Halo 2: Anniversary - 10 years on, is the magic still there?

We take a trip down memory lane, and it's littered with bullet casings and plasma burns

Among all the big titles at Gamescom 2014, we made it a point to fight through the crowds and spend some time with Halo 2: Anniversary. Before we jump into our first impressions however, it's worth recapping what it'll actually bring to fans when it lands on 14 November.

The game will be bundled alongside Halo: CE Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4, with the quartet making up Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The package will also include access to the Halo 5: Guardians beta when it goes live later on this year, as well as episodes of Nightfall - a digital live-action video series set in the Halo universe.

The main draw of the collection for most Halo fans however, is Halo 2: Anniversary.

For us, Halo 2 was one of the best first-person shooters ever made, and the fact that the anniversary edition's single-player cutscenes have been remastered by Blur (the folks behind the awesome CGI Deadpool footage) has us very excited indeed.

Every game in the collection will run at 1080p, 60fps, but Halo 2 has also been given an anniversary-style facelift. As with Halo CE: Anniversary, the graphics have been redrawn from the ground up, and you can swap between the old and new visuals at the press of a button.

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Matchmaking

Halo 2: Anniversary's online matchmaking is split into Halo 2 - Remastered and Halo 2 - Classic. The former has six of the best original Halo 2 maps, all of which have undergone the same impressive visual overhaul, with minor tweaks and additions to the layout and HUD.

Halo 2: Anniversary - first impressions from Gamescom 2014

Halo 2 - Classic matchmaking includes all of the original maps, while still running at a higher resolution of 1080p and 60fps.

Bar the increased resolution and framerate however, the maps retain their original graphical textures, and fan-favourite glitches and quirks such as BXR and rocket jumps remain exactly the same.

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More after the break...

First impressions

We were lucky enough to jump into a Halo 2 - Remastered match on one of our favourite levels, Ascension, now renamed Zenith.

Halo 2: Anniversary - first impressions from Gamescom 2014

The first thing that struck us were the visuals. The Halo universe has never had the gritty grey realistic look of shooters such as Call Of Duty - instead, it's always been about bold, bright and colourful graphics. The good news is that this style looks even better in 1080p resolution and at 60fps, while now running smoother than a greasy grunt at the business end of a banshee.

As we explored the familiar stairways and boulders, a few other changes stuck out. The HUD in the Remastered mode has been updated, reflecting the newer layouts in more recent Halo titles, and weapons now have large 'hold RB to pick up' prompts hovering above them.

Thankfully, though, the layout of the map remains the same. Weapons spawn in exactly the same locations as before, and within minutes both teams were rushing for the rockets and sniper rifle. It felt good to be back.

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A new central energy shield which definitely wasn't there in the past threw us initially, but beyond that, we're happy to report that gameplay is just as fun and as hectic as it's always been.

We savoured the ability to dual-wield weapons - a feature that has been absent in all Halo titles post Halo 3 - and revelled in the fact that our favourite combinations worked as well as they ever did; killing enemies with the needler's exploding pink crystals spawned more than a few satisfied smiles.

While we stayed away from the sniper rifle due to rusty technique, we unapolagetically rained havoc on the opposition first with the shotgun and then with the rockets. It wasn't long before we were being mentally transported back to 2004.

Much as we loved the experience, though, it'll definitely take some gamers a bit of time to adjust to it. While modern FPS games let you sprint, for example, Halo 2 has a constant speed. Jumping around feels slower too, as if the gravity has been cranked down slightly. 

While this is a little unnerving at first, everyone else is in the same boat. And there are some definite advantages to it. Coupled with our recharging energy shields, we found ourselves living longer than in modern shooters such as Call Of Duty and Battlefield. Living longer = more fun. It's standard gaming mathematics.

So although going back to a ten-year-old game won't appeal to everyone, those of us who grew up with the Halo universe can start getting very excited. Because The Master Chief Collection, and Halo 2: Anniversary in particular, looks like a wonderful addition to a ground-breaking series.

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