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Halo: The Master Chief Collection – Xbox One review

Videogame re-releases are not an uncommon thing, especially early in a new console's life cycle. They help boost a fledgling system's software library and make older games available to new players. That last bit is important, because most game systems are not backwards compatible. Re-releases preserve games and keep them alive for existing fans and new generations of players.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection goes a step beyond most re-releases by compiling the four numbered Halo games into a single Xbox One release. No longer do players need to drag out their original Xbox consoles to enjoy Halo CE and especially Halo 2, nor do they need an Xbox 360 for Halo 3 and 4. Master Chief Collection packs them all in one bundle with plenty of new features. Don't miss our detailed review, featuring our best ever video review for a console game!

Four games, one slick interface

The Master Chief Collection consists of a 45 Gigabyte main download/disc installation which contains the four campaigns, and a 15 Gigabyte update that adds the online multiplayer mode and several extras. While players wait for the main game and update to install or download, they can play the campaigns as they are installed.

A well-considered menu interface makes choosing games and modes a breeze. Players scroll left and right to switch between modes, entering nested submenus by pressing the A button or down on any selection. The primary modes are:

  • Campaigns: Choose between the story modes of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4. All four games are unlocked from the outset. You can even select from every individual mission and all four difficulty levels straight off. These campaigns can be played in single-player, 2-player split-screen co-op, and online co-op.
  • Multiplayer: See Multiplayer section below.
  • Playlists: Play through select campaign missions with predetermined difficulty and settings. Each game has its own specific playlists, plus there are seven cross-game playlists. Some playlists don't support co-op, annoyingly. Still, playing missions and games outside of their standard order is a cool and unusual way to experience these four Halos.
  • Options & Career: Customize multiplayer armor and colors for all four games, loadouts for Halo 4, your cross-game player ID and clan tag, view stats for individual games and the entire collection, leaderboards, and access your personal custom game types, map variants, and saved films and screenshots. Some player customization items must be unlocked by completing campaign and multiplayer games.
  • Extras: Watch the Halo: Nightfall live-action series, watch in-game cinemas and terminal videos from the collection, and (eventually) access the Halo 5 beta. Both Nightfall and in-game videos play through the separate Halo Channel Xbox One app (which also offers the "Remaking the Legend" Halo 2 documentary).

My only gripe UI-wise is that after completing a campaign mission, players can't immediately choose to return to the main menu. The game always starts the next mission before it allows users to quit.

A comparison between original and remastered graphics in split-screen mode. All screenshots from Halo 2: Anniversary

Halo 2 Anniversary

Just as Microsoft and 343 chose to remaster the original Halo: Combat Evolved with new graphics, sound, and features on Xbox 360, so have they done with Halo 2 on Xbox One. Halo 2's Anniversary graphics run at a resolution of 1328x1080 (slightly less than full 1080p) at 60 frames per second.

At any time in Halo 2 and Halo CE, players can toggle between the remastered and original graphics and sound by pressing the View (Back) button. The remastered visuals sometimes make enemies harder to see (especially cloaked enemies), but on the whole they represent a significant improvement. Experiencing the different interpretations and technological progression between console generations is genuinely interesting. It's great that Microsoft and Co. have chosen to preserve the original looks and sounds along with their remastered versions.

The Halo 2 campaign also boasts revamped and extended movie sequences courtesy of Blur Studios. These mostly impress, though Sergeant Johnson's new face doesn't mesh as well with his voice as it should. The new cinematics add a bit of flavor and depth to the game's story, but they do nothing to address the game's anticlimactic boss battle and ending. That's Halo 2 for you; it always ended a little too soon.

Blur has also added an all new prequel movie that can only be viewed in single-player. The movie technically takes place after Halo 4, with the Arbiter basically relaying the events of Halo 2 to Jameson Locke (a playable character in Halo 5). It's an insubstantial tease for Halo 5, and you can always skip it if the sequel teasing bothers you.

Playing through Halo 2 Anniversary ten years after the original is an extremely nostalgic experience. If you owned Halo 2 before, it's hard not to think back to your experiences and life situation from back then. But Halo 2's campaign also happens to be one of the most enjoyable first-person shooter campaigns around, even after all these years.

Some missions put players in Master Chief's shoes as he struggles to defend Earth and stop the Covenant from activating the second Halo. Others star the Arbiter, a covenant Elite tasked with recovering the key that will allow his leaders to fire the Halo. Both characters play a little differently thanks to their unique starting weapons and the Arbiter's (mostly ineffectual) cloaking ability.

Together, the two leads' missions make for an exciting and varied campaign, despite the weak ending. The Halo 2 campaign also features my all-time favorite Halo level, "Delta Halo."

