We first took a look at Halo Combat Evolved on PC over a year ago, concluding that while it was a good enough port of the existing Xbox version, the foundations of the port themselves were flawed. The Anniversary Edition upgrades were all present and correct, but 'classic' Halo was built from Gearbox's 2003 Windows port, which doesn't hold a candle to Bungie's Xbox original. Season seven of Halo: The Master Chief Collection is set to address this and so far, I'm impressed with what I've seen based on preview 'flight' versions of the game sent out to 343's dedicated Halo fans.
There are still notable omissions - split-screen local multiplayer doesn't seem to have been added (and it's still absent without leave across the PC Master Chief Collection) - but generally speaking, we are so much closer to the authentic Bungie era Halo experience - with the bonus of being able to enjoy that original experience at much higher frame-rates than the original. But really, beyond leveraging the performance advantages of modern hardware, it's the attempt to recapture the authentic OG Halo look and feel that is most important and everything we've seen so far of the season seven update suggests we're looking at a profound improvement.
To cut to the chase, the video embedded above illustrates all of the changes and updates we're capable of showcasing from the preview version, while at the same time highlighting just how inaccurate the existing port of the game was. The weirdly implemented fog effects are gone, while the massive raft of inaccuracies in Halo's effects work looks to have been comprehensively addressed, with only minimal issues remaining. Shaders, materials and atmospherics now look 'right', while improper textures and inaccurate rendering of bump-mapped elements also appear to have been corrected. Health packs now have animated lights on them just as they did in the original Xbox game, while the Captain Keys character no longer uses the so-called 'beta' version of his model, with the proper rendition from the Bungie version now included.
It's not a complete bill of health - even the season seven version of Halo Combat Evolved exhibits inaccuracies in blooming and contrast on plasma weapons, while the presentation itself seems to vary in gamma accuracy, but the point is that 343 Industries has taken onboard community criticism and enacted a raft of changes to get the game back into shape and far closer to its classic origins. Looking over the text here, it may seem that we're nitpicking but the fact is that when so much of the game required correcting, it's fairly noticeable even to the more casual Halo player from back in the day that something wasn't right with the older rendition found in The Master Chief Collection.
More to the point, this is all about preservation - with the original Bungie game never receiving a fully realised PC port, the definitive Combat Evolved experience remained locked to the original Xbox. The Master Chief Collection on PC and Xbox isn't just about the added bells and whistles, it's also about preserving the original game, while opening the door to the improvements brought about by modern hardware - such as the ability to run at higher frame-rates - which brings us on to the last major improvement: animation interpolation. When you're running a game at 120fps but core animations run at a lower frame-rate, the game looks off. It's also pleasing to report that this appears to have been addressed too to a certain extent.
In cutscenes, models interpolate properly with the camera, so they no longer stutter or look as if they're 'vibrating'. The Elite Sword weapon interpolates properly to the current frame-rate, as opposed to animating only at its original 30fps - regardless of the game's actual performance level. It's a big, big improvement - but not quite perfect. Screen-shake is still running at 30fps, energy weapon discharges are also still at 30fps. The interpolation mod for the original Gearbox version addresses this, proving that it is fixable - so hopefully 343 will oblige in due course.
The preview test version of the game looks like a huge improvement overall, though there are some areas not present in the code available where we've previously seen problems - such as the 'tiled' water in the Silent Cartographer stage, for example, but going into the full release for season seven, we're positive about this and very happy indeed about the progress we've seen so far. We've taken one very big step forward in preserving an authentic, scalable rendition of one of the finest video games ever made.
Many thanks to Adam Taylor - @EposVox - for his assistance on this project.