Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Comparison, Review, and Analysis

January 20, 2012

Classic Mode

“…Exactly as it looked ten years ago.”

One major feature of Anniversary is “Classic Mode,” the ability to toggle back to the original graphics in real time. This enables the player to compare the new visuals to the old, to see the progress made over the last ten years. Ideally, this is awesome. In reality, Classic mode is an unfair and questionable representation of the original game. As CEA seems to be based on Halo PC, not the original Xbox engine, Classic Mode suffers from HPC’s visual issues and then some. This section details examples of that I noticed of areas where classic mode suffers compared with CE.

Image links to much larger image.

Many surfaces and images are realized poorly in Classic Mode. Many textures are either missing or have been replaced by lackluster versions, such as AotCR’s doors and jackal shields. Distant skybox images and effects often suffer, the most noticeable example being that the ground, the ring, and threshold all look absurdly bright and washed-out in classic mode on the level Truth and Reconciliation. The animated star field in the skybox on Halo is very poor compared to the original, with far fewer stars; the stars that are there are all very bright and sharp, giving the star field far less apparent depth. The peaceful distant glittering of the original water on the level Halo no longer works; after a certain distance, the animated water clumsily turns into a flat plane textured with nothing but a reflection map (technically this is true for Silent Cartographer as well, but the level design leaves it much less noticeable). The Silent Cartographer’s shoreline plane wave effects look drastically less vibrant and active than the originals. Many transparent surfaces are much more opaque than they should be, most noticeably the windows on the Autumn’s bridge. Some “2D” objects don’t appear at all in classic mode, most noticeably the planes of “trees” and hanging vines in the original 343 Guilty Spark swamp.

Classic mode, then CE. It’s a subtle difference when seen over my capture system and youtube’s compression, but it’s jarring in-game.

There are numerous issues with fading and fogging in CEA. The AotCR/TB skies do not fade properly with height, causing what should look like beautiful fogged sky from below to look like a massive polygonal graphics glitch. When underwater on The Silent Cartographer, the view of objects outside the water doesn’t fade as you go deeper, allowing you to bizarrely see the entire island clearly from anywhere.
Perhaps worst of all of CEA’s issues, none of the original animated fog effects function properly. Most noticeable and atrocious is the lack of animated fog of 343 Guilty Spark. But the AotCR and Two Betrayals skies also suffer badly, and there are other areas that use the fog, like the “cave” on the level Halo and the underwater areas of Silent Cartographer and Keyes.

Classic mode first, then CE. Note the foliage difference on 343GS.

There are many gameplay effect problems as well. The original flashlight has the ability to shine off of certain shiny surfaces from nearly double the regular distance, but the classic mode flashlight only seems to use the normal illumination. <CORRECTION 12/06/2012: Specular lighting still exists with the flashlight in CEA, but it is calibrated very differently. The specular lighting range on the flashlight tends to be much shorter, and the light tends to be very bright on surfaces which still reflect it.> HUD weapon pickup wireframes in classic mode are extremely dark and pale, even compared to the regular CEA wireframes. Bizarrely, being struck by sentinel beams or needles causes the screen to flash green in classic mode.

Additionally, classic mode seems to have a color balance issue, usually toward bluish. In the image comparisons above, all I did was resize the screen captures and put them into a single large image. I did not adjust the colors. <CORRECTION 12/06/2012: The bluish tinge seems to be specific to the 480-line output settings used for capture. That is, it will be a problem with SDTVs. Classic mode seems to have correct color balance over HD outputs.>

There are two cutscene-specific problems with classic mode.
The first is that cutscenes in classic mode use the Anniversary aspect ratio, not the original aspect ratio. Halo 2’s solution to displaying cutscenes when widescreen is enabled is to display the cutscene over the entire 16:9 window to preserve the correct aspect ratio. I’m not sure why CEA doesn’t do this for classic mode, as CEA’s cutscene aspect ratio is not at all correct for CE’s cutscenes.
The other issue is that sounds specific to the new cutscenes “bleed over” into the classic mode cutscenes. So, for instance, when the Chief climbs out of his cryo tube in Pillar of Autumn, classic mode features a button-pad beeping when nobody is pressing any buttons. A particularly ridiculous example is the opening cutscene of AotCR; in classic mode, you can hear doubled-up grunt noises just barely out of sync with each other (My guess is that the original grunt sound is bound to the original grunt cutscene object, and CEA’s grunt sound is played separately, the result being that, in classic mode, both sounds are played).

Anniversary graphics first, then classic mode

A few of the differences are, arguably, beneficial. The sky on the level Halo in classic mode corrects some posterization that the original has, and the real-time reflections in the control room correct a quirk with the apparent depth of the control room’s door into the hallway. Though, even these go against the spirit of classic mode.

As a whole, Classic Mode doesn’t actually look that much different from the originals, but the areas it’s lacking in are often extremely important to the completeness of the game’s aesthetic style. Despite the 720p (or at least somewhere around 720p; I’m not quite sure) rendering, it looks extremely bland compared with Halo 1.

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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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