Local multiplayer

The process for playing local multiplayer is slightly more complex than it should be, but you get used to it. At any time on the main menu, the primary player can press the X button to bring up the "My Game Session" menu. This is essentially the in-game party feature pioneered in Halo 2 and operates independently from the Xbox One's Party app.

At that point, local players can press A to sign in. These players can participate in campaign co-op (2 players), offline competitive multiplayer (4 players), or join in online games (4 players?). People without Xbox Live Gold can still get a lot of multiplayer fun in, as long as they own multiple controllers.

Master Chief Collection does not support System Link (LAN) play, unlike the original releases of Halo 1-4. Considering the series pioneered system link play on consoles, it's a shame that option was forgotten in this otherwise superior collection.

Online multiplayer

When Halo 2 arrived on the original Xbox in 2004, it revolutionized online multiplayer for consoles with its robust online mode and brilliant party system. Master Chief Collection carries forward many of those innovations while expanding on them in many ways.

The collection offers over 100 multiplayer maps, consisting of six remastered Halo 2 Anniversary Maps, as well as every original multiplayer map from all four games. The Halo 2 Anniversary maps are brilliant, with new visuals, design touches, and interactive features.

I can't help wishing the collection has remastered all of Halo 2's maps, but the presence of the original maps from Halo 2 and its brethren makes the small pool of revamped maps easier to swallow. At present, the maps are divided between 10 matchmaking playlists. Some lists focus on specific games, while others mix maps from multiple games.

Players can also join their friends for Forge Mode, which does not support matchmaking. In Forge, players can edit and play in custom maps from Halo 2, 3, and 4. Forge was originally introduced in Halo 3, so Forge support for the Halo 2 maps is a cool bonus.

Halo 4's Spartan Ops co-op missions will be added by title update in December. In my opinion, these missions are mostly forgettable, so waiting for them to be added to the collection is no big deal.

At launch, matchmaking is unfortunately mostly broken, with many players like me unable to find games within a reasonable time frame. Even joining friends for a custom game is extremely buggy and difficult, which really sabotaged our launch day multiplayer Twitch session. Once we finally got everyone into the same game, we had a blast, until people were dropped again. The developers will surely fix these problems within the days or weeks to come, but it's extremely regrettable that multiplayer wasn't truly ready at launch.

Update: After months of poor matchmaking performance, the March 4th, 2015 update has finally fixed the bulk of the game's multiplayer issues.

Achievements

The collection includes an unprecedented 450 Achievements worth a total of 4500 GamerScore. Some are dedicated to individual campaigns, some to online multiplayer, and others are cumulative across games. It will take months or years to earn the full set, not to mention mad skillz.

You'll find Achievements for beating each level of campaign, completing campaigns on each difficulty, and even beating missions with certain skulls enabled. Each campaign mission also has Achievements for beating its par time and score, encouraging replay and practice. All four games have Achievements for discovering their terminals (these are new to Halo 2), adding a collectible element.

Each game has a number of Achievements dedicated to Legendary, the highest difficulty mode. These will be truly challenging and time consuming, even when playing with co-op partners (when allowed). The Achievements for speedrunning each game's Legendary difficulty will simply be impossible for all but the most dedicated players. I could live without their inclusion.

Overall Impression

Whether or not you've played past Halo games, Halo: the Master Chief Collection is a must-buy for anyone who enjoys first-person shooters on consoles.

This is the best the four main Halo games have ever looked. Each game runs at a super smooth 60 frames per second, and three of the four hit the magical 1080p resolution. Halo CE and Halo 2 each offer their gorgeous Anniversary Editions, while even Halo 3 and 4 benefit from improved lighting effects and resolution bumps (though Halo 3 ends up looking the most basic of the four). Halo 2 Anniversary also sounds utterly fantastic thanks to newly recorded music and sound effects.

In a time when FPS games often come with underdeveloped campaigns, this Halo's selection of four lengthy campaigns that tell a mostly coherent narrative (Halo 3's has always been spotty) with full co-op support is just unparalleled. Throw in the incredible selection of multiplayer maps and game types and Master Chief Collection simply becomes the most complete FPS package on Xbox One – or any console.

  • Halo: the Master Chief Collection – Xbox One – 59.1 GB – $59.99 – Amazon Link (opens in new tab)Xbox.com Link (opens in new tab)

