I wasn't sure what to make of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. It's not a sequel, and it's not a remake the way Hollywood does with a new script, different actors and bigger special effects.
It's kind of like two games, but then, not really.
You can play the original Halo as it was released on the first Xbox in 2001 by developer Bungie. Or, at the press of a button, you can turn on Studio 343's new high-definition graphics engine and hear a remastered soundtrack.
You can switch back and forth throughout the game's campaign. The difference in the graphics is remarkable, but it doesn't affect gameplay one bit.
My first Halo experience was in 2006, when I played the original on a standard-definition television. I already had played Halo 2 at that point but found its predecessor to be top-notch. After all, this was the original Xbox's major launch game, which has since spawned two sequels, a side game and a prequel.
Playing Halo: Anniversary this many years later is a unique experience. On the one hand, it's a 10-year-old game that seems dated, even with the updated graphics. That's especially the case after playing 2010's Halo: Reach, the prequel that boasts a flyable Falcon vehicle that is a futuristic version of the military Osprey. That game also offers space battles, jet packs and finishing moves a la Mortal Kombat.
You'll also find in Halo: Anniversary that the enemies are more predictable than those in recent games, and much of the game is in the corridor-based environments that defined first-person shooters during the 1990s.
On the other hand, the original game's campaign holds up well, with a solid story and action. With the updated graphics, even gamers who were in Pull-Ups a decade ago will have a blast guiding Master Chief through his first adventure. It has an awesome soundtrack and is just loads of fun. In the middle of the campaign, the corridor-based shooter opens into a vast landscape with long-range weapons and drivable vehicles. If that wasn't a first back in 2001, it surely was the first time it was done so well on consoles.
Halo has become known as a multi player game, but the original came at a time when Xbox Live was still in development and broadband Internet wasn't widespread. The result then was that you and your friends had to be in the same location to play. Multiplayer maps were playable on a split screen or on different screens with a few consoles connected via Ethernet cables. You had to be a hard-core gamer with some equally geeky friends to play team death-match or capture-the-flag games.
Halo: Anniversary solves that issue. It comes with five classic Halo maps, but there's a confusing catch. The multiplayer maps are for Halo: Reach and are downloadable as a map pack for that game as well, via the Xbox Live Marketplace. I would have preferred to continue the experience from the campaign without the Reach engine. That being said, are all great maps, and my favorite has to be Battle Creek, which was remade as Beaver Creek in Halo 2. I had plenty of great times playing capture-the-flag on that map, and the remake is true to the original.
So there are two ways to approach Halo: Anniversary. First, you can go for the real experience. If you're a Halo fan and haven't played the original or were too young, dig through your daddy's box of old games, because it's in there, I assure you. Play through the campaign and then get some friends to bring their consoles and TVs or computer monitors to your basement for an old-school LAN (local area network) party. You'll see how much fun gaming was in '01.
But if being in the same room as other gamers sounds like too much work or if your circuit breaker can't take it, spend some Christmas gift-card money on Halo: Anniversary. Play a few campaign levels in the classic mode, then play a game of capture-the-flag on Battle Creek. It's not exactly like it was back in the day, but it's close enough and tons of fun.