Taking over a successful videogame franchise is probably a lot like being a long-term substitute teacher; it’s got its ups and downs. I know this because I’ve lived it for the past few months. For instance, lesson-planning is much easier because the original teacher leaves behind unit plans so that the students continue to learn the curriculum at the intended pace. This is also important because when the original teacher returns, the students are right where they need to be. Another example, albeit a little “inside baseball,” is that paperwork and signing up for district e-mail accounts is all taken care of. You’re given all of the original teacher’s username and passwords, so there’s no need to be bogged down on that. Ideally, a long-term substitute is given all the tools they need to hit the ground running and execute the curriculum as planned.
It’s not without its downsides, though. The pay isn’t as good — but that’s okay because you’re teaching, and you’re still getting paid to do what you love either way. More importantly, there are high expectations. During September and October, I worked maternity leave for a beloved, high-caliber teacher in a small suburb of Chicago. Meeting the expectations of the community and overcoming this stigma of “just being a substitute teacher” is overwhelming at first. You want to fit in and continue carry on the record of excellence that was set before you, all while earning the respect of those you work with and work for. This must be what 343 Industries feels like at the moment as they’re tossed the keys to the Halo franchise.
In the education business, if your principal asks you to do something, you do it. So if Microsoft charges you with remaking Halo: Combat Evolved, you better do it well. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a successful remake, but it does little to showcase what 343 Industries will be bringing to the franchise.
Fans of the original title will be happy to know that, conservatively speaking, Halo: CEA is a more-than-competent remake. It runs on the same game engine as the original Halo. In fact, hitting back on the controller switches between classic mode and the improved HD visuals mode. This also has its ups and downs. I was still playing through Halo: CE, but it just had HD skin, designed to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Halo 3 or Halo: Reach. On the other hand, this showcases the fact that nothing new was added to the gameplay. I was playing through a game that was released ten years ago, and the gameplay I was enjoying was Bungie’s doing — not 343’s.
Of course, since the gameplay was not touched fans will not be getting a glimpse of what innovative tweaks 343 Industries may be offering to the franchise in future iterations. The feature of being able to switch between classic and HD is only intriguing once per level, and it only highlights how little was added to the experience. Considering all of the additions to the “Halo formula” that have been added to the series over the past ten years, playing Halo: CEA was a lot like going camping — which is a lot of fun until the first time you have to wipe your ass with a handful of leaves (or hit LB to sprint or rocketpack only to find that it only turns on your flashlight).
This sort of thing is not only true for the campaign, it’s true for the multiplayer as well. The multiplayer components (non-CoOp) of Halo: CEA are all based on those of Halo: Reach, and again that’s more of Bungie’s work. “New” offerings include remade maps (with new nooks and crannies) from Halo: CE and Halo 2 and a new Firefight map. Outside of the small terrain changes in the remade maps and “re-sizing” of levels to make them appropriate for Reach’s abilities, nothing new has been brought to the table.
After a few months working as a long-term substitute, I know that there are good days and bad days. I also know the difference between executing someone else’s lesson plan, word-for-word, and taking a curriculum and making it yours. I’ve done both.
Unfortunately, it seems like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is more of the former than the latter. For all intents and purposes, Halo: CEA is a good game. But when the community you’re serving is the Halo fanbase and your administration is Microsoft, just “good” is unacceptable — especially for gameplay that’s bordering on being stale. I want 343 Industries to succeed because I want the Halo franchise to continue to thrive, but they really need to show me a lot more with the next trilogy. Otherwise, it’s just another game that’s about shooting aliens in the dick.