Halo: The Master Chief Disaster

Monday, 26 January 2015 08:28 GMT By Richard Stanton

Over two months since release and Xbox One’s big Christmas game is still a turkey, says Rich Stanton.

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“The game has now been available for two-and-a-half months, including the blockbuster Christmas season, and by any reasonable standard it doesn’t work.”

Halo: The Master Chief Collection launched worldwide on November 11, 2014. Intended as something of a stopgap before developer 343 Industries delivered the Xbox One’s own title, Halo 5: Guardians, MCC nevertheless offered great value for money and guaranteed quality: all four main Halo titles, plus a comprehensive matchmaking suite with both ‘classic’ and modern ways to play. The game has now been available for two-and-a-half months, including the blockbuster Christmas season, and by any reasonable standard it doesn’t work.

MCC launched to positive reviews across the board, but once in the wild it instantly became clear that the game had serious problems. The contemporary brouhaha around Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity and, to a lesser extent, Sony’s Driveclub meant that MCC at least wasn’t the sole focus of attention when it came to buggy, unfinished games, but with hindsight it clearly had the biggest problems of the lot.

It is possible to get a game in MCC, but this doesn’t mean it’s functional. Before going over some of the well-known issues, let’s lay the foundations with a bit of amateur science. The matchmaking times have always been, for me, extraordinarily long despite various sizeable post-release patches. So on Friday evening, which should be a good time for finding a match, I timed my searching experience on every mode.

Halo CE playlist
A mere one minute 29 seconds! Unfortunately created a 3 vs 2 game, with awful respawn placements (usually next to the enemy). Tried again, an equally quick searchtime with the same result – a game with lopsided teams.

Team Halo 2 Anniversary playlist
First game took two minutes 45 seconds. This game crashed immediately after starting. Second attempt took seven minutes 50 seconds

Halo Championship Series playlist
Gave up after 19 minutes, despite the ‘Found Players’ claim trying to convince me otherwise.

Team Slayer playlist
Gave up after over 20 minutes of searching.

Halo 2 Classic playlist
Three minutes 10 seconds. Game had a bug where your respawn timer would get stuck on ‘4’ for around a minute after deaths, so a lot of downtime.

Halo 3 playlist
Two minutes 50 seconds.

Halo 4 playlist
Three minutes.

Big Team Battle playlist
Eleven minutes six seconds. A few seconds after starting, I was booted from the match.

Team Hardcore playlist
Four minutes 10 seconds. In-game teams were 2 vs 2 in a 3 vs 3 gametype, and a bug with respawns occasionally froze your countdown at 9.

As should be clear the problem isn’t just timing, but the games actually working after you’ve waited so long. I’d say the Halo 3 and 4 playlists are on the verge of acceptable, if still too slow. But the others are a disgrace both in the time taken and the results.

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The bugs mentioned are only a fraction of the problems that currently beset every aspect of MCC. Matchmaking will freeze at random points. Sometimes the game crashes while searching. Searching in a party almost never works (the above times are solo queuing), and if it does work you’re often on the opposite team to your friend. While in a party, changing playlist will disband the party. Being in a party in general is a nightmare. Team games often have uneven teams. Matches begin with one or two players immediately dropping out unwittingly. In Halo: CE the other team can leave entirely, and the match will continue until the timer runs out.

“It would be quicker to list the parts of MCC that do work, except I’m genuinely not sure if any do”

There are times when you get sick of waiting for a match to be found and try to leave matchmaking. The game displays ‘Leaving Matchmaking’ but remains stuck on the screen. There are so many other minor bugs I couldn’t possibly list them all – everything from certain controller configurations not working to the generally screwy Forge implementation to bugged achievements. I played the first hour of Halo to remind me of old times, and when I’d finished chose ‘Save & Quit.’ Next time I turned the game on it hadn’t saved my progress. It would be quicker to list the parts of MCC that do work, except I’m genuinely not sure if any do.

Trying to play the game, in other words, is an unqualified misery. People like me were sold on MCC by simple nostalgia: the promise we could return to a defining game of our youth, prettied-up but otherwise untouched. For me this is Halo 2 and it’s no exaggeration to say I bought an Xbox One for Halo: MCC, largely because I had friends from across the years asking if we’d be going back together.

Whatever 343i and Microsoft achieve now, the damage has been done. My group of Halo 2 buddies, all hyped to spend a few evenings pretending we were students again, have long since given up waiting for the issues to be fixed. But I especially feel sorry for people like my teenage nephew, whose parents got him an Xbox One and MCC for Christmas. Some suits made the deliberate choice to say “ship it for Christmas and we’ll fix it afterwards” and so – around the world – a lot of people who put their faith in Microsoft Game Studios got burned.

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The game was always a marketing slam-dunk and a guaranteed seller. This is why it was released in the state it’s in, and the various patches have done almost nothing to mitigate the problems. 343i is currently beta testing the next major matchmaking update for MCC in North America – it will presumably be delivered to the general playerbase in the next few weeks. When have you ever heard of a major console game beta-testing a patch?

“Phil Spencer is keen to tell us that Xbox One owners enjoy the “premium experience” – and yet, here’s their premier title, released in an appalling state.”

It all suggests that, whatever is wrong with MCC, it’s something much more comprehensive and even fundamental than a last-minute patch could ever have fixed. The fact Microsoft is offering owners of MCC a one-month extension to their Gold subscription, as well as a download of ODST at some undefined future point, does not impress. You can’t simply replace wasted time and money like-for-like, or make up for a deceptive sale with the promise of a future bonus.

The only thing Microsoft should have done is not ship this game in the first place – accept the hit on sales as punishment for its own poor project management. Instead Microsoft chose to sell what is, as far as I’m concerned, unfinished software as a final product in glossy boxes. The compensation being offered falls far short of the option of a full refund, which I’d consider a minimum requirement.

Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, is keen to tell us that Xbox One owners enjoy the “premium experience” – and yet, here’s their premier title, released in an appalling state. I hope the beta fix currently being tested improves the situation, even if too late for many people. The games industry moves at a breakneck pace and now MCC is last year’s news, something that – even when and if it’s fixed – will be hard to get anyone interested in again.

The Master Chief Collection didn’t deliver my time capsule to 2004. Instead, I and every other consumer got an up-close and personal look at the worst practices of the modern games industry. Microsoft bilked Xbox’s most loyal fans. It sold us an unfinished product and, months later, keeps on promising it’ll be finished at some point. The fact it is, so far, getting away with this daylight robbery is astonishing.

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