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

78 Comments
  • Look forward to this. I only played halo 1
  • And you liked it that much?
  • Halo 1 is the best thing since butter.
  • I played Halo CE, 2 and 3.  CE was the greatest video game experience I have ever had.  The other two should have been named The Matrix 2 and The Matrix 3 as far as I'm concerned.  
  • Weird. Having just played them both in the MCC, I think 2 is a significant improvement on part 1 in most ways (obviously not the final boss and ending though). It's nothing like the drop in quality between Matrix and Matrix 2.
  • 117/10 WCentral
  • Lol, clever. I like.
  • Lost time playing through campaigns yesterday. So addictive. Forgot about how fun it was.
  • If I had an Xbox One, I'd definitely buy this.
  • Me to
  • Now give me all older COD for Xbone.
  • COD is gay.
  • Please don't use the word gay as a pejorative here. Thanks.
  • Agree... Being diagnosed as transgender isn't a simple thing and critism like this doesn't help
  • I don't know how a "game" can be gay.
  • And still COD managed to do that :D. That being said, CoD1 was awesome!
  • Amazing game.
  • We need a Windows Central clan!
  • We would have one if they hadn't made unlocking the feature such a hassle!
  • How close are you to unlocking it?
  • I've completed like 20 out of the fifty missions/matchmaking matches required. And matchmaking is still borked so getting 30 more matches in within a decent time period would be tough.
  • Ya know.... Im thinking that some Halo matches that I dunno.... Might be streamed from someone's Xbox console could help you get that number up!
  • I mean, custom games didn't count towards the requirement... But if you think of a solid way to knock out matchmaking games or campaign missions faster, I'm all ears.
  • Start a campaign and immediately quit, repeat?
  • That wouldn't count as having completed the mission, which is the goal.
  • Good news! The clan feature decided to unlock today. I guess those custom games actually did count. We now have a Windows Central clan. BUT I have no idea how other people can join it. Let me know when you unlock clans and try it.
  • That's awesome! I'll message you on xbox live when I get it working.
  • This is great for new comes to  xbox.  they can experience the story and catch up.
  • Matchmaking issues notwithstanding, I'm really getting tired of people only voting for BR maps. I get that it's popular, but I'd like to just okay the vanilla game. Ugh.
  • Great games!!
  • What did you not like about Halo 3's story? I only played the games and I thought it was pretty easy to understand.
  • The missions skip forward in time too much without depicting what happened between them. The first Halo just told one continuous story without the player ever having to wonder how Mister Chef got to wherever he was at the start of a mission. Halo 2 plays a bit looser with time, but that's mostly necessitated by the dual perspectives. Halo 3 and the first Gears of War both did that "failing to connect some missions" thing that gets my grits.
  • Ah, I see what you mean now. I personally didn't have a problem with that, but I can see how that could be irritating.
  • I know its autocorrect, but Mister Chef just made me lol on public transit just now.
  • That was a subtle joke, actually. Glad you laughed at it. :D
  • Wow, I don't really remember that and haven't gotten that far yet... I'll pay close attention there ;)
  • Good review Paul. I started yesterday with Halo 1 from the beginning. Plan to play through all the campaigns before doing multiplayer which hopefully will be fixed by then.
  • Paul I can't wait to play Halo
  • Do you plan to get an Xbox One sometime Nakia? That'd be rad!
  • I thought that Lan would be part of it. You just had to connect to Live for pinging purposes. Did they change that?
  • If you find a LAN option somewhere in the game, please let me know. I don't think it's there.
  • Do the right thing Microsoft. Buy Sega and get the old IP's running. Maybe Sonic Team too. I want Phantasy star online 2 for the One.
  • Funny how Sega just refuses to bring that to the West. But they did release that Japanese idol game and the PC port of that anime strategy game (boy my memory sucks right this minute) recently, so you can't say they're totally ignoring their Japanese games.
  • Valkyria Chronicles! That's it.
  • That was a good game. But they can steal a huge fan base by getting exclusive rights to older IP's.
  • Microsoft really should've bought Sega in 2001 when the Dreamcast died (brief moment of silence), Sega was bankrupt, and Microsoft were rich and readying to enter the industry. All of those IP now would be so huge: Jet Set Radio, Panzer Dragoon, Sonic, Phantasy Star, Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Rez, Shenmue, Chu Chu Rocket, Shining Force, etc.
  • Amazing, i really want this game. Well written Paul!
    A wopping 60GB is crazy!
  • Wow, I didn't get to play the original Halo's.  No good reason, really. But this sounds like a good time to give them a go. Thanks for the review.  
  • Yeah my extent of playing halo was about 3 hours of halo 3 and a hour or two of reach. Playing Halo CE is a blast from the past. Reminds me of playing Half-Life on PC back in 2000.
  • I hope the multiplayer issues get sorted quickly. But until then, I'm enjoying playing through the campaign with my son, who was only a year old when I was first battling my way off the Pillar of Autumn and landing on a mysterious ancient ring world.
  • Playing through Halo CE right now, and you know what? I really dislike the updated visuals. The people look so different between the two (I'm thinking of commander Keyes), and the atmosphere doesn't feel right with the updated visuals. I'm so glad they let us toggle, although finding the terminals is impossible running the old graphics.
