Lighting is where the game has seen some enormous improvements with what seems to be a full HDR implementation providing a really rich, vibrant colour palette. Maybe it's not quite the full, overkill Halo 3 style of HDR (where two frame buffers with different levels are used to generate the final look) but it still looks impressive. There are also plenty of dynamic lights in play, particularly during the initial battle, but we also see that they've been added to the initial landing sequence within the Pelican craft too.
Another new addition is what looks like a world shadowmap, so shadows are accurately cast in real-time according to the position of the world light - in this case, the sun. Character shadows appear to be a part of this, so the scene looks more consistent with no disappearing shadows (unless the character is already in shadow itself), in which case the SSAO takes over for adding depth to object placement.
We also see a lot of improvement in the characters and weapons, which have a lot of commonality with what we saw in Halo: Reach and may even be the same models (though the pistol appears to have had a couple of tweaks to make it look more detailed when reloading). The biggest oddity we see is the Warthog: as we switch between classic and Anniversary mode, we see that while there is new art, the basic polycount of the model remains completely unchanged - that said, the effect of the wheels sinking into the sand is a really nice touch.
It may well be the case that the original model is used to maintain the dynamic physics interaction, as there wasn't a fully realised physics model in place in the original Halo. Hopefully this will mean that the classic Warthog jump will still be possible (an Achievement would be welcome too). Havok middleware was added from Halo 2 onwards.
This segues quite nicely into a discussion on how well the old and the new can interact together in this new version of the game. Quite rightly, 343 has prioritised that the original gameplay should be unchanged in this revamp of the classic release. We see massively improved environments with far more complex geometry, but does this mean that the old bounding boxes for hit detection remain in effect? We reckon so, especially based on what we see with the character models in the redux mode, which have the same canned animations and physics applied to them as in the 2001 original.
The strict adherence to the original game is one of the biggest attractions of the Anniversary edition but on the other hand, it's the element that causes us the most concern. While the ability to switch between classic mode and the remastered version is clearly very cool, and the implementation of online co-op can only be a good thing, the question remains as to whether the original gameplay and physics will play nicely with the new assets and if the game mechanics themselves will still stand up to scrutiny by the standards of 2011 first person shooters.
As a first look at the new Anniversary edition, this live demo leaves us optimistic about the quality of the work Saber and 343 Industries have done, and bearing in mind the expansive range of environments in the original game, we can't wait to see how well the remastered versions have been realised based on the quality of the work seen in the "Silent Cartographer" stage. It'll be really interesting to see how the larger levels such as the "Halo" and "Assault on the Control Room" stages look for example.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is released on November 15, but as Dan Ayoub says in the video, we should expect to see much more at Halofest, running at the end of August.
Thanks to Alex Goh for his invaluable assistance with this article.
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