Halo: The Master Chief Collection is something out of my dreams. Halo is the game series that brought me across the threshold from casual player to enthusiast. It was the game I grew up on, playing deathmatches into the night all through high school, lugging systems around for LAN parties, and endlessly analyzing E3 teasers. It even made me into an Xbox fanboy in the peak of its power over me. However, in the years since 343 took over the franchise from Bungie, I’ve found myself growing less attached. Halo 4 was a fun FPS in its own right, but it wasn’t the Halo I knew and loved. Looking to the future, Halo 5: Guardians looks to pull a Halo 2 once again and wrestle Master Chief away from the central role for Spartan Locke, a character whose voice actor sounds like a computer program designed to be a generic soldier. In between all this change, 343 announced The Master Chief Collection, a game that encompassed all that had come before in one package. It seemed too good to be true, and I reveled in the atmosphere of all the friends I had made over Chill Out FFAs running out to buy Xbox Ones. Now, after three days attempting to play, that dream has turned into a buggy nightmare full of server issues, console crashes, and mind boggling mistakes. Where 343 could have bought back the love of every Halo fan, they instead solidified themselves as bunglers in Bungie’s universe.
I think everyone knows by now that the matchmaking servers are almost completely nonfunctional even as I type this. You have to quit and join lists repeatedly to get the system to match you with players, but your problems don’t end even if you do get into a game. Every playlist except for Big Team Battle is seemingly looking for ten players instead of the standard eight required for a 4v4 match of Slayer, and unbalanced teams are inescapable, including games where a single Spartan is set to face seven. These issues seem to show poorly on Microsoft’s much-touted dedicated servers, but players have dug deep and discovered that the game’s promised dedicated server support is nonexistent. Players have their host advantage just like the old days, although for some reason 343 decided to up that advantage by letting the host have the ability to boot players from matchmaking in the lobby. There is also the issue of the playlist ranking system being delayed two days before launch, although that doesn’t matter much if no one can pull up a game in the first place. All this is of course laughable considering that I personally played both Halo 2 and Halo 3 at 1AM on launch night for hours with barely any issue.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One)
Developer: 343 Industries, Certain Affinity
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: November 11th, 2014
So without matchmaking, I’ve been getting into plenty of custom games, and I have to give credit where it’s due. The game runs gorgeously when it actually works. Halo 1 and 2 look like new games thanks to higher resolutions and that sweet 60FPS. Sadly, these games are also direct ports of their PC counterparts rather than the Xbox versions, leading to several major changes. In Halo 1, there are audible hit markers whenever you land a shot, and certain elements of classic maps have been changed arbitrarily. Weapons were changed as well, with the rocket launcher having a blast radius that goes up instead of out and the shotgun losing some of its unusually long range. Split screen matches in both games are fundamentally broken, with the player in the first slot receiving text notifications for everyone else’s kills in addition to his own. Games can crash for seemingly no reason, booting players back to the lobby. In fact, the game seems to actively discourage larger parties, separating players when guests stop playing and when cancelling the overlong matchmaking searches. Joining games in progress, an optional feature from Halo 2, is impossible now, which makes finding a custom game on your friends list that much harder. There have even been several cases where I have been thrown to the wilds of Xbox Live during a load and ended up in a random person’s game with no idea what was going on. This is all in stark contrast to the famed Halo 2 philosophy of gaming online on a virtual couch, and it needs to be fixed if this game is to have legs at all as an online product.
For me, this game is all about the multiplayer, but others come to Halo for the campaign, and I have played through several hours on each game as well just due to lack of other things to do. I seem to have been lucky in this regard, as the campaigns have run fine, and all those familiar notes throughout the games still hit home. The new graphics in Halo 2‘s single player look amazing, even if the remixed soundtrack can be a bit overbearing at times. There are plenty of new skulls to mess around with and terminals to watch using the new Halo Channel, although I can’t see the advantage to the player of having to launch into a separate app in order to watch a bonus cutscene. The first three games in the series are still the best in class when it comes to AI design in FPS games, and every battle still feels fresh and new even after all these years. You’re still going to have to slog through The Library and scope in on those Jackal snipers on Outskirts, but the highs go much higher than the lows go low, and the entire collection could have been worth it if you’re curious about playing through the series for the first time.
One of the best features of Halo multiplayer has always been the community involvement. Halo 3 shipped with a full map editing suite, a rarity even today in the FPS market, and MCC includes that along with Halo 4‘s version and a new edition for the remastered Halo 2 Anniversary maps. Unfortunately, as with everything else in this title, it isn’t quite “as you remembered” after all. Forge in the older games is missing several key features like trait zones and gametype menus which hinder the most dedicated of fans as they try to organize stuff like Grifball, the type of off the wall gametype that makes a community thrive long after the hordes of launch day move on to other titles. In addition, even if these features were working at full capacity, 343 has made it extremely hard for fans to share their work and organize around custom maps and gametypes. In past games, Bungie had an extensive library of files uploaded by fans on their website, allowing players to send downloads from the web to their Xbox 360 with ease. For MCC, 343 has included none of that functionality, and now the only way to get the latest version of a favorite map is to wait until its author is online, add them to your friends list and go into their file share. It’s a convoluted process that will lead many to not bother, condemning everyone to playing on tired default gametypes instead of inventing the next Infection.
I’ve honestly only scratched the surface of issues with this product. I could write about the arcane process to change teams in game lobbies, the fact that guests are allowed into ranked playlists, the graphical bugs that sends weapons spinning endlessly against walls, the bizarre typos and all caps messages in the game’s UI, the fact that the game sometimes just crashes to the dashboard like some buggy indie release on Steam, but at some point it all seems a bit repetitive. This game is not finished, plain and simple, and the fact that it has gotten out to consumers in this state is sad. I can’t recommend the game to anyone at any price, it brings nothing but frustration, especially to the people I know who bought an entire console just for this game’s promise. Like I said at the beginning, I love Halo. I read the books, I watched the live action vignettes, I spent my money on the cat helmet. It turns out that I don’t love Halo enough to put up with this extended beta launch. As the Chief would say, I think it’s high time that 343 took a step back and finished their fight before releasing something else to the public.