Halo 3 still visually holds up in Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Above: Halo 3’s visuals still hold up in Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The remastered treatment

Halo 2: Anniversary is in many ways the marquee feature of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Like the Halo: CE Anniversary’s modernized treatment before, with the touch of a button you’re able to seamlessly transition between the graphics of yesterday and the wholly impressive visual update. The differences are subtle in some areas of the game: The dull earth tones of New Mombasa carry noticeable but limited improvements, for example. However, the greater share of the campaign displays dramatic shifts between dated and new textures and lighting; the differences are more than just night and day, they’re an order of magnitude apart. Natural landscapes, environments with liquid, and the illuminated alien structures of The Covenant beam the most radical differences between qualities, but the entire feat is deftly executed.

And though visuals might be the most obvious piece of the remastered puzzle, the audio has undergone significant improvement as well. One the high points of any Halo game is the reliably fantastic score, and the remastered tunes of Halo 2: Anniversary are no different. Each song carries more substance, a weightier body: bass notes are deeper and lay a stronger foundation while the softer strings dance above it. The trademark vocal performances are as ethereal as ever, with the stronger, piercing chants — like those that echo through the Aztec-like temples of Delta Halo — embodying more soul than the original performances.

It’s impossible not to hear the differences in music when sliding between the two, but the sound effects have also undergone a welcome overhaul: Human weapons crack and pop, while energy weapons buzz and hiss with electric fervor, much improved over the comparatively lethargic stock sounds. And unlike the remastering done to Halo: Combat Evolved, all these changes toggle together with the push of a button, both in-game and in the stunning cutscenes. And it’s with no small amount of praise that these cinematics from Blur Studios should be singled out as perhaps the spotlight of the treatment, brought to life with weapons-grade animation talent that easily rivals anything coming out of Hollywood.

Everything’s connected

Part of the challenge of housing content spread out over so many years is finding a way to bring it all together. Halo: The Master Chief Collection handles this remarkably well with one universal interface that treats each game as its own sub-menu. Linking that all together is a universal player ID that allows you to customize your player tag and emblem and select from over one hundred unlockable hi-res avatars as your player persona across the collection — unifying what could have been a potentially fragmented experience.

You’re also able to set your preferred control scheme for each game, or choose from one of the new but familiar universal control setups that will follow you throughout each game’s campaign and multiplayer. These remove the need to have to constantly acclimated to the functions and features of each game’s controls when bouncing between them.

And part of this universal player ID is an impressive menu tallying your scores, times, and medals earned for each mission. This menu saves all your statistics and records your progress toward certain loftier goals, so you know how close you’ve come to finishing the challenges outlined. Halo: The Master Chief Collection has delivered a fantastic meta experience, where the menus, the customization, and the unlockables are as much of an expression of the franchise as the campaigns themselves.

Play through missions with a common thread across all the Halo campaigns in The Master Chief Collection.

Above: Play through missions with a common thread across all the Halo campaigns in The Master Chief Collection.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Brandin Tyrrel

Hunting the secrets of Halo

Part of that unifying delivery of over a decade of Halo comes in the form of 343 Industries’ impressive array of baked-in extras, bonus content and hidden secrets that have become synonymous with the franchise. Halo: The Master Chief Collection touts a staggering 450 achievements; yet if you’re not particularly concerned with the potential 4,500 Gamerscore attached, some achievements even unlock in-game customization options for your player ID.

These tasks are scattered across every element of the collection, sending you through each campaign, the robust multiplayer suite, and even into the non-gameplay elements. Additionally, 343 Industries has double-downed on the secret climate of Halo. More terminals — hidden nodes that house back story and lore — add context to both the past and future of the franchise, and carry with them subtle hints and secrets themselves. Of course, new skull modifiers join the fray, bringing with them all manner of cruel and unusual ways to punish yourself in-campaign.