What would a holiday release season be without a visit from everyone’s favorite Spartan? Ten years ago the original Halo: Combat Evolved helped introduce the masses to Microsoft’s Xbox. A decade later 343 Industries has returned to the hallowed ground, looking to shine new light into the launch title that helped teach an entire generation to appreciate first person shooters on a console. On a more personal note, the original Halo was also the first video game guide that I ever purchased. Granted, I no longer actually own it, which actually saddens me as a Halo aficionado. So when I was extended the opportunity to review the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary guide, it was no-brainer that I would jump at the chance.
Looking back, it is amazing how far guides have come. This is why it was even more thrilling that the guide for Anniversary edition is a perfect example of how to construct a piece of instructional literature. First off, the book itself is separated into three main sections: Campaign, Firefight and Multiplayer. Luckily before the campaign even kicks in there are thirty five pages dedicated to the back story of the universe, as well as detailed descriptions of every character, vehicle and weapon that will be encountered. Along with helping to place all of the key players within the Halo Universe, it also contains meticulous analysis of how to approach encounters with each enemy.
Now aided by the back knowledge of the world, the campaign walkthrough is divided into numerous easily digestible chunks. Each section header contains very useful information such as what types of enemies will be encountered, recommended weapons, a difficulty rating from one to five, and an overview of what successful strategies will aid the player. This is then a jumping off point for a much more thorough description of what lies ahead, complete with corresponding maps and screenshots.
Every description is well written and in many cases provides the player with multiple suggestions of how to approach an encounter. If there was one aspect to Halo that worked in the favor of the authors it was the game’s explicitly scripted combat structure. For this very reason, pretty much every time, the text on page will result in success. To top it all off, for those that are achievement hunters, areas that contain special achievements based off of the players actions are highlighted, allowing everyone to snag what would otherwise be obscure gamerscore points.
Among the special callout paragraphs within the campaign are special “Spoils of War” and “Avoiding the Fight” pieces. Don’t worry, the “Spoils” are not spoilers at all, in fact they are actually sections that break down where to find hidden health packs, overshields, and performance perks. As for “Avoiding the Fight” it is just as the name implies–ways to avoid whole sets of encounters. Though it should be noted that many times these strategies are far more risky and depending upon the difficulty level that is being played, could have a far lower success rate than sticking to the script.
For those who have completed the campaign the next logical step would be to jump into the fray of Firefight. Fans of the Halo franchise should be more than a little familiar with the popular horde based gameplay; but for the uninitiated, the guide has your back. Everything from the layout of the heads up display, effective loadout construction, and strategies for surviving against wave after wave of incumbent shotgun fodder are laid out right off the bat. Once players have the concepts down there is a breakdown of the seven different variations as well as what opposition will be contained in each different wave.
Though all of this information is nicely constructed and easy to use, the breakdown of each individual map is where the Firefight guide is worth its weight in gold. Recommended weapon loadouts and critical weaponry caches are laid out on an overhead map of each stage. This is followed up in more detail within the text, consisting of several different strategies for putting the Alamo to shame, round after round.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last ten years, what set the original Combat Evolved apart from the competition was its amazing multiplayer suite. Let’s just say that some things will never change, because multiplayer is still a core part of what makes the franchise great. Much like the other two segments to the book, before delving into each map, the entirety of the multiplayer experience is spelled out to the nth degree. Heck, there is even a callout that is dedicated to how to effectively use voice chat to a player’s advantage! Of course this is all depending upon being able to get in a word edgewise amongst the hordes of homophobic and racist tweeners.
Reading the tactics portion of the multiplayer guide is something that shouldn’t be scoffed at, even for veterans. Because of Anniversary Edition‘s multiplayer component being pulled from Halo: Reach, the core concepts explored here can be applied far beyond the walls of this single game. Methods to effectively play defense, snipe and use power-ups should be required reading for anyone stepping into a matchmaking hopper.
The guide goes as far as to break down each weapon and vehicle over again, accounting for the fact that there are new additions to the arsenal, not contained in the single player. Plus, for those items that make a repeat appearance, it addresses that the balance can feel drastically different between the two modes and describes how to effectively compensate. All of these are critical bits of data that when combined with a little skill, could prove to be the difference between victory and defeat.
Armed with everything that one could ever want to know about multiplayer, this area is followed up with top down views of every retro map, containing the base spawn locations of every weapon and power-up. These maps are shown several different times, highlighting the different spawning locations and strategies, depending upon the mode being played. Calling these walkthroughs exhaustive wouldn’t be doing them justice, because there is virtually nothing that is left out. There is no player that would be too experienced to not be able to come away without learning something new.
As another welcome addition, the guide goes on to also goes on to delve into the maps and DLC that were a part of Halo: Reach as well. Was it necessary for this to be added to the guide to make it a must purchase? No. Is it an amazing show of fan service that should be applauded? Absolutely! BradyGames has gone above and beyond to make this the most definitive multiplayer companion ever, and succeeded brilliantly.
While the guide goes above and beyond the call of duty (no pun intended), in many respects there was one small area nestled at the end of the book that sticks in the craw a bit. Labeled as a “Spoilers” section, this area contains the whereabouts of all of the hidden skulls and terminals scattered throughout the campaign. The main issues are that first of all this doesn’t actually contain any spoilers, and second of all it is completely separate from the actual walkthrough. If players are not on the ball, they could be forced to replay the entire campaign again in search of these objects. Those who actually know better and chose pursue everything to completion in one playthrough are forced to flip back and forth between the front and back of the book in order to glean the full experience. This greatly tarnishes the readability of the walkthrough from cover to cover.
Despite containing one rather drastic flaw, each section of the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary guide could stand on its own as a singular retail product. The attention to detail, depth of knowledge, solid strategic advice and amazing artwork help to define this book as being well worthy of carrying the Halo name. This is a must-own for every Master Chief fan.
SGR Rating: 4.5/5
Authors: Thom Denick, Michael Lummis, Ben Pease, Jim Morey, Kenny Sims, Doug Walsh, Philip Marcus, Rich Hunsinger, and Sea Snipers
Editions available: Paperback
Acquired via Publisher