This is it. You’ve aged that cache of Mountain Dew Game Fuel in your finished basement for three years sinceHalo 3. You bit the bullet on your purchase of Halo: ODST to find out it was as tame as you had expected. You took another one on the chin with Halo Wars, which was a cheaper gimmick than Lion King toys in a McDonald's Happy Meal (stupid Ensemble Studios). The wait for redemption is finally here. The golden child to a decade’s long culmination of gaming’s premier and most coveted franchise has arrived. Ladies and gentlemen, Halo: Reach has entered the building.
I played Halo religiously before I even went to my first prom. I played Halo 2 all throughout college, droppings fools with the plasma pistol/battle rifle combo. I even waited in line at the midnight release of Halo 3 and have never laughed so hard in my entire life when the first person to buy their Legendary Edition ran outside, fell to his knees in front of the line, held the packaging above his head, and screamed “HAAAALLLLLOOOOOOOOO” while his friend blared the Halo 2 soundtrack from his mom’s minivan. These are smiles and memories I will take with me forever
With that being said, any reviewer praising this campaign as the greatest in the series is exhibiting some sort of sentiment towards this being Bungie’s ride into the sunset. The story behind Reach is very easily the most anti-climactic, insipid, drawn-out, and forgettable campaign in the franchise, and out of any game in recent memory. It was extremely uneventful and is second only to that of ODST in the series. It tries to paint an intimate portrait around the trials and tribulations of Noble Team, an elite group of Spartans stationed on Reach, and allots a noticeable portion of the single-player to backtracking. Its artsy, cinematic approach and attempts at churning up an attachment to this uninteresting and poorly articulated cast leaves a lot to be desired, aspirations that will never be filled by a fleeting Bungie at production’s helm. It has its moments, but like a summer box office hit, is never much more than a drum solo and guitar riff leading into a large explosion. A word of caution: this is the HARDEST Legendary mode out of the entire franchise and you will die more times than their are pennies in this game's price. Bungie added cooperative scaling to the campaign, meaning the more people you play with, the game is made that many times more difficult. It would be easier to perform open heart surgery during a San Francisco earthquake on Rollerblades than it would be completing this game. Coupled with this, the checkpoint save system is extremely inconsistent, and is often times a worse enemy than the Covenant Elites. There were so many instances of half hour trial-and-error battles with friends that we would pass through, to die shortly after in another skirmish and have to reply the entire mind-numbing portion all over again.
Almost as much a constant as the frustration was the tremendously unacceptable level of slowdown found in intense firefights. Maybe it was caused by the rendering of some of the gorgeous distant backgrounds or the lighting and shading of the new graphics system. Whatever the cause, their seemed to be an extremely high percentage of frame rate lag in the campaign with a full party, with some parts becoming practically unplayable. Needless to say, the graphics look great for aHalo game and are easily the best in the series. Reach trades in the crisp and vivid world of Halo 3 for a more grungy, muddy, and faded look that appeals to the “it’s the end of the world as we know it” theme. The character and vehicle models look stellar, and there are some stunning shots of distant mountains, luscious coastlines, and a truly breathtaking scene in space. That isn’t to say that the environments in the foreground don’t look drastically outdated when compared to other next-gen AAA titles like Call of Duty, Uncharted, or Gears of War. Respectively, do a side-by-side comparison of a scene from any Halo title to Reach. Outside of a prettier aesthetic, does anything even really look different? There are only so many times Bungie can serve me rolling hills, babbling streams, mountainous terrain, canned corridors and indistinct Covenant infrastructures and spaceship innards before I’m left wondering why I’ve paid for yet another one of their games. Then I remember.
The multiplayer, which comes as a surprise to no one, is where Reach shines, and with their last hoorah, Bungie pulled out all the stops with some really intuitive additions. Matchmaking has been given a complete overhaul, allowing for players on your friends list to appear at the main menu with easily accessible access to party systems with the new active roster. By selecting players on this list, you are automatically queued to join their party once they are available or finish their match. There is also a slick new voting system, giving players three match options and a “None of the Above” selection to choose from, which if voted the highest, takes players into a second round of choices. Even with the voting system though, I can’t help but feel like I’ve just been playing the same three game types on the same four maps. You now earn credits (cR) through time spent on the campaign and across all modes of multiplayer, which doubles as both XP and currency, and can be used at the Armory to modify the appearance of your character with purchasable upgrades. It’s initially exciting to finally get to customize a Spartan all to your own until the aura fades and you are left realizing just how little there is to upgrade to.
