Halo: Reach – A Cynical View

Bungie’s final Halo game has received high praise since its release on 14th September, which in itself was a rather strange day to release a game under the slogan ‘Remember Reach’. After all, it closely followed the anniversary of a real life atrocity – far better to be remembered than this bland, self-indulgent swan song from a decent developer that got lazy.

Forget remember Reach. Remember the creation of regenerating shields? That was a really good idea. I praised them then and I’ll praise them now. But how long have they been riding that for? Halo 2 got by on dual-wielding despite the absence of an ending, Halo 3 got by on Rooster Teeth’s Red VS Blue despite outdated graphics and turning Spartans into life-sized action figures, and ODST got by on pitching a visor as somehow being innovative, presumably. Hating on Halo might be seen as a rather convoluted act by someone wilfully going against the grain, but I can assure you that it is Bungie’s fault that I now see them this way and that this is no act.

Heightened disappointment is a good way to describe it. In terms of the Halo games up till ODST the disappointment factor just rose and rose with each new game. Bungie stopped being innovators and started being imitators, all the while still trying to portray this pretentious ‘we’re down with the fans’ attitude that quite frankly is embarrassing to see, especially when compared to the standard of game shipping out their company. I could talk at length about how much I hated Halo 2 I really, really could. Halo 3 was a disappointment but of nowhere near the same magnitude, and disappeared into obscurity as far as my game collection goes. ODST I didn’t bother with since it was just Halo 2 for the third time.

To be fair to Reach; it is by far the best Halo related game to be released since the original, but in no way does it eclipse it. One of my fondest memories from the Xbox era is the first time I finished Halo at about one in the morning with my friend, barely making it to the Longsword by the skin of our teeth, and even as the credits rolled preparing to do it all again on the higher difficulty. I hope I’ve remembered that as it happened and I wasn’t just suffering from sleep deprivation.

To sum up the campaign of Halo: Reach I would do so as follows:

very short Spartan plot

rinse repeat dropship blasting

rolling more isn’t smarter.

A brief explanation of the impromptu (and probably incorrect) haiku from someone with too much time on their hands. The campaign on normal and playing alone will take about five or six hours at the most, but there is obviously re-playability in the higher difficulties and playing co-operatively. Other than two non-standard vehicle focused missions, this is the exact same gameplay over again (minus the strange disappearance of dual wielding for the player and not the enemy) and boils down to moving from one area to another killing all enemies that are drop-shipped in.

The final point is quite a large one as the ‘smarter’ enemy AI has been widely quoted in numerous reviews that clearly weren’t paying enough attention. The AI is not smarter. The AI dives at the drop of a hat. I could cough in the general direction of an Elite to send it sprawling on its back behind the nearest bit of cover. Clearly the Covenant’s secret weapon is really strong coffee. The AI also prioritises the player over player allies right next to them, and hear or see the player from a mile off. Bungie did not make the AI smarter; they made the gameplay more stupid.

Besides the aforementioned different vehicle missions, the only other real addition (besides making Spartans unlikeable thanks to the ‘unique’ personalities making up Team Noble) are armour powers which everyone from the Reach Beta will be familiar with in general. Terrible retconning in terms of plot, but still a fun addition (even if Armour Lock is pointless for most applications it is supposed to be helpful for).

The plot of Reach is gone before you know it and right from the beginning you know how it will end. It isn’t nearly bleak enough for what is supposed to be going on as a planet is massacred though. Where I will compliment it, however, is not turning war into a cheesy 80s action movie like Gears of War 2 managed to do. There are stand out moments within the plot that aren’t hyped up, or put along to cheesy rock and dramatic speeches. My two favourite moments from the campaign were both accompanied by lonely piano pieces confirming that Martin O’Donnell’s music is the one consistently good thing in every Halo game.

But who cares about the campaign? Yes, Halo is about the multiplayer. Forever and always. To the majority at least. I would agree that the multiplayer is itself a stand out feature given that it polarizes two extremes at the same time. It’s an easy to play, easy to get into, easy to get addicted to bevy of various game types hampered by a truly terrible player base. It’s an old, long running internet joke how bad the people who play Halo are – but it’s important to remember that this didn’t just appear out of nowhere and is based on fact. Whether or not it is the majority of players who are loud, obnoxious, offensive, racist, homophobic or not is irrelevant as they are always more likely to be the most vocal.

The Mute-All option was a wonderful thing. It does remove the chance of jumping into a game where teamwork is being used effectively but it’s a small price to pay. Besides this returning option, Reach also offers a Psych Profile which, as far as I can tell, is far too open to manipulation. Say my party and I wanted to farm up some credits to buy some new armour; why wouldn’t we set our profile to wanting to find muted games filled with lone wolves who are only playing for fun and then decimate them for lots of challenges and commendations?

The rage quitter is another apparent enemy of the state. I mean, game. I don’t quite see the logic behind the punishment of quitting out. To give a couple of quick examples: an eight-on-eight match boils down to me and two other poor sods against eight because the rest of the team left, or when I spent a bit too long looking at the previous match records and it loaded me into the final countdown of the next match in which there is no way to back out without quitting. Is it wrong that I had things to do and had to stop there?

There is no deterrent that outweighs staying somewhere you don’t want to be anyway. Someone worried they were stacking up too many Quit Early records would then just go away from their console for the match – how does that help any more than letting them quit out? I’ve never understood why people can’t join matches in progress to re-balance. It seems like such an obvious and superior solution to punishing those who perhaps have good reason for leaving. If it’s something to do with cheating during the more serious matches then simply leave a game type for that (which I’m guessing they have with The Arena but it seems very limited in what match types it offers).

Bungie has tried quite a lot of things to get rid of this stigma but the root cause is incurable. The cancer that Halo has, the fourteen year olds who hate their parents but are really good at getting killing sprees, the angry twenty somethings who like offending people because it gives them wood, the adults with the mentality and attitude of children that belittle teenagers online rather than beat their wives will never go away. An easy to play game, an easy to play game that you can do well at despite not being particular good at it, will attract these people forever.

This screenshot is an apt metaphor for Reach in general.

For the fans, Reach will have everything they want. For those on the outside, those who don’t hold these games as the holy grail, there is an average experience after a run of let-downs over the years. Bungie’s final Halo game, which will also most likely be their final profitable game, gives those avid fans just enough (other than overpriced map packs which will follow later and be lapped up like good doggies, naturally).

Whether or not you agree with my opinion of Halo: Reach, I think it can be safely assumed by everyone who has played it that there is a message here from Bungie to their fans. It’s a message that says “This is the final proper Halo game,” and on that point I agree with them. I might think they are lazy and indulged their distorted egos too much in Reach, but anything produced with the Halo name after they go will most likely be a lot worse. I may complain about Reach now, but a year down the line if we’re talking about New Halo, Halo 17, or Halo Kinect then I will agree that perhaps I was a little bit wrong.

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

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