Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Game Talk #5: Halo - Reach


Now we can talk about Reach. The final good Halo game.

So, from the beginning, I was skeptical about Reach. First of all, it was coming out less than a year after ODST. Now, I know that they obviously had been working on the projects side by side, with Reach given preferential treatment since it was the next big Halo game, but...I dunno, it just didn't necessarily sit well with me. Neither did the fact that it was a prequel. I mean, even the freaking tagline acknowledge the elephant in the room: From the beginning, you already know the end.

...not exactly the most inspiring tagline.

I don't like prequels. Traditionally, they never go well. The Star Wars prequels sucked. The Thing 'prequel' or premake, sucked really, really hard. Cube Zero was awful. Perfect Dark Zero was soooo fucking bad. Prequels just tend to suck. Temple of Doom, a prequel, was the weakest of the Indiana Jones trilogy.

But, to be fair, it did seem like there was a lot to be investigated on what exactly had gone down on Reach and it was a pretty big and important part of Halo history, so I tried not to judge it too harshly for being a prequel.

Okay, Reach had a solid campaign, I'll say that here and now. It also had decent multiplayer...though there are a number of people who would disagree, but we'll get back to that later. So, the campaign, let's talk about that.

The ability to choose your appearance and gender was a big plus. The campaign feels appropriately epic for how much the Fall of Reach was built up over the past almost decade at that point and it goes on for quite a while without necessarily feeling like it was dragging on. It felt like Bungie had a lot of fun with this one. To be completely honest, my biggest complaint about the campaign isn't even really a valid one, it's just something that bugged me.

The game just didn't quite feel like a Halo game. Besides not having that feel of ambient wonder and ancient alien awe that CE and Halo 3 captured, it feels like too much of it took place among human settlements. Which, unfortunately, was necessary. I don't even think it's at fault and I don't really have a solution for it. The story of Reach is a human story at its core. It just goes with the territory of the story they were trying to tell.

Despite my misgivings, I have to give credit where credit is due. The campaign is epic. Watching an entire planet fall, and not just any planet but one of the most secure planets in human history, was definitely interesting. And watching your teammates die, one by one, was sufficiently miserable. Reach had a good campaign for what it was.

It also had a good score, good writing and pretty great characters. They did a good job developing Noble Team.

Then there was the multiplayer.

This is where some people became split. Before, Halo multiplayer was pretty straightforward. You spawned with some guns, you ran around and picked up other guns, and occasionally some special gear or got into vehicles, and you killed each other. Or grabbed a flag or held a hill. And people seemed to like that.

Then, Reach introduced armor abilities. The ability to briefly fly, or briefly create an impenetrable shield, or a hologram, or to go invisible were available now. Some people felt that this breathed fresh life into gameplay that was starting to get stale, and also that it was keeping abreast of the other first person shooters that were beginning to fill and redefine the market at large. Other people felt that Bungie was 'selling out' and trying to go 'Call of Duty' on everyone and that, basically, Bungie had fucked it all up.

I don't really have much of an opinion on it. I definitely played less Reach than Halo 3, but not a great deal less. Although eventually the only game types I really gave a shit about were Infection or SWAT. I thought the credit system was cool. Earning credits for doing better in combat or performing certain tasks just felt rewarding.

My biggest problem with the multiplayer is one I think a lot of people would roll their eyes at. The levels themselves. They felt very...hollow. None of them had the charm of the previous Halo levels. And not only because most of them were just different sections of Forge World (more on that in a minute), but because they just felt like they'd chopped out pieces of the campaign, fucked with it a bit and called it a level. They just felt uninspired and thus took down the entire experience as a whole for me. Maybe that's stupid, but what can I say? I'm a writer at heart and things that have stories to them, even small ones, appeal to me, and I didn't feel like almost any of the levels in Reach multiplayer had compelling or even vaguely interesting stories to them.

Now, Forge World. It was a big achievement, I'll give it that. When (if) I get to making machinima in Reach, I'm sure Forge World will help me a great deal. My only real complaint about Forge World was that it had way too many restrictions. There were way too many 'death field' areas, where if you went there, you died. This was apparently 'better' than the previous invisible walls. Honestly, I think if Bungie was going to create something like Forge World, they should have just gone all the way and applied an, "If you can see it, you can explore it" mentality to the map. I can see an argument to that, "Well, the map is way too big for that!" The obvious answer is, "Then they should have made it smaller."

Firefight gets an honorable mention. It was obviously a step up from ODST's Firefight mode, given ODST's version had no online matchmaking system in place. But, unfortunately, it's still kind of lame. Honestly, I first got into wave-based combat with Gears of War 2 and 3 and they were on top of the game. The fact that you could implement traps and change your environment helped greatly. How hard would it have been to throw in some automated turrets that you needed to defend/repair or maybe energy shields to block off certain doors or any other types of gear or traps or even the ability to call for reinforcements? (MW3 Survival anyone? Yes, I realize that came later than Reach.)

One thing I have to give them is that their later levels, released via DLC, looked a whole lot better and more interesting. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to buy any of that DLC so...kind of a wasted opportunity on my part.

I think, in a way, what said the most about how I felt about Reach was in the fact that I wrote no fan fiction for it. Not even a single story. At this point, I had written fan fiction for every Halo game I had played, lots of it.

I didn't really feel anything for Reach in that regard.

It was a great game, and, sadly, it's the one that most people nowadays identify with as introducing them to Halo. I don't mean to get down on it, again it's a fantastic game, it's just that those people aren't going to get to experience Halo 3 in its heyday, or Halo 1 or 2. They might not even bother to play those campaigns, which would be a shame.

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