Halo Master Chief Collection

Over the past two years, HD remixes have been all the rage. Even relatively recent last generation games are being ported over with minimal differences. Microsoft and 343 Industries are hoping to give HD re-releases a better name with Halo: Master Chief Collection. While they come close to perfection, they do fall disappointingly short in some areas.

If you’re unaware, Microsoft announced at E3 a bundle of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and even Halo 4 all on one disc. There were also some big promises regarding upgrades to these classic titles, like 60 frames-per-second on all four titles, 1080p resolution and every single multiplayer map ever made for all four games. It’s hard to say this is just another rehashed and reused remix.

The first thing you’ll likely notice (once you get past the understandably sizable install) is the menus can be intimidating. With four full games on the disc and a variety of options for each, including all sorts of controller schemes, multiplayer avatar customization, campaign options, etc.; it’s like a Halo Swiss Army Knife.

All games run beautifully, and with the game running at 60 FPS, the games feel outstanding. Halo 4 for instance, feels like it could fit right into the Xbox One library, the game still looks incredible. Even Halo 3 looks better than it has any right to; the Spartan Laser splashing into an enemy Wraith tank will give your eyes euphoria.

What is new besides the technical bump is Halo 2’s complete re-master. Just like 2011’s Halo: Combat Evolved remaster, 343 Industries gave everything in Halo 2 a modern day graphical bump. The environments look gorgeous and the enemies look that much more aggressive. At times I noticed a slight framerate drop but the game would always quickly bump back up to 60 FPS. Also similar to Halo: Combat Evolved, with a quick press of the view button the graphics can be changed back and forth between the new visuals and what they looked like originally. It’s a great feature and it shows how far the games have come, it’s also completely seamless.

Another new feature in Halo 2 is the completely revamped cutscenes. Even in 2004 Halo 2’s cinematic scenes looked terrible. The overuse of the bump-mapping technique made everything pop in and out. This time around 343 Industries hired the company Blur to make the cinematics. Despite Halo 2’s admittedly shoddy storytelling, Blur somehow makes the game’s storyline more compelling, with better angles, facial features and other improvements to help immerse you into the game. Gravemind used to look like a laughable poop-monster/plant hybrid. Now he looks like a truly frightening adversary.

With an impressive list of multiplayer features, 343 Industries really hoped to bring the Xbox fan base away from Call of Duty and other shooters and back into Halo, the series that really propelled the original Xbox consoles sales. Since the Master Chief Collection has all four main Halo games packaged into one, it seems like that should be an easy feat. When it’s working they way it should, this collection is the premiere game on the Xbox One console right now.

There’s the rub though. Since launch, Halo Master Chief Collection mulitplayer component has been an absolute disaster. With hour long waiting periods to get into matches, random team placement and an overall terrible structure, the online component (arguably the real reason to buy this collection) is completely broken. That first week during the game’s launch, it was near impossible to find a game. I often felt adrift in a void while searching for opponents.

Since the release, 343 Industries has been hard at work implementing multiple patches to the online infrastructure, but it’s a band aid for a gaping wound. Unfortunately, now a month after launch, the Master Chief Collection still has continuing issues when trying to find a match. A shame since more time in the oven, or possibly an open beta test, and these issues could likely have been avoided altogether.

That being said, if you are one of the lucky ones to find a match, Halo’s multiplayer still ranks among the best in gaming regardless of which Halo title you’re playing on the disc. It’s great to finally be able to replay Halo 2’s stellar combat again, and with the addition of all of the maps released for all four games, it’s easy to get lost in the fan service.

The only other multiplayer issue I had with the game was that at launch it didn’t offer a Halo: Combat Evolved playlist. The only way to play the first Halo’s multiplayer is either through a Custom Match setting, or to get lucky enough to have people vote for a Halo: Combat Evolved map before the match starts.

All online issues aside, the game is a great bargain. It has four polished, spectacular games in one package, not to mention a web series called Halo Nightfall. Almost every single issue I have with the Master Chief Collection should be fixable through one patch or another at some point. It’s just a huge bummer for longtime fans like myself to have to wait to play a working version of a game that’s been release too soon. Once it’s fixed though, this game is a must buy for all Xbox One owners. It’s just not right now.

Super Mario For Brown People

As a brown kid, it was tough to find media where I felt like I could relate. As I grow older, it’s become slightly easier to come to terms with this; but it’s very much a continuing struggle.

In video games, this has always been a bit difficult. One of the games that captured my imagination (as it did most people) was Super Mario 3 for the NES. I remember that the game excited me but also kinda scared me (Why was the sun so angry at me?). Its style made sense to my infant mind, but more importantly did not exclude me as an Asian kid. I believe this is because of two things. Firstly, the limited graphics of pixels meant that it was difficult to capture skin colours so most characters were generically white. While this has some obvious implications (Eurocentric), it actually meant that skin colour was reduced to a few pixels. Mario was white and European, did it matter? No. Was he really Italian? I guess he was. But the point is this wasn’t really a representation of the struggles of an Italian plumber. This was fun. There was a target to get to, and you just had to do it to the back drop of some fantastical graphics. Mario and Luigi were such bloated stereotypes it was difficult to take them seriously. When I played as Mario, I was Mario.

Secondly, as a Japanese game (which I didn’t really think of at the time) all the referents where alien in the west. It wasn’t quite a “white” world because culturally speaking all the referents were not there in the West. Tanooki suits? Goombas? It meant nothing to us, it just looked great and meant as a brown kid I didn’t feel excluded. In fact, I felt very much part of this fantasy world, and was glad to spend hours scouring it for secrets (and still do!).

It’s actually the final irony of video games that as graphics in games are now more “realistic” they end up reproducing real world discriminations. I am way more likely to come across stereotypes of brown people in video games in full HD, than I ever was as a child (not to say there were none in the pixel period). This is a real shame, and I feel that as games attempt to capture the “Hollywood” movie feel (for bigger returns) it will simply duplicate the same problematic issues that the cinema has been criticised for.