs) used to laugh at games and think ‘they were for kids’? We’ll they lacked the foresight and basic pattern recognition to see that games were the next media. Then of course Master Chief kicked in the door, ushering in a new era in console gaming, what we called Next Gen, and now consider ‘current’… and there’s that feeling old thing again.  Ok, so I’ve done my bit, we’re all on the same page now, the Halo franchise is great big, vast, thing, like some sorta… large celestial body, out there in space, designed by a hyper advanced culture (habitable?  Ring shaped?  I could go on…) If only someone would put that whole experience all in one convenient place… Well, funny you should mention that.

Part of what makes The Master Chief Collection so desirable is that it’s so obvious, and yet, I don’t know anyone that saw this coming.  Another thing, arguably THE thing, being just how much content there was to put together in the first place. I think it would have been cheeky to do a box set like this with any less, but for the price of a regular release, so a game in a box with maybe a pre-order bonus tops, for Xbox 360 and PS3 (because those new generation games cost a few more shekels) $60 and you get the entire Master Chief Saga until this point.  But you’ll  have to excuse me, going through it all will require a new paragraph.

How’d they get all this in here?

It’s a 44 gig download, that’s how.  Yes I’m serious, and no, I couldn’t believe it either, 44 gigs … I’d say that you couldn’t guess how long it took to download, but you probably could. It was worth it. This thing is dense, like gold is dense, packed with shiny goodness, right from the beginning to the end.  A few years back, Halo: Combat Evolved got the ‘Anniversary’ treatment, basically bringing it forward in time with a graphical re-haul.  Exclusive to The Master Chief Collection, they did the same with Halo 2.  I can say without reservation that these are some of my favorite features of the whole thing, but I’ll get into that in a minute.  You also get Halo 3 and Halo 4, with all chapters unlocked, meaning you can (and I did) finish the first mission of Combat Evolved and then the last mission of Halo 4 should you so desire.  Also included are multiplayer suites for all four, including a sort of ongoing 343 industries game type du jour and so many maps it’ll make your head explode. This being one of the major high points of the package, as it’s been for gaming in general, it’s all about the multiplayer. If you like it, there’s a lot here. They’ve got each broken into game specific chunks (each game being its own suite), and while I’m sure there is a perfectly good reason for this, it felt a little lazy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a unified interface at some point, which it really needs.  After that, it’s basically every Halo multiplayer map, including a bunch of remakes, and a whole bunch of people anxious to meet you… I mean shoot you. Tying it all together is an overarching cinematic storyline created by Blur (they’re pretty much top dog in digital cinematics) for the Master Chief Collection, to say it looks good would be an understatement. It’s also an excellent segue into the video content of the Master Chief Collection, The live action Halo: Nightfall an episodic show, making the long asked for Live Action Halo (movie, tv, anything) a reality.  Then of course, there’s the early access beta to Halo 5 which, let’s face it, is a fairly strong draw. And let’s not forget all fifty Spartan Ops missions become available in December.

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So … is it cool?

Yes. But there is no denying that the cynics will roll their eyes, and they aren’t wrong. It’s what makes reviewing this bundle a bit weird in the first place. Outside the Halo 2 Anniversary treatment what boils down to some videos, a beta access key, and the novelty of the packaging. It’s essentially a bundling of (well) known content. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t more to it. Was this a profitable idea for Microsoft that relies on a certain amount of nostalgia and some fairly blatant manipulating of our basic human instinct to be attracted to ‘value packaging’? Absolutely, so I can’t really blame those that dismiss the whole thing, because, as I said, they aren’t wrong.  But I think it’s a bit disingenuous of them to ignore what makes this that, AND something else too. One of my favorite features on the first two games is that little button that lets you drop it into ‘original’ mode. For a start, I can’t believe how primitive some of the geometry was (looking out the Pillar of Autumns windows, for example) and how far we’ve come, because at the time, that was mind blowing.  But then again, there are moments running around on the Halo’s surface where I couldn’t help thinking ‘man, these guys still managed to make some pretty cool stuff here’. The Vehicle-centric missions, like when you got introduced to your first Warthog or Scorpion Tank, as a prime example. But it also made me glad that we preserved it, because I’m not one of those people who think games are fluff or just ‘for kids’.  I am one of those people who see the medium as an expression of our advancing minds moving forward through time, and I think in a few decades something very much like this collection will be at some version of a museum where we’ve charted where we went to get to wherever we’re going.  As much as I appreciate having access to such a big multiplayer suite, it’s been playing the campaign playlists that have been the real joy of this experience, and I can’t over-express how pleased with the first two I am.

At the end of the Day

In perfect time for this holiday season, and no doubt in anticipation of some very serious numbers added to the already heaping pile Microsoft have printed off with this franchise, I cannot deny that this is a cool package.  Nor can I begrudge its creation, put on the shelf it bothers no one, but offers a lot for what is ultimately a very reasonable price.  For $60, you can put this in the hands of pretty much any kid or ‘gamer’ sort of person (unless they’re of the ‘anti-halo’ persuasion, those do exist) who will be well content with what I can best describe as some sort of digital origami that unfolds layers of content that will keep you in ‘future-space-warrior’ fighting gluttony until pretty much forever… or something bigger comes out.  For me, personally, going in with my eyes open and not knowing which side of this I’d fall on, the opportunity to start from the beginning and at a crisp 60 frames per second that, if it’s not quite up to current hardware capabilities, is once again accessible and beautiful in its way, was something of very real value to me. Multiplayer is multiplayer, and I don’t want to undersell it, but, it’s just a whole lot more of it.  Like a gateway to an entire realm of multiplayer options that will, if you so require, keep you entertained as long as you have power and an internet connection. But as a fan of the franchise, having it all right there, with ongoing content creation that no doubt will see the whole ‘Halo-verse’ of stuff yet to come centralized and occupying some sort of digital real-estate where we can scratch that particular itch, that’s something worth having.  It just took something as vast as Halo to justify such a platform. So, in the words of the immortal Lloyd Christmas… ‘I like it, I like it a-LAWT’… and I’m giving it a full score.  

Overall Rating – 5/5

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is available now for the XBox One

A firm believer in "you have to get old, but you don't have to grow up," I've been an unabashed lover of nerdy things for a good long while and don't plan to stop anytime soon. With experience on both sides of the video game, both as a consumer and a producer, and a love of the written word, I've managed to combine all three right here with the Plug-in blog