Game Picks: ‘Halo: The Master Chief Collection’

“Halo: The Master Chief Collection” (Xbox One; $59.99; Rated M) promises all the “Halo” you could ever want (whether you actually want more of it or not probably depends on how much of it you already have).

As franchise mascots go, Nintendo has Mario, Sega had Sonic, Sony has … well, Sony had Crash Bandicoot for a while, but they’re still kind of looking for a replacement. Microsoft has Master Chief, an odd but appropriate mascot for the games branch of a company that might rarely show the flash of its competitors, but almost always manages to come out on top one way or another.

“Halo” has been around for 13 years, time for four “proper” installments, a few side games that preserve the shooter gameplay (“ODST” and “Reach”), and spinoffs, including a strategy game and a live action series.

So it seems like the right time to finally have an anthology of “Halo” games.

This package offers four games (the four numbered “Halo” games) along with the “Nightfall” weekly video series (directed by Ridley Scott!). That leads up to the “Halo 5: Guardians” beta, which this collection also offers access to. If at any point you missed a “Halo” game, or even if you’re just champing at the bit to have some “Halo” on your Xbox One, this is an incredibly complete way to sate the urge.

‘Halo 2’ gets a makeover

The campaigns are largely unchanged – “Halo 3” and “Halo 4” look and play identically to their Xbox 360 counterparts, as does the updated version of the original “Halo: Combat Evolved” (released on the 360 as “Combat Evolved Anniversary”). “Halo 2” gets a makeover, bringing it up to date with the rest of the series and allowing for seamless integration into this collection.

After having played “Halo 4” when it first came out and being utterly mystified by its story, it’s actually refreshing to play the older games again, with their simpler narrative arcs and more limited character sets. It helps that the games remain excellent, well-paced examples of the best that first-person shooting has to offer. “Halo 2” in particular has a brilliant campaign, with just enough chaos and the right amount of choke points to keep the player from getting to comfortable at any spot in the story.

Bang for your buck

As is typical for the genre, however, much of the reason to own “The Master Chief Collection” resides in its treatment of “Halo’s” multiplayer history. Any map from any of the four games can be used in multiplayer, and playlists can either focus on a single game or exist across games. Forge mode, which allows players to create custom maps on which to play, now exists for “Halo 2” in addition to “Halo 3” and “Halo 4,” which will allow for gameplay experiences that never could have existed prior to this collection.

Truly, there is so much to do that one could easily be occupied straight through to next year’s release of “Halo 5: Guardians.”

There could be some sense of disappointment that “Halo Reach” or “Halo: ODST” are not included (“Halo Reach” is considered by some, including myself, to be the best “Halo” game to date, so it would be nice to have it here). Still, considering the game actually requires a 20GB download on top of the 40GB that are included on the game disc, it’s obvious that the developers at 343 stuffed just about everything they could muster into this collection.

There may not be all that much that is outright “new” to be found in “Halo: The Master Chief Collection,” but considering what you get, that hardly matters. Whether you’re being introduced to or reacquainted with the “Halo” universe, “The Master Chief Collection” offers nearly unprecedented bang for a very reasonable buck.

New this week: For obvious reasons, not a lot comes out this week. That hasn’t, however, stopped Steam and developer DragonFireGames from releasing something called “Ukrainian Ninja” (PC), an odd little running ‘n’ jumping ‘n’ swordplay game for which 10% of the proceeds go to charity.