Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Comparison, Review, and Analysis

January 20, 2012

Miscellaneous

Aspect Ratio Oddity

It’s great that CEA has finally made Halo 1 available on consoles in 16:9, with a wide field of view. However, I was surprised to find that the game only renders in 16:9. If you attempt to display CEA on a 4:3 display, you get a letterboxed image. This is probably not horrible if playing on a monitor, though on an SD TV this means that you’re looking at a small 360i image.
Why they couldn’t accomplish 4:3 output is a confusing question. Normally simply telling a game to render in 4:3 isn’t problematic. Even if it were, CEA’s field of view is wide enough that, if they were to merely crop the 16:9 image into a 4:3 image, the result would be an image with the proper aspect ratio and field of view of the original game.

Cutscenes

CEA’s cutscenes are fairly poorly executed.

Character animation is by far the largest problem. It is sloppy and extremely overdone in places. The Master Chief, as an example, looks almost constantly impatient and annoyed with all his exaggerated fidgeting and odd poses.
Facial modeling and animation is perhaps the worst victim. The new cutscene models seem to have several mouth bones, allowing for more complicated motions, but these motions frequently look utterly bizarre. Despite the greater realism and therefore greater need for precise lip-syncing, the syncing is actually often worse than in the original game. Cortana is probably the most poorly-executed character with respect to face animation, featuring extremely creepy eyes and a mouth which randomly opens and closes in an odd fish-like way for no discernable reason.
Even some of the animations which aren’t bad in and of themselves can be problematic. For instance, when characters in cutscenes sprint, the sprinting animation is quite good. However, it also looks bizarre and jarring because it’s so completely different from how those same characters move in-game.
Many animations seem to have been constructed with relatively little thought to the actual physical composition of a scene. In one particularly jarring example, the Master Chief motions to leave the room, and immediately begins walking right toward a wall; in the original cutscene, he had merely gestured with his shoulder.

The end of Two Betrayals in CEA. Also worth noting: as my video quality improves, my ability to present it at a correct aspect ratio decreases! Wonderful!

The camera motions and shot composition don’t fare a whole lot better. They’re sloppy and frequently fail to capture what the original scene does. A good example is the final shot of the game. In CE, the camera tilts to the music into a shot of the galaxy, simultaneously conclusive and ominous. In CEA, the camera motion itself is roughly the same, but it tilts up into absolutely nothing. All the iconography is gone.

Further damaging the cutscenes is the poor continuity between gameplay and cutscene. Halo 1 can jump very quickly into a cutscene, and in many places, it must do so to maintain rhythm. Anniversary, however, suffers a lengthy pause both in audio and video when transitioning to a cutscene. This can cause nasty losses of momentum in a scene.

CEA first, then CE.

Terminals

The terminals are very well executed; they’re beautiful and nicely polished. However, with exception to the terminal on Keyes, they didn’t interest me that much. They reference some stuff and drop some hints at possible future story details, but for the most part they just weren’t all that compelling in and of themselves. The presentation is good, but I could almost never bring myself to care.

Gameplay Inconsistencies

”…Exactly as it played ten years ago.”

343i claimed constantly during development that CEA would play identically to the original game, to the extent that even the glitches would all be identical. However, either nobody bothered to do any testing, or 343i uses somewhat loose definitions of words like “exact.” Having decided that some things felt strange, I decided to do some testing. Most of my tests turned up negative, but I found examples of mechanical discrepancies in several facets of the game.

As glitches go, most seem to be intact. However, certain types of bumps no longer function. For example, the Cortana pedestal bump does not work. Bumps involving the panels that control the elevators on AotCR also do not work. Another affected trick is the action of knocking the banshee off of the AotCR platform with a rocket; it is extremely difficult to get a rocket to affect the banshee at all in CEA, at least with the boom skull off.

The aforementioned “Cortana pedestal bump.”

I have found two invisible barriers* not present in the original game, though they’re extremely subtle and don’t have much of an effect on anything. In both cases, they agree with the Anniversary graphics, but not the originals. One is on one of the nooks in the main structure of The Silent Cartographer, off of the room containing two hunters. In Anniversary, the nook is semicircular, but in the old visuals it’s made up of several straight walls. The other spot I found a barrier in is on The Maw. Near the beginning you descend a ladder; if you don’t descend, but step over the ladder, you quickly come to the end of the hallway. You collide with the end of the Anniversary hallway in CEA, but can move a step or two farther forward in the original game.

CEA above, classic mode below. Alternate name for image: “how did I even notice this?”

I also tested the timings on a few basic object mechanics including the Master Chief’s running speed. Most of these tests suggested no difference. However, one of the things I tested was the banshee’s FRG, and the results from this test were quite startling. I found a position beneath the first banshee platform on Two Betrayals from which I could consistently fire the FRG at almost exactly the same angle from a stationary position. On the original Xbox I repeatedly timed the FRG shot at about 4.3 seconds between launch and detonation. In CEA, from the same spot, the average was only 2.7 seconds. While most things are equivalent between games, such a large difference suggests to me that 343i presumably did not actually test their claims of equal gameplay even as far as basic weapon functions go.

*I’m referring to them as “invisible barriers” and not “collision differences” because it seems that you can shoot through them; if you do, shots still impact with the original collision.

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3 Responses to “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Comparison, Review, and Analysis”

  1. Ben said

    Well presented amigo!

    Some might say those differences are negligible, but I agree with you argument completely.

    Halo Combat Evolved had a charm and uniqueness to it that cannot be manipulated or re-created.

    I have some other views and opinions that I could express about CEA, but that’d be going way off topic.

    A 5/5 analysis, backed up with strong evidence.

  2. Ryan said

    Very precisely analysed!

    I agree on every count, while these discrepancies may be negligible to newcomers to H:CE, the overall tone and functionality is greatly affected.

    Very good review.

  3. Zerox said

    Being a fan interested in small details, I looked forward to seeing the new Flood and was dissapointed. They are slightly touched up models ported from Halo 3. The armour is totally different to the other Elites in game, especially considering aspects were changed between Halo 3 and Halo Reach (particularly considering the Elites you fight are slightly touched Reach models). The model has not really been changed, just some colouration. I suppose the whiteness is perhaps to show the paint has worn off? If so, it also removes a previous Flood problem from Halo 3, where even an infected red coloured Elite would mysteriously gain blue armoured legs as it became Flood.
    The same issue occurs with the marines, though is slightly less noticeable. Still frustrating though.
    I don’t mind (and personally quite like) the ported Reach models as the graphic level is rather similar, however, I think porting outdated Halo 3 models (graphically and canon wise) and not bothering to change them significantly strikes me as worryingly lazy, especially considering what this remake embodied for 343.

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