PAX Prime 2014: The Expanding Universe of Halo

Halo is Microsoft’s top exclusive in the fierce battle for market leadership in the current generation console war, and deservedly so: the series’ mass popularity and enduring appeal have helped to launch both the original Xbox and its successor into mainstream culture. At the “Halo and the Journey of the Master Chief” panel last Saturday at PAX Prime 2014, we got a more detailed look at the inaugural Xbox One entry and the future of the series.

Moderated by Frank O’Conner and featuring a group of 343 Industries and Certain Affinity crew working on Halo: The Master Chief Collection for release in November, the group showed off the instant switching between classic graphics and sound to the revamped Halo 2 anniversary treatment on a variety of weapons and maps. Each weapon triggered sounds richer and more destructive (the booming audio in the Benaroya Hall undoubtedly played a part), the textures are considerably more detailed and the colours have a new depth and subtlety that improves even over the strong revamp of Halo: Anniversary on the Xbox 360 which is also part of this collection. The multiplayer maps from Halo 2 also get some structural tweaks to add the slightest bit of cover and additional traversal paths to smooth out some pain points spotted over millions of matches over the years, plus some intriguing interactive elements such as falling stalactites and breakable glass to strategically influence the environment for attentive gamers.

The work put into remastering efforts such as the soundtrack and special effects being completely redone at Skywalker Sound are substantial, but remains faithful both to the spirit of the source material and the traits that made the originals so beloved. The crowd erupted when the return of fan favourite Steve Vai on epic guitar solos was announced, and rightfully so!

At a glance, the upcoming Halo Channel closely resembles the WWE Network but with more visual flourish. Content from trailers and the popular ViDocs to original series such as the upcoming Halo: Nightfall by Ridley Scott and live tournament streams will be integrated into a single point of access, along with the promise of continually changing the content creation and promotion based on viewer feedback. There are visible influences from previous Microsoft portal and original programming apps such as Every Street United and Halo: Waypoint I’m the brief look from Kiki Wolfkill, and it looks like the main focus going forward of the Xbox Entertainment Studios initiative. Speaking of the latter application, there was an explicit reference to watching Waypoint for an upcoming announcement, which sounds promising for users like myself who enjoy features such as integrated cross game and platform achievement tracking as well as unlocking exclusive skins and armor elements.

My experience on the show floor yesterday felt responsive and authentic to the classic Halo 2, a game that I unfortunately spent too little time with in its heyday. Combined with 2012’s Halo Anniversary, the 360 era Halo 3 and 4 with their own optimizations and graphical improvements (the beautiful rippling water in 3 caught my eye) and the Halo: Nightfall miniseries, the legend of the Master Chief looks to remain strong through the rest of 2014 and beyond.

Last but not least, congratulations to the newly engaged couple from the 405th Regiment!

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