Plugged In

Acclaimed ‘Halo’ remake heads up huge release week

Plugged In

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Has it really been ten years since the launch of the first Halo?

Apparently so, according to Microsoft, and they ought to know. Launching alongside the original Xbox a full decade ago, Halo's one of a handful of games released this century that can genuinely claim to have made a permanent impact on the development of video gaming, turning the console first-person shooter from a curio into the dominant genre it is today.

In celebration, Microsoft is going right back to where the adventure started, re-releasing the original game in a revamped, remastered Xbox 360 version sporting all the bells and whistles modern gamers have come to expect from their shooters. High-definition visuals, online multiplayer: it's all here.

But can a ten-year-old shooter really compete with the latest and greatest Modern Warfare installment? Yes and no seems to be the answer, though with average scores well into the 80s, it's more of the former than the latter.

"Halo exhibits a single-minded focus that the modern FPS, with its choreographed set-pieces and thrilling scripted sequences, largely disregards," raves Edge in a 9/10 review, though they take it to task for its still-problematic level design.

Games Radar does as well, pointing out that although the game has aged gracefully, star Master Chief is concealing the odd gray hair under his iconic helmet.

"Nostalgia or not" writes reviewer Charlie Barratt, "it's impossible to play the first Halo ten years later without experiencing quite a lot of unexpected tedium and frustration. Remember the infamous, mind- and thumb-numbingly repetitive Library level? What you won't realize until now is how many other sections of Halo: Combat Evolved are just like that."

Barratt also mentions features missing from the original Halo that fans of the newer game might have come to take for granted -- like, say, the ability to hijack vehicles, or destroy them, or the way Master Chief's health bar doesn't heal completely on its own any more. He still wraps up with a hearty recommendation, but with the caveat that the classic gameplay might not be quite as classic as you remember.

Although Xbox Live was still an orange gleam in its daddy's eye when the original Halo hit streets, it was nevertheless celebrated for its groundbreaking multiplayer modes. For the Anniversary edition, Microsoft has opted to recreate half a dozen of the best-loved maps from Halos 1 and 2 in the Halo: Reach engine, and souped up the campaign's co-op mode with Xbox Live support. The bundle comes in for widespread praise from critics, including CVG's Michael Gapper, who marks the game an 8/10.

"The six maps ...neatly illustrate just how good [the Halo developers'] level design was - as good as those early campaign stages, designed with a different aesthetic to everything that follows," writes Gapper. "With every tool in Bungie's sandbox at your disposal, the multiplayer and early levels of Combat Evolved are the Halo series at its very best, even ten years on."

And the best news? Halo Anniversary is launching at a decidedly cut-price $40. There might be some debate over whether it still deserves that "Combat Evolved" subtitle, but for fans of the franchise, it's a worthy trip back.


Also out this week:
Super Mario 3D Land

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Super Mario 3D Land

Saddled with a high price and a dearth of decent games, Nintendo's newest 3DS handheld got off to a bit of a slow start. Change is in the air, however, and it's in coming the familiar form of a certain coin-hoarding, head-jumping Italian plumber.

Super Mario 3D Land's arrival over the weekend was accompanied by top notch reviews, making the game a good contender for the best game on the 3DS so far -- and who knows, it might just have what it takes to save the platform altogether.

Assassin's Creed: Revelations

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Rapidly cementing itself as one of modern gaming's most important cross-platform franchises, the Assassin's Creed series gets a new installment this week.

Scoring in the 7s and 8s, Revelations is getting a slightly cooler reception than the last Creed title did, but even the more critical takes make it clear that fans of the series will get plenty of enjoyment out of Revelations.

Saints Row: The Third

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Grand Theft Auto with the mayhem dial set to "11," open-world sequel Saints Row: The Third continues the increasingly improbable tale of the Third Street Saints. Kicked out of Stillwater after a bank heist goes spectacularly amiss, the Saints (armed with a selection of weapons bizarre, ridiculous, and sometimes unprintably rude) must re-establish their gangland empire on a whole new turf. Madcap, irresponsible, and often crass, it's definitely not one to play in front of Grandma, but those of an appropriate age -- with, perhaps, an appropriate lack of maturity -- will laugh their heads off.

Rayman Origins

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Ray-who? It's been years since the inexplicably limbless platform-game stalwart Rayman starred in his very own game, but his latest is quite spectacular.

One of those rare crossover characters that appeals to both kids and adult gamers, Rayman -- not to mention his designer Michel Ancel -- retains a substantial fanbase. Happily, Origins sees Ancel take the reins again, and his charismatic new game is sucking down a glowing set of review scores. Four player, drop-in, drop-out cooperative gameplay make it a great choice for families, too.

Need for Speed: The Run

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Hit-or-miss racing franchise Need for Speed sends another racer down the track in this cross-country road trip. EA's brought out the big guns to help promote it (like a trailer directed by Michael Bay), but will it be as sublime as last year's Hot Pursuit, or will it just coast by on its name alone?

So far, it's not looking great. While everyone seems to enjoy the core racing, critics are largely put off by the game's soulless story and odd design choices. Rent this car before buying, it seems.

Jurassic Park: The Game

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No, you don't get to be the dinosaurs. Hopefully that doesn't put you off, because if this movie-licensed adventure can be as good as creator Telltale's recent revisiting of the 'Back to the Future' series, fans are in for a real treat. Reviews on this one are proving slow to come in -- waylaid by velociraptors, we imagine -- but we've got our fingers, claws, and talons crossed that it turns out good.

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