Players are also now penalized for chronically leaving games. Leave a certain number over a certain time and you’re barred from access to matchmaking for 15 minutes. If you’re a perpetual nuisance on your mic and are generally muted by everyone you play with, you are automatically muted to new players. The psyche profile is a player filter of sorts, which allows you to be matched up on four criteria: tone, chattiness, mood, and teamwork. It’s basically an eHarmony forHalo nerds, and while it doesn’t always work, it’s refreshing to know that Bungie cares about our experience.
Firefight, the mode made first made available in ODST, is back and better than ever, with a seemingly endless selection of modifiers, making it essentially possible to never play the same game twice. The level of customization in this mode will prevent it from wearing its stay thin, but substantial drops in frame rates during crucial points in the enemy onslaught might leave it to collect dust after your first few gos.
New modes also inject a renewed sense of purpose behind the infinite hours you will spend behind your Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR), the sporty new battle rifle substitute. Stockpile is a new spin on CTF, with multiple flags randomly spawning on the map that players have to return to their neutral zone. Every minute, these zones reset and the flags you’ve compiled get added to the score. In Headhunter, players drop flaming skulls upon death that you must collect and deliver to constantly shifting score zones on the map. Elite Slayer spawns everyone as Covenant Elites, only giving access to Covenant weapons and vehicles.
The most impressive new game variant though is Invasion, a multi-tiered, objective-based mode similar to Battlefield: Bad Company 2's Rush mode. Two teams of Spartans and Elites battle on Boneyard to either defend or attack a base, respectively. As the Elites advance further into the base and complete the phases of the mission, additional classes become unlocked. After the rounds are over, the team's switch, with a winner being ultimately determined by the team which has managed to assault the base most successfully.
The most profound impact to multiplayer is the inclusion of loadouts and their special abilities. Players familiar with Halo 3 will remember being able to carry around a one-and-done defensive item, such as a plasma shield or power drain. Reach takes that premise a flight of stairs further and completely changes the dynamic of a gun fight with rechargeable perks like a sprint ability, a bubble shield, armor lock (which prevents you from taking damage at the expense of immovability), a cloaking ability, or the jetpack, all of which are also available to you in the campaign. The jetpack wears its stay quite thin though as you constantly hit hidden barriers set in place on the outskirts of maps. Of the thirteen included maps, four are rehashed from past titles. It is ultimately a selection that is vastly lacking and is relying on downloadable content to expand its options from mild to robust in the coming months. My favorite map, Hemorrhage, is just a remake ofHalo 2’s Coagulation, which is just a remake of Halo’s Blood Gulch. Recycling is a common trend with Bungie, which I'm not sure whether to praise or condemn when they bring back the maps I enjoy.
As if all of the listed additions weren't enough to keep you from never seeing sunlight, a new set of challenges will be changed daily, rewarding players credits for the successful completion of tasks in both the single and multiplayer portions of the game. Complete them all and you are reward handsomely. It’s such an ingenious dynamic that will undoubtedly leave players coming back again and again.
With this being the fifth and final release from Bungie's iconic gaming franchise, one which has pushed the boundaries of our culture and has safely cemented its legacy, many people are quick to praise Reach with sentiment; I am not one of them. Fireworks finales pull out the multi-shot mortar shells. Concert encores bring the band back out to play that last song you really wanted to hear. And Halo: Reach…well, it sort of just disappears into the sunset on the back of a Warthog. For a game that has given a community millions of members deep the joy and satisfaction it has provided over a decade and for a community that has provided Bungie a wealth beyond its wildest dreams in return, you would have thought this would have been the end all, be all Halo experience. It instead comes off as an unfulfilling conclusion to an otherwise masterful achievement (see Seinfeld and The Sopranos). For a game based around an elite military squad, Reach certainly didn't listen when they were told to "be all you can be."
Halo 3 was such an epic tour de force for video games that I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with Halo: Reach. Going from the epic conclusion to a drastically lackluster precursor to Halo bundled around the redeemable multiplayer at its core has really left me with a perpetual bad taste, considering this is Bungie’s swan song as they ride off to greener pastures. Let’s just hope those pastures aren’t looped and sandwiched between indistinct Covenant corridors and endless mountainous terrain.