So, despite the fact that this blog has been more or less inactive for the last two years, I’m still averaging 65 hits a day. Why do you guys do it? I’m not quite sure. That said, it makes a good case for me to get back on the horse and keep doing my thing. In fact, I’m better equipped now to do my thing more than I ever was, thanks to a recent acquisition. That’s right, I finally have a 360. I can, you know, play games.
Laptop still sucks, though. The more things change, huh?
So, what better way to get back on the saddle than to talk about the latest thing to punch the gaming world straight in the damn face: Halo Reach (Cue inspiring chorus chanting).
Guess what, guys? It’s Halo! My god, is it Halo! This is not a bad thing by any means, though. In fact, I would say Reach (Which I firmly believe Bungie would have simply titled this game were there not a need for brand recognition) is more Halo than any Halo since Halo:CE has been. Dual wielding? Scrap it. Playing as elites in normal multiplayer? Gone, for the most part. Convoluted storylines and somehow discovering ANOTHER Halo? Forget it, we’re not about that. No, this is Halo like you haven’t experienced since some ten years ago, and it is delicious.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Before I talk about what you’re all really here for, I want to give credit where credit is due: Halo Reach has an outstanding single player campaign that completely outshines anything that the last four Halo related titles (2, 3, ODST, and Wars) have thrown at us. You’re Noble Six, the newest member in an elite team of Spartans, which is saying something, since even the lowest Spartan is an elite in the overall military. You’ve been stationed on Reach, where you’re told straight from the get go that “You picked a hell of a day to join up”.
And so you did. What starts as a routine mission that is presumed to just be some anti-rebellion crowd control turns in to a battle for the very fate of the military fortress world of Reach; which, if you haven’t kept up on your Halo lore, is the last stronghold between the alien forces of The Covenant, and our home world of Earth. Spoilers, Reach falls. You will lose. This is something that, again, you already know if you’re on the up and up on your Halo mythology. What’s intriguing about the plot of this game is not the fact that Reach falls, it’s how you and the rest of Noble Team tie in to the events that occur, and how the perspective paints the climactic Fall of Reach.
One of the best early moments of the campaign
On the note of Noble Team, that’s part of what’s really incredible about this game’s story. In past Halos, you were the Master Chief, but you never really cared about the Master Chief as a character, or anyone else for that matter; at least not beyond a passing way. In Reach, you truly find yourself caring about the fate of your five fellow Noble units, as well as the fate of your Noble Six. I say your Noble Six because, unlike Master Chief, you truly define Noble Six. His or Her gender, armor type, color, and emblem all carry over from your Multiplayer spartan, contributing to a true sense of personal connection with the soldier whose eyes you see the events of the campaign unfold from. Ultimately, the story is satisfying, albeit a bit depressing. The depression is quickly lifted, though, when you remember that the game’s climax takes place mere weeks before the opening of Halo: Combat Evolved, and the smack down that the Master Chief is about to unleash unto the Covenant hordes on the titular Halo.
If I had any complaints, it would be that in the back half of the game, things do start to become a little drag-y. There’s a point where you’ll really want to start just running through anything in your way to get to the next story point, though I’m not sure if that speaks to how compelling the story is, or how monotonous the fight formula eventually gets. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that eventually Bungie just throws ridiculous amounts of dudes at you. Either way, it’s a bit of a slog, but well worth it in the end. Speaking of having dudes thrown at you…
I’ll make no bones about it: This is not an easy game. Bungie has ramped up the difficulty significantly since the three core Halos. Normal was kicking my ass in the back half, and I’m no slouch at shooters. Heroic is a true test of mettle (and described directly as “The way Halo is meant to be played” in the difficulty selection screen.), and Legendary is nothing short of a trial in the limits of patience. It says something about the difficulty level that the largest and hardest achievement in Reach is for completing Legendary in a solo game. Anyone who does this has both my applause, and my eternal doubt as to their sanity. My recommendation? If you’re a veteran of the Halo series and you know your way around an assault rifle, go ahead and dive right in to Heroic, where even a single Elite is a worthy and frightening adversary. If you want to experience pre-mature hair-loss, go for Legendary.
