I think it's important to tell you a story about Crewman #1.
He might only have one line in the entire of Halo: Combat Evolved - "Behind us! They're right behind us!" - yet our humble and understandingly petrified Crewman #1 is the perfect embodiment of the raw, enduring spirit of the game. Voiced by one-time Bungie community guy Matt Soell, the other indubitably epic lines of this iconic character were left on the cutting room floor by musical luminary Martin O'Donnell.
It takes a little while to remember that - despite myriad visual touch-ups and flourishes in this remastered edition - Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is the Halo that was, not the Halo it would become in later years. These characters aren't being voiced by celebrities like Wash off Firefly and Marlo from The Wire, and Bungie didn't have the money to rope in the unbearably gorgeous Aisha Tyler to play Female Trooper #2. Before Halo became the poster boy for the Xbox, and Bungie the stewards of one of largest entertainment franchises of all time, the team had to make do with what they had.
And what they had was a small team of coders and artists utterly devoted to working on this seminal game. This bold project - and make no mistake, this was a revolutionary experiment in FPS design - has a lovable can-do spirit rippling through every corridor, and a real sense of derring-do with each plasma grenade explosion. That's what I feel when I look at people like Crewman #1, but it doesn't stop there. The squat arthropod Grunts, for instance? That's lead writer Joseph Staten. I'm also willing to bet the UNSC naval officer in the second mission who bellows "I'm a cowardly fool!" with more pomp than Brian Blessed at a Christmas pantomime is an in-house contribution as well, and I absolutely love Bungie for it.
Halo: Combat Evolved was the alpha and the omega, the beginning of the modern first-person shooter and the end of the maze-running mould popularised by Quake and Unreal. For better or worse, almost every game produced today owes it a debt.
Released exactly ten years after the original, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is being designed by Microsoft to both commemorate the series' history and hoover up another massive wodge of cash in a stop-gap year between 2010's Halo: Reach and 2012's Halo 4. Running on exactly the same core engine, Anniversary's main selling point is that it adds a whizzy new (but entirely optional) graphics layer on top of the existing engine.
Anniversary's take on the game is a much brighter affair than Bungie's original, illuminating the world with a thick coat of swanky modern shaders and current-gen lighting effects. But this also changes the mood of the game, as well as making the flashlight virtually useless. The remodelled palette and brightness is especially noticeable in the original's darker areas: creeping up the dank riverbank in 343 Guilty Spark was originally an ominous affair, but now it's bright and cheery enough to look like the introduction of a glamorous travelogue.
Alongside some horrendous texture pop-in, the characters also find the transition slightly awkward - there are new skins and models, but the animations haven't been changed. Keyes looks particularly gauche, especially in the cutscene where he has a pipe, and Sergeant Johnson looks like he's had a beard quickly painted on with Photoshop's airbrush tool.
For the most part, though, the revamped visuals hold up. Looking back a decade later makes you see how some of these timeless scenes have forced their way into the video game canon, and a new lick of paint helps keep the game in line with the industry's exacting standards. Thunder down the beach during The Silent Cartographer and you'll be met with shining water and golden sands. Charge through the inner workings of Installation 04 and this extinct Forerunner architecture is revived thanks to newfound colour, with dense swarms of Flood popping like bags of Butterkist. Look up at the Truth and Reconciliation and you'll be met with a bulbous purple Covenant warship that now looks like it could actually glass a planet, a menacing structure looming high above rolling grassy plains and craggy mountains.
It seems odd to think of it now, especially when looking at the relatively drab colours and rudimentary geometry in Classic mode, but this alien ringworld was a strikingly beautiful place to explore in 2001 - and it's still worth a good rummage ten years later. You'll never be able to experience it afresh, though, as now the player is clouded by knowing retrospect, one where unearthing those mysterious Forerunner structures and discovering Installation 04's apocalyptic purpose can never be the blissful surprises they were a decade ago.
In short: you know exactly when the Flood is coming. Cracks do start to appear once you creep deep into Forerunner territory, and while I've spent years attributing this to The Library it wasn't until playing Anniversary did I realise the problem is actually a few levels earlier in Assault on the Control Room - you have to trek through it, blast through the Library, and then slog your way back afterwards. While I can respect the decision to keep Anniversary's content a like-for-like reproduction of the original, it doesn't make this part of the game any less wearisome.
There is charm in Halo: Combat Evolved's simplicity, however; while the series would later perfect the balance of ammunition and necessity to naturally encouraging users to switch weapons, the original game made the M6D magnum and MA5B assault rifle so magnificently powerful there was absolutely no need to consider an alternative at any point in the game. Halo's original quirks, such as how you could dispatch a Hunter with a single magnum shot to the back - matador style - is incredibly satisfying, and it's never been as fun since.
Elsewhere there's the addition (provided you're not in Classic mode) of ten terminals and skulls hidden in each one of the campaign levels, the former bringing in the vocal talents of Tim Dadabo and recounting the backstory of 343 Guilty Spark and the history of the Halo installations. I only found a handful of each during one playthrough, and with no ability to load from mid-mission checkpoints only the most dedicated of fans will find them all - while the Terminal videos are fantastic, then, most people will simply experience them via YouTube.
Also guaranteed to leave a bitter taste in the mouth is the Kinect-only database, with over 40 entries earned by shouting analyse and scan at your television when the reticule is hovering over items. This could have been an absolutely splendid addition accessed easily with your controller, packed with interesting information that long-time fans would have found interesting - the story behind our beloved Crewman #1, for instance. Instead we've got a basic list of uninteresting statistics that most Halo fans will already know, locked behind a poorly implemented device that most of Halo's audience will have absolutely no interest in. There's also an entirely superfluous set of voice commands, four of which include raising and lowering the game's brightness and contrast settings.
Anniversary also remakes six classic and varied Halo maps - Beaver Creek, Headlong, Hang 'Em High, Damnation, Timberland, and Prisoner - as new entities in the competent Halo: Reach engine, as well as providing a new Firefight map with Installation 04. Each of the tried-and-tested maps is supplied with retro and modern variants; the latter makes various changes to the original layouts in order to competently handle Reach's conceits, such as sprinting and jetpacks.
The octet of levels has been purposely chosen to create a varied mix of corridors and open spaces, and the appropriation of Halo's classic magnum into Reach creates a gameplay rhythm that feels like it's straight out of 2001.
Bungie's iconic title was clearly an ambitious project, and this modern remastering sufficiently highlights what it was that made the original Halo: Combat Evolved such a landmark gaming moment to begin with. With Halo 4 perched on the horizon, now is a perfect time to look back before the series heads forwards.