  • Honestly this is what having an Xbox is all about! Well done.
  • Some achievements haven't popped for me, namely the skull collecting in halo ce, either that or i have no idea how to switch it to the remastered version (which i figured it was running at seeing as it looks like the 360 version).
  • Some people are reporting Achievement issues, so it could come down to that and nothing else. Switching to remastered Halo CE and Halo 2 just requires pressing the View (Back) button during the level.
  • I think that's it as it definitely is the remastered look, the achievements specifically say collect in remastered mode. I'll try in classic and see what happens. My personal number rating for the package is 10/10 for content and probably about a 6.5 for the gameplay, the multiplayer issues are pretty inexcusable in this day and age and I actually find the menus a little cumbersome to navigate and a bit counter intuitive (like the local play thing). Seeing as there are also achievement issues as well (although, to be fair, freaking 450 achievements, just wow).
  • I would say that originally they had a 20GB update from day 1 but they cut it down to 15GB, maybe that had something to do with these multiplayer issues? I think I remember them saying the update was more for the multiplayer data... Is that wrong? =[
  • The 20 GB size was just an estimate. The multiplayer update was only ready a few days before release. After they created that, they simply didn't have enough time to test it and work the kinks out.
  • So, for someone who has never played the Halo campaigns before and felt utterly confused trying to navigate around Halo: MCC the past two nights, how does one play the entire campaign (Halo1-4) in online co-op mode. Basically, both my brother and I want to play the entire thing together, enjoying the story, all the cutscenes, earning as many achievements as possible, etc. It seems like we're supposed to hit X for roster, then "invite" or "join" each other. And then what? (we're not sure because it seemed to not be working) It automatically just seamlessly "pulls us" both through the campaign together and we both get credit for everything we do (i.e. unlocking achievements, say, like finding skulls or whatever or beating missions)?
  • Yeah, once you're both in the same roster, starting a campaign level would put you both into it in co-op. If you tried something that doesn't support 2 people in the same party (such as certain Campaign Playlists) you would receive a warning message. This is not so much a Halo thing as a slightly unintuitive in-game party UI.
  • These "next gen"-consoles are able to only get around 10-30fps on ac unity.
    Now you can hate AMD...
  • It's not really the metal but Ubisoft that decided that's how they wanted it to work, is it really SO horrible? We're talking HALO in here, take your sour grapes elsewhere! =/
  • Halo is just half-life rip-off
  • Ha! Good one.
  • Halo is absolutely nothing like half life, like really, nothing. The only similarity is aliens, the actual method of fps is completely different.
  • I don't really get the point of playlists, what benefits are there to playing them? I.e. Does it give a different perspective on the story? Make things easier? Harder?
  • It's kind of like listening to someone's MP3 playlist when you already own the albums that the songs come from. The missions aren't changed (other than predetermined settings) but playing them in an order deliberately chosen by someone else creates a slightly different experience. Campaign Playlists are far from an essential feature, but they're an unusual feature that I really enjoy.
  • Loving it! Takes me back to me high school days!
  • You can't swap the CE graphics with the back button. Why just guess that you can and put it in a review?
  • Yes you can - I just tested again in case I remembered wrong. Why are you saying you can't?
  • I haven't played any Halo... yet, even back then. BUT I played Mass Effect and currently playing Mass Effect 3 on a PC and is enjoying it alot. How do the two franchises compare?
  • Halo doesn't have any RPG elements or story choices to make. It's a pure FPS with vehicles. The franchises do both have rich sci-fi settings and mythologies though, so if you like shooters and sci-fi in general you'd probably enjoy it.
  • I Look Forward To Playing.
    I bought sunset overdrive, halo, and Bayonetta 2 at targets buy 2 get 1 deal. I just wish I had more time to play. I installed halo but have yet to fire it up. Look forward to halo 2 and 3 mp.
  • I unfortunately got a late start back in gaming, but Halo 3 was the gateway... So, I was behind on the story but that game and the 360 (hardware failures notwithstanding) were just epic to me after not having played games since graduating in '97 (yeah, I'm old). I've been in it to win it since and I'm not looking back! Spartan-IV 079, Sergeant Delta/UNSC reporting for duty!
  • I graduated in '93. So don't feel bad. I'm pushing 40 and still stomping ass online. Gamertag: FearedByN0NE
  • I'm currently playing in Mission 2 in Halo:CE on Legendary with 2 Skulls activated. Man, it's pretty damn frustratingly difficult. When I played Halo back in the day I just played through it on Normal. Now's the time to man up.
  • Not a lot of love for Halo 3 I see.
  • Aww, don't take my criticisms of the story (or that lame boss fight against the Scarab on the Highway level) as disappointment for the overall game. It's still a lot of fun.
  • I've played all 4 games (when they all originally released). I've now played 1, 2, and I'm 90% thru 3, on the MCC for the One. Honestly, Halo 3 is the worst looking of the 4 games now.