It's been a long wait but Halo: The Master Chief Collection is finally coming to PC. At X019 last week, Microsoft confirmed that the planned episodic roll-out of the collection is set to kick off on December 3rd with the arrival of Halo: Reach. We went hands-on with the port at the event, grabbed a bunch of capture and dug deep into the settings menus. We also spotted the intriguing addition of an 'enhanced mode' that uses the extra power of modern hardware to further upgrade the Reach experience beyond resolution and frame-rate alone.
System requirements for Reach are slight to say the least - which is perhaps not surprising when you bear in mind that the original game launched just over nine years ago for Xbox 360. 343 Industries says that an Nvidia GTX 770 (pretty much on par with a GTX 680 or GTX 960) is good enough to deliver 60 frames per second at 4K resolution - and you can get an idea of what that experience looks like by taking a look at the video embedded on this page.
Based on our playtest of the PC game, 343 Industries has stuck to the Master Chief Collection template established by the Xbox One compilation. New assets - if any - are thin on the ground: this is effectively the original Reach, liberated from the 1152x720 resolution of the Xbox 360 game. That's absolutely fine as despite being mastered to last-gen standards, the art design still holds up beautifully today. Performance-wise, the original release had some issues maintaining its 30fps target frame-rate - a situation resolved by the revamped Xbox One back-compat rendition of the game. Obviously though, PC goes much further: at X019, the game ran very smoothly at 60fps and it'll be interesting to see if the port can be unlocked to run faster still.
In addition to pixel-pushing and performance improvements, the PC version also allows users to adjust the field of view for both on-foot and vehicle-based sections, while an internal resolution scaler is good for boosting image quality still further via super-sampling. However, most intriguing of all is the ability to choose between original and enhanced modes. The X019 demo was configured to run at the original mode as standard, but I couldn't resist flipping over to the enhanced alternative, capturing matching clips in-game for both modes.
The difference at first may seem subtle. From what we can see, there's no improvement to art quality as such. Instead, 343 Industries pushes out level of detail much further into the distance, giving a fuller, richer view. Check out the video above and you'll see how this plays out: more grass, fewer lower poly models - just a general, highly welcome increase in visual refinement. Also worthy of comment is that the contentious temporal anti-aliasing solution found in the Xbox 360 version has been completely stripped out.
Back in the day, Reach's TAA effectively delivered 2x super-sampling for a very clean presentation - but only when the image was static. In motion, ghosting was commonplace and it was especially obvious in cutscenes when close-up characters would move past the camera, even more so when the game dropped to 20 frames per second (which could happen fairly frequently owing to the use of a double-buffer v-sync). With TAA seemingly eliminated in the PC build, the ghosting is gone too. Since the game is relatively light on GPU power, users should be able to use internal super-sampling for a pristine image.
Based on our X019 hands-on, I'd say that there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the arrival of The Master Chief Collection on PC, and it's great to see Reach finally takes its place in The Master Chief Collection. It's a fantastic game that still holds up brilliantly today and for our money, it's one of the best Halo games in the entire series (in campaign form at least). And yes, the PC version naturally includes keyboard and mouse support, the icing on the cake for a very promising release. We'll report back in more depth on the port closer to its December 3rd release.
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