Halo: The Master Chief Collection Review (2019)
has finally fulfilled its full fan-service potential with the addition of the last missing game from the Xbox and Xbox 360 era, Halo Reach. It is a genuinely amazing package that now includes six of Microsoft’s classic single-player and co-op campaigns and legendary multiplayer modes, at long last free of any red-flag technical caveats. 343 Industries deserves a ton of credit for sticking with it after a notoriously bad launch and completing the long-term renovation of the house while its occupants lived (and played) inside. It’s admittedly a bit later than I’d anticipated, but the love letter to Master Chief has finally been delivered.Crucially, matchmaking just works. I’ve played around 30 rounds in the past week with no fuss, no drops, no lag, and no BS. As a longtime fan, it’s wonderful that MCC’s interface lets you make awesomely specific game mode requests. Want Big Team Battle in Halo 1? You’ve got it. Want SWAT in Halo 2 or Halo 2 Anniversary? Done. Are you open to any of the games as long as you get an Oddball match? Ask, and ye shall receive. I searched my own Halo-fan heart for the most obscure scenarios I could think of and was obliged every single time. Even Firefight has been imported (from Reach) and it’s still a blast; it’s no wonder it helped fellow Xbox heavyweight Gears of War set off a wave of cooperative PvE multiplayer modes that’s still going strong today.
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Granted, I did often have to wait, sometimes for up to three minutes. Even though The Master Chief Collection is available to everybody on Xbox Game Pass and the community is healthy, this isn’t quite like the Halo 2/Halo 3 heyday where everybody and their mother was playing and you could find a game in seconds. But in every single instance, I always got what I wanted.
And when the rounds actually started, they were buttery smooth every single time – even in Halo 1, which was never designed for online play. Furthermore, quality-of-life features such as a Modern Controls option, customizable and highly specific thumbstick dead zone settings, a text chat window, and a bump to 4K and a now-rock-solid 60fps on the Xbox One X highlight how Master Chief Collection feels like a fresh, modern, living entity rather than just a five-year-old package of even older ports held together with Scotch tape and rubber bands.
What’s your favorite?
A quick word on Halo Reach, as it’s the most recent addition to MCC and the first part of launching the whole package on PC. In short, for a nine-year-old game, it still looks quite good after its 4K cleanup on both Xbox One and PC, and it controls beautifully. 343’s first PC game feels a lot more natural on mouse and keyboard than when Gearbox brought Halo 1 to PC back in 2003, and offers PC-centric customization options like FOV adjustments. Audio issues are a bit wonky right now, though, with sound levels for various elements being too loud or too soft, but it’s more of an annoyance. If the rest of the Master Chief Collection’s PC ports are up to this standard, that’ll be excellent news.
All of the previously included campaigns have aged gracefully, too. Halo 4 remains underappreciated, and with its 4K/60fps enhancement it still looks like a recent game on Xbox One X. Halo 3, ODST (also new since MCC’s original launch), and Reach are largely unchanged outside of the resolution and framerate bump, and even Combat Evolved looks surprisingly clean, image quality-wise, for an almost 20-year-old game. It’s a classic for a reason. Halo 2’s Anniversary treatment, meanwhile – which enhanced both the campaign and a select group of multiplayer maps (everything’s available, though most of it hasn’t gotten the facelift) is holding up nicely. Here’s what I said about it in my 2014 review, all of which remains true today:“I jumped straight to the star of the Master Chief Collection: Halo 2 Anniversary. Like 2011’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary is actually running two graphics engines at the same time, allowing you to instantly switch from 2004 graphics to 2014’s Xbox One coat of paint and back again at the touch of a button. Admittedly, the new facade is a bit rough around the edges – I saw occasional frozen enemies, some framerate dips, and a few long loading screens that jarringly interrupt the pace as the impressive new cutscenes cue up. And while the graphics are up to modern standards in many ways, they’re hardly jaw-dropping. Some parts of the campaign seem unnecessarily dark, for instance, and I don’t agree with all of the choices made on the new art. But the sum of Halo 2 Anniversary’s parts – most notably a classic campaign that now runs at 60 frames per second – trumps its minor annoyances.”
As it turned out, of course, The Master Chief Collection didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. What should’ve been a dream package for Halo fans was instead a nightmare on the multiplayer side. And for our part, we learned an important lesson and soon began making more use of reviews in progress for server-dependant games in order to help prevent this from happening again.
Fast-forward five years and a lot has changed. Xbox Game Pass is a thing now, and any subscriber gets full access to MCC. The Xbox One X also exists, and playing MCC on it gives you 4K resolution. Even better, the collection has grown to six games, adding Halo 3: ODST and, most recently, Halo Reach (including Firefight mode). The latter is also now available on PC – via Steam, no less! – and serves as the starting point for bringing the whole shebang faithfully to Windows, game by game, between now and Halo Infinite’s launch in Fall 2020.