Last week we reviewed the singleplayer portion of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, looking at all four of the legendary campaigns that this unprecedented reboot brings to the table at 60 frames per second, with new challenges and medals, alongside cross-game playlists and full cooperative support.
However, now that 343 Industries has switched on the multiplayer and matchmaking long enough to test it, we're ready to finish this fight.
If you got that reference then you're in good company -- and, spoiler alert, The Master Chief Collection needs to be on your Christmas list.
We've never seen a multiplayer collection like this before. More than 100 maps from all four numbered Halo games are ready for action, from Sidwinder to Hang 'Em High to Midship to Zanzibar to Sandtrap to Blood Gulch, playable in title-specific or cross-game playlists. Whether you're a fan of the outrageous vehicular madness of Big Team Battle (which boasts a cross-game playlist containing 41 maps!), insane King Of The Hill brawls, vertical Oddball matches or the tight teamwork of classic Team Slayer, you're good to go and able to delve into thirteen years of series evolution.
I'm also thrilled to report that SWAT is primed and ready on day zero, including maps from both Halo 2 and Halo 4. SWAT is the king. Make sure it's in Halo 5, 343 Industries!
Halo multiplayer has remained focused on twitchy physics-driven engagements on great maps with interesting geometry to take advantage of, defined by the 'super weapons' available on each stage but with shields and varied vehicles encouraging creative play.
The formula has changed and evolved throughout the franchise, though, starting with the insanely powerful pistol-dominated shootouts of Combat Evolved, arguably peaking with the perfectly balanced team arenas of Halo 2 (which, admittedly, does favour those who memorise the maps), then moving on to Halo 3's gloriously chaotic selection of big team vehicular stages and Halo 4's sprinting, armour-unlocking, custom loadout-driven gameplay.
Each game is also mechanically different and contains unique quirks and features; whether dual-wielding, vehicle hijacks/beatdowns or sprinting as basic examples. In response, Halo: The Master Chief Collection basically plays by four sets of rules, with gameplay features, physics and handling defined by the specific title the map belongs to and weapons doled out according to the gametype and variant you've chosen.
In Halo 4 maps, you'll access loadouts and sprint to your heart's content. In Halo 2 you'll start with an SMG or Battle Rifle, then rush the shotgun and plasma sword. Having to slightly retrain yourself at the start of each match can feel odd, but whatever you choose, your muscle memory and lizard brain will kick in after a few seconds. Numerous gametype variants shake up the experience yet further, affecting the loadout or weapon spawns in each level as well as the scoring.
Frankly, you can't go wrong. Come midnight, you'll find me on Big Team Battle and SWAT sliding Warthogs around and delivering three-round bursts directly into enemy skulls. Most likely rocking a K/D ratio of somewhere around 0.5. I'm just rusty, honest.
Everyone has their favourites, but Halo 2 fans will be spoiled rotten here thanks to the addition of six remastered Anniversary maps. Despite taking new names, legendary arenas such as Coagulation, Sanctuary, Warlock, Forge and Ascension (no Midship? Never mind!) have been completely remade with new assets, scenery and 1080 visuals, while still retaining the geometry and spirit that made them great. Personally, though, the highlight is easily Stonetown: a gorgeous new remake of Zanzibar complete with windmill and hidden plasma sword. It's gorgeous, reverential and stops your rose-tinted spectacles from cracking.
Custom games are on hand if you want to tweak the rules to your specifications, and the number of options is insane, including every gametype and setting from every game in the series. And fully-featured Forge Mode, allowing you to create and share your own levels, then test them out in custom matches. Organising these sessions can be a pain, of course, but hardcore fans will find much to love here. Finally, you've also got Theatre Mode for posterity, which is nice if vestigial addition seeing as "Xbox, record that" is the new order of things.
So Halo: The Master Chief Collection excels in multiplayer, then... except for one interesting little wrinkle.
Wot No Progression?
Ever since Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, we've been mentally conditioned into thinking that arbitrary meaningless 'levels' and 'progression' are somehow an essential part of any online shooter. Don't get me wrong: I really like these cynically satisfying things, but I also contend that they're frippery designed to addict you to a metagame and should never become the core reason you play a shooter. All too often we've seen videogames try to hook players on progression, but failing to deliver where it counts (see also: Destiny).
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is having none of it.
To be clear, there are unlocks. Achievements and kill totals unlock new emblem components, playercard backgrounds and profile pictures, but otherwise, all the armour options and weapons you'd usually access through player levels and progression in Halo 3 and 4 are now completely unlocked from the beginning. You're able to customise your Spartan to your specifications right from the off. There are also ranks, at least, skill-based levels in Ranked gametypes based on Trueskill stats.
The joy of playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection stems from playing the game, then, as opposed to grinding away at some experience total. Thankfully the sheer number of maps and modes more than makes up for this omission in my book.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is already an extraordinary purchase, but it also boasts a number of extras. Boasts that, to be honest, aren't going to affect the score in a positive or negative way. Halo Nightfall, a new live-action series that fully introduces Agent Locke to the canon, is actually hosted on the Halo Channel app rather than in the game itself, while the Halo 5 Multiplayer Beta isn't live yet. Spartan Ops, the repetitive yet cruelly underrated extra Halo 4 campaign will also be added to the experience next month as a fun little bonus (worth it for the Shootout In Valhalla stage if nothing else!).
With four full campaigns, local and online co-op, skulls, competitive arcade scoring, topped off with 100+ maps and numerous gametypes, though, this is all just icing on a truly gargantuan cake.
- Halo: Combat Evolved is timeless
- Halo 3 is truly masterful
- Halo 4 is superb
- A third of Halo 2's campaign and all of its multiplayer is excellent
- Smooth 60FPS upgrade and graphical overhaul, convenient playlists and functionality
- 100+ maps, numerous gametypes, 4500 Gamerscore, extras & terminals make for a comprehensive collection
- Halo 2's campaign is still very inconsistent, but they've made the best of it
- 15GB day-one update
- UPDATE: BROKEN MATCHMAKING
The Short Version: Halo: The Master Chief Collection sets a new benchmark for remakes, HD collections and re-releases by delivering thirteen years of excellence in a single purchase. Four restored campaigns, comprehensive multiplayer, one cohesive experience that reminds us just how important Halo was to videogames and the FPS genre... and how much fun it still is.
Our top score is usually reserved for games that push forwards in some profoundly meaningful way, but The Master Chief Collection looks backwards so lovingly, comprehensively and generously that I've got little choice but to come out swinging.
REVIEW ADVISORY: Sadly, post-launch, Halo: The Master Chief Collection's matchmaking hasn't held up. Though it's possible to find a game, often very quickly, it's impossible to guarantee that you can enjoy a stable experience, reasonable wait times and balanced teams. Until this is fixed, you should be very wary about buying The Master Chief Collection if online multiplayer is your primary draw.
10 - ASTOUNDING: As close to gaming perfection as possible. The rarest of rare, these should be games that not only look, feel and play better than 99.9% of everything else out there, but bring something new to the table, pushing gaming itself forward. These are fundamentally must-own titles for anyone with an interest in gaming, regardless of genre, with the highest quality in terms of design, gameplay and vision.
These are never handed out lightly. Ever. These are the games that define generations.