Last fall, Microsoft and 343 Studios released a “remastered” version of the original Halo with online coop play, achievements, a smattering of Kinect-enabled voice commands, and a complete graphical overhaul. It’s somewhat of a transition title for the franchise as the baton of Halo development has been passed from Bungie to 343 Studios starting with the upcoming Halo 4. As a longtime Halo fan, I hope that this “Anniversary” edition of Halo isn’t any indicator of what the future of the franchise will be like because it’s an absolute turd bomb.
Why? Because the online co-op is completely broken. Here are three reasons why:
1) You can’t save and quit your progress mid-level.
That’s right. For some unfathomable reason, 343 has or could not implement saving your game when you’re playing online cooperatively. The game does record when you complete a level, so if you’ve managed to completely finish a level, you can start there the next time you start a session. However, that’s little solace in situations when you invest a good 2 and a half hours inching your way through 80% of a level on Legendary difficulty and your coop partner has to stop playing. At that point, the game flashes text on the screen taunting you for wasting the last 2 and a half hours of your life and teabags your face.
Ok it doesn’t really do that, but it may as well. I had to resort to some late 80′s console playing tactics by having my buddy leave his Xbox on while I completed the level solo just so we wouldn’t have to find another 3 hour time slot to redo the level. But that wasn’t the only danger in our quest to achieve game progress. We also had to live constantly in fear of 343′s next failure:
2) Random disconnections and stuttering connections.
Halo: CEA can’t handle cooperative gameplay when there are too many enemies on screen. How do I know this? The game lags and stutters when there are more than 6 enemies on the screen or whenever there is an encounter with the Flood. Making matters worse, these things happened to me as the game host. I could only imagine what unholy slideshow my poor coop buddy was experiencing on the other end.
The game also can’t handle achievement unlocking elegantly either. You know you’ve unlocked an achievement because you experience a 5-10 second game freeze as the game experiences a stroke because it can’t believe you actually accomplished anything within it. As heart-palpitating as a game freeze is for the host, it’s an even greater disaster for your remote friend, because they see a flickering “connection lost” error message. In other modern multiplayer games, this would most likely be a minor annoyance at best because you would just try reconnecting to the game at the next save point. But in the high stakes world of Halo: CEA, a disconnect means an abrupt end of the game for everyone involved. An unceremonious dump to the menu screen also means, you guessed it, a loss of all progress you’ve made in a level because the game is incapable of saving.
3) Kinect Voice Commands are Wonky
I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Halo: CEA’s voice recognition feature kept randomly tossing grenades at the ground because it kept thinking I was yelling “Grenade!” in normal conversation. Game, I can assure you that I do not want to toss grenades when I am telling my friend about the poop that I took this morning. At least this one is an easy fix, as you can turn off Kinect voice commands through an option setting.
If you’re keeping score so far, out of all the new features promised in this Halo repackaging, 343 has failed (in one way or another) at implementing online cooperative play, achievement unlocking, and voice activated Kinect controls. That leaves the new graphics overhaul. Surprisingly, they pulled that off more or less.
The new graphics engine bring it on par with Halo Reach’s campaign graphics level, which is to say, “good enough” for a modern shooter. The frame rate slows down at times, but overall it adds a lot to the visual presentation of the original Halo, especially in large outdoor set pieces like the beginning of the second level, “Halo.” 343 didn’t clean up any of the original AI, though, as Covenant move around awkwardly. At times, it feels almost like playing a brand new Halo campaign, especially with the addition of 10 “terminal” cutscenes that flesh out the game’s story.
In fairness, the single player game works as advertised, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since the original Halo had a robust checkpoint system and the ability to save and quit at any of those. The adversarial multiplayer content is handled competently, with remakes of old favorites like “Hang ‘em High.” However, playing these maps launches the multiplayer portion of Halo Reach, so Halo: CEA’s “multiplayer” essentially amounts to a map pack for Halo Reach. It’s probably for the best, as I can’t imagine Slayer being very much fun with constant disconnects and abrupt boots into the main menu.
When you think about how 343 was just simply tasked to add modern Xbox 360 features like achievements and online coop to an existing design completed game, it’s pretty appalling to see the results. Add in the challenges of actually designing new levels, story, and balancing new weapons, and I have a tough time believing these guys are going to make Halo 4 anything short of a disaster.