Alright, so the single player is good. Half of you (if not more) couldn’t care less. Is it still the Halo you know and love online?
Yes. A resounding yes. For the most part, at least. There have been some changes to the formula, but I feel that they help more than hurt, for the most part. As I mentioned, dual wielding has been thankfully done away with, meaning every weapon feels a bit beefier than it has in recent iterations. Some weapons (such as the SMG) have been done away with all together. Most of us won’t miss them. For every weapon missing in action, however, there is a brand new toy waiting for your eager hands. I’ll leave you to discover those, if you haven’t already.
Taking the place of Halo 3’s deploy-able equipment are armor abilities. These come in the form of things like sprinting, jet packs, and the bubble shield, among other things, that you choose for your spartan in the initial load out (!!!) screen when you spawn in. Aside from sprinting, most of these abilities vary in usage by situation. The jet pack isn’t terribly useful in a map that doesn’t involve a lot of verticality, as it’s actually quite slow and leaves you a sitting duck for snipers, while the bubble shield has received an overhaul in the fact that your health now regenerates while you’re inside of it. Oh yeah, in case I’d forgotten to mention- health and health packs are back. Again, Halo hasn’t been this Halo since Halo.
Playlists and matchmaking have been robustly revamped as well. New variants like Headhunter and Invasion have been added to the repertoire of gametypes, while things like campaign and the ODST pioneered Firefight have become their own multiplayer playlist options, That’s right, you can now play the campaign with complete strangers, racial epithets included.
But wait, not necessarily! Another addition to the multiplayer component is the long needed addition of psyche profiles. This is basically a set of options to single out the type of player you are and want to play with, so you can find games with like minded individuals. Want to play some team slayer with guys that actually like to work as a team? Choose Team Player over Lone Wolf. Want to avoid ten year olds that have just discovered the word “Faggot”? Choose Polite over Trash Talkers, or hell, just choose Quiet over Chatty. So far, this system has worked well in keeping things pleasant for the people who don’t want to be subjected to the stereotypical “Halo crowd”, though fears have surfaced of this eventually being used as a trolling tool. It’s not hard to imagine someone choosing “Polite” and then calling everyone in the game a different racist term before you’ve even spawned in to the map. Hopefully there will be some solution for that eventuality, like a way to go “HEY THEY GUY IS A DICKBAG”. For the moment, all we have are Xbox Live player reviews, and hey, that seems to work alright.
Frankly, I could go on and on about what Reach has done right, eventually pumping out a 3000 word post (I’m already just short of half-way there!), but I think you get the picture. With an engaging single player, and robust multi player suite, Reach is good. Reach is really, really good. If you’ve written off Halo in the past few years because of lackluster performances in 2 and 3, or have just never really had a reason to give Bungie’s mega-franchise a spin, I highly recommend you give this game a shot. It’s an homage to the Halo Franchise, a worthy farewell to the series from Bungie, and a massive loveletter to the fans all wrapped into one, incredible package.
Fuck it, just go buy it already.
4.5/5 (I know people are gonna bitch, so I’ll spell it out here: That last third or so of the campaign did nearly have me quitting. The pacing is really not so good, even if the story remains incredible. Some of the battles really feel like they’re just padding out time. It could have been a much more streamlined sequence of events. For this, I dock a half point. That’s a 90 out of 100, if you want to do the math. It’s not a bad score. It would be enough to pass a college class.)
So that’s Halo Reach in a very large nut shell, and I didn’t even touch on things like Forge and the additions and improvements to Firefight and Theater mode. Maybe I’ll do that in a future post, but I felt this review was running a little too long. So look for Halo Reach: The Review: The Addendum in the next few days, I guess? As well as some screenshots and maybe video of a map I’ve created in Forge, just to drive the point home, and also because I’m a humongous show off.
Also coming soon: My thoughts on Ninja Theory’s Creative Director May Self Insert And Make Us Cry (DMC), and why Hideki Kamiya needs to stop breaking our hearts with hints of Megaman Legends 3. Basically, TGS 2010 in retrospect.
Till then, catchy sign out phrase.