What is The Master Chief Collection?
Halo: Combat Evolved launched alongside the original Xbox console in 2001, instantly cementing itself as the first great console-exclusive FPS. The series had three more mainline entries as well as a couple of spin-offs over the next 11 years, but only the first two were ported to PC during that time – and only years after their initial releases.
Fast-forward to 2014 when 343 Industries launches Halo: The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One – bundling the first four numbered entries in the series (including “anniversary” editions of the first two titles, featuring remastered visuals and high-budget CG cutscenes) in one budget package. Said package was a buggy mess for what felt like years, but most of the kinks were worked out over time, and the two spin-offs Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach eventually got added as DLC.
In 2019 the title was released for Windows via Microsoft Store, Xbox Game Pass for PC and even Steam – starting with Halo: Reach and adding the other five titles in chronological order over the next 11 months – with Halo 4 finally dropping this month, November of 2020.
It’s worth noting that the upcoming Halo Infinite will launch on PC day-and-date (as a standalone product) with Xbox in 2021, meaning Halo 5: Guardians is the only FPS entry in the series not on PC or planned for release at this time. I suspect that Halo 5 will eventually make its way to PC, but probably not soon and probably not as part of HMCC.
Do the games hold up well? Are the ports good?
As a long-time fan of the series who has played every single entry (including RTS’s, mobile games and even the dreadful arcade game) including thousands of hours of multiplayer – I’m not the guy to ask whether each of these individual games are good. I obviously love them, but I acknowledge that Halo is an acquired taste nowadays.
Whereas the action in these titles once felt like the perfect balance of speed and tactics, and chasing multiplayer ranks was a goal worth losing girlfriends and jobs for… I now look at these games through a nostalgic lens wherein they can do no wrong. Unless of course, the devs botched the ports.
Which thankfully, they haven’t. Everything looks and feels precisely as I remember. Which is kinda ridiculous considering I’m now playing in 1080p @ 144hz as opposed to 480i/720p on some old potatoes. Speaking of performance, I’ve seen/felt no issues whatsoever on my decidedly midrange hardware. I spent some time perusing the official forums after each major update, and I can say that the only major widespread issue was with hit detection in Halo 3 multiplayer – which seems to have been largely ironed-out at this point.
The “enhanced” graphics are nice, I guess? I can barely tell any difference aside from things being more colorful, but I’m told the upgrade is much more noticeable on higher-resolution screens. The overall selection of graphics options is pretty slim, but I’m not sure how much granularity is needed for a game that is so seemingly well-optimized.
Speaking of settings – the UI and menus are all snappy, well designed and generally feel like a worthy vessel for their contents. Most of these games had industry-leading UI experiences for their time and it’s great to see that, although they’ve eschewed their original wrappers for this collection, their spirit lives on.
I tried my absolute damnedest to play this game with keyboard and mouse, but as someone who spent the first 30+ years of my life playing FPS exclusively on consoles – I reverted to my old ways after a couple hours. The triggers, vibration and dual-analog may seem archaic and unwieldy to some, but longtime fans will feel right at home playing these games on PC with an Xbox controller. I did do some research regarding KB/mouse play, and folks seem to be pretty happy with the way the game handles after a bit of tweaking.
For those who have already played HMCC on console, your saves, achievements and progress will carry over as soon as you login to Xbox Live account – which is required in order to play the game on PC – but Gold is not required for playing any Xbox game on PC, so don’t worry about any of that nonsense. Each of the six games can be purchased and downloaded individually from either of the storefronts, but it will end up costing you $60 as opposed to the bundle at $40.
Is all content here, including DLC?
Each title is content-complete, including campaigns, Firefight (a competitive PvE mode akin to “horde” modes in other games), Spartan Ops (an episodic PvE mode akin to… IDK crappy little campaign missions designed to keep you coming back every week at Halo 4’s launch) and PvP. All DLC maps are included, as well as the Forge modes in which players can create maps and gametypes.
PvP has always been where most players spend the bulk of their time with Halo, and the sheer volume of maps and modes on offer here is overwhelming. The game will try to toss you into a suite of modes and gametypes across multiple titles, but I strongly recommend using the robust filtering options to narrow your games down to one title at a time. Each of the 6 games has a different control scheme, and while you can map custom controls and copy them to each title, the nuanced changes in equipment, cooldowns and weapon types will prove too much to effectively juggle without an adaptation period at the beginning of each match.
Whereas there were some dips in the playerbase between major updates that made it tough to get a match in certain multiplayer gametypes, 343 has finally seen fit to enable cross-play with Xbox gamers. Considering that the game has been optimized for Series X/S and is included with Game Pass, I expect the number of players to remain pretty healthy for the foreseeable future. Side note: the game is not cross-buy for some reason, so anyone who owns the game digitally on Xbox (as I do) will need to either buy the game again or subscribe to Game Pass for PC (which is a great deal, imho).
Aside from the constant influx of new user content and curated playlists from 343, other new content comes in the form of new skins and armor for some of the titles – which are given as awards for progression and daily/meta challenges. These challenges have been rolled out as “seasons”, and each of the first four are currently still available so that gamers who are just now picking up the games can still go back and unlock most of the older content if they so choose. A small handful of the new items were available during a short window during their respective seasons, but I’d wager they’ll roll back around at some point. Either way, the new content is purely cosmetic in nature and has no profound impact on gameplay.
Each of the campaigns is a relic of a bygone era and best appreciated by those looking for a nostalgia fix or those curious to see what they missed the first time around. They were all among the best FPS campaigns ever at time of original release (except for Halo 4, which was always meh) but they’re all eclipsed by modern fare in every imaginable way (save for perhaps Marty O’Donnell’s masterful scoring, somehow becoming more amazing with each title all the way up to Halo: Reach).
At the end of the day, I wholeheartedly recommend that any PC gamer who’s ever loved one of these games or wanted to play them before but didn’t have the requisite Xbox console, go ahead and download HMCC now. This collection is an absolute steal at $40, and a no-brainer when on sale or as part of Game Pass. The games were never perfect, and still aren’t – but the collection is a wonderfully crafted homage to the series and worthy of being in most gamers’ collections.
It is perhaps odd to review this collection of games without actually reviewing the games themselves, but I did so intentionally for the following reasons:
- Rating each game’s PvP in a vacuum is impossible due to the menu/matchmaking structure, and rating the multiplayer as a whole is effectively impossible for some of the reasons outlined above. I believe it is fair to say that returning players will feel like they’re home again, and new players should float around and try a few modes to see if there’s anything that catches their fancy. Pro-tip: if Rocket Race is available, that’s what you’re supposed to be playing.
- This is one of those products that is truly about the sum of its parts. It is a celebration of those parts and a living tribute to its legacy. I find it rational that I should acknowledge the work done in the here-and-now to preserve and enrich that legacy. TL;DR I’m reviewing the museum, not the art in its halls.
- All of this talk makes me want to hop back into matchmaking, so I’m going to go ahead and do that now.
Alacrity Score: 9.5