A mere 13 years on from its initial release, Halo 2 has been re-released on PC as part of The Master Chief Collection – an ongoing enterprise that has attracted as much criticism as praise. So how does this port from the Xbox One conversion of Saber Interactive’s Xbox 360 original fare? What extras does it bring to the table, how well does it run – and does it manage to avoid the problems and issues of some of the other games in the PC collection?
With three games from the whole package now available to PC users, the good news is that in my opinion, this is the best release so far – and I’d also rate is a clear upgrade over the existing PC rendition of the game. Its greatest advantage comes from the inclusion of the remastered assets, kicking off in spectacular style with the replacement of the original’s in-engine cinematics with stunning pre-rendered videos delivered by Blur Studios. Beyond that, there are the graphical and audio engine changes to Halo 2 itself, where nearly every single aspect of the overall presentation has been updated and improved. Just like Halo: Combat Evolved, you can switch between the modern graphical presentation and the old instantaneously with a single keyboard press (TAB on PC). It’s a cute trick, but goes beyond visual flourishes alone – the revised soundtracks is excellent and the revamped audio is especially impressive.
While the first Halo’s Anniversary revamp fell a little flat, the sequel is something else. As I see it, Halo 2 is a game with a slightly awkward audio and visual presentation – the original design for the game aimed for a greater usage of bump mapping, real-time physics, and even more complex level design and it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the original Xbox couldn’t quite cope. The first Halo still stands up to scrutiny today – its more simplistic geometry is offset by its vibrancy in colour, great usage of tiling textures and some timeless material work. The sequel just doesn’t quite work for me in the same way.