How time flies! One day you’re sitting with no new games to play, the next you’re playing Halo Reach on Xbox 360, and before you know it, it’s 3 weeks after you’ve finished it and you somehow still haven’t written any whatsoever about it on your blog. Not sure if that says anything about what I thought about the game, but to be honest, it most likely just says a lot about how lazy I really can be. I mean, avoiding going to a gym or going for a run when I’m starting to get a Santa belly (good timing, mind) is bad enough, but failing to type a few simple paragraphs about a video game I sat on my arse and played for a week is just the pinnacle of fat, lazy, slobbishness!
Well, now I’ve finally got round to it…
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really been a huge fan of the Halo series, and have been quick to poke fun and laugh in the past at Halo related extreme fan antics such as this kid who made all of his own Halo weapons and stuff out of cardboard and cellotape (in all fairness, that’s some pretty neat crafting from a little kid). It’s not that I hate or dislike Halo, really, I mean I really liked Halo: Combat Evolved when I had it on PC years and years ago, and the multiplayer (especially coop) was a real blast… Somehow though, I got lost along the way leading up to Reach, and after having tried Halo 2 and not being impressed at all, and then buying and slogging through the missions in Halo 3 because I simply had little or no interest in it anymore, I just decided that Halo in general was something I just had no more patience for anymore.
Then, when the gameplay videos started being drip fed onto the interwebs, I saw that it looked a little different somehow. I’m pretty sure it was the nice new polished redesign of a lot of the models from the original games, such as the changes that were made to the standard human assault rifle, which I had grown to hate in the progression of the Halo games. It would then turn out that the very same gun would become one of my favourite weapons throughout Reach, as something about it was just.. well.. better! It looked a little nicer, it handled a lot better, and I could actually kill lots of stuff with it again. Neat!
The game itself also somehow felt a lot different to the general Halo’ness I had ever experienced, right throughout the game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still Halo through and through, but this time around I had been sucked in a whole lot more to Reach than I ever had been with any game in the series since Combat Evolved. Some of the other changes in the game that are noteworthy are, for example, the new player health bar that now accompanies the shield bar during play. In the original games, the player had one single ‘health’ meter, which consisted of the infinitely rechargeable shield, which – when drained to any amount – would refill to maximum after only a few seconds of taking cover and avoiding damage. This, of course, could then ensure the ability to avoid dying a lot (if you were smart/patient enough to drop back a bit to safety), but also took away a little of the actual need to be really careful/tactical. The implementation of an actual health meter in Reach, however, makes the need to keep an eye out for health kits, as well as taking extra care in the planning of your attacks on enemy checkpoint areas etc. more of a necessity.
Another cool thing that has changed since Halo 3 is the power-ups, which would allow you to collect a single, one-use power-up that would either turn you invisible for a short period of time, create a protective shield bubble around you and your troops, or throw an energy draining plasma bomb thingy. The problem with these was that you used them once, usually at the wrong moment out of panic, and then you were stuffed for power-ups for a while again. Reach, however, allows you to pick up infinite-use power-ups – such as a jet pack, a bubble shield, armour lock-down, or cloaking – as long as you have the patience to wait for them to recharge between uses. This was a refreshing change, as being able to drop your – rather handy – healing bubble shield in the middle of a heavy firefight, to regain your thoughts (and more importantly, your health and shield), before jumping right back into the action. It made for much more interesting gameplay, allowing constant use of your special abilities to take a different spin on the combat and find varying ways to beat certain situations. One moment in the story had me attempting to activate the anti-aircraft defense towers in a city that was being invaded by Covenant forces, which required I press a switch at the top of a command bunker – the only catch being, of course, an entire Covenant death squad was waiting inside for me, and killing me over, and over, and over, and over… I finally solved the problem (rather embarrassingly) by simply jet-packing to the top of the building, and dropping in through the window of the main control room to flick the switch with total ease, instead of my futile attempts to fight my way through hordes of enemies again and again.
The vehicles in the game aren’t anything particularly special in comparison to the older games, as the control mechanics and reasons for using them are essentially the exact same thing – though everybody loves a good tearing around the canyons in a warthog, so I’m certainly glad they didn’t change it in all honesty! We do however see the inclusion of a one-off space-combat mission, where the player can fly around a space fighter and shoot down lots of bastard Covenant ships, this was probably my favourite vehicle related portion from the game, as I love a good space-shooter! Another inclusion was a mission that involved flying one of the new vehicles (a helichopter!) around the post-invasion city, attempting to disarm lots of jamming devices and kill helluva alien scumbags inside buildings you have to land on top of – not a bad idea for mixing up the gameplay a little, and certainly executed very well.
The only thing left for me to mention really is the story of the game itself. If you’re any fan of Halo, you would have known already that Reach is the name of the planet where the Spartan soldiers were created and trained from birth. You should also know that Reach gets completely and utterly boned by aliens, like, seriously messed-up-without-any-hope-in-hell-ever arse kicked. So throughout the game, despite every now and then getting a real feeling of ‘Wow, we’re actually making some kind of difference in fighting off these alien bastards!’, you are always reminded of the grim and completely hopeless fate of the planet and the majority of its inhabitants, and it really kind of puts a downer on the whole effort you’re putting in to try and save it. In all fairness, around 3/4 of the way into the game, you are given a new, more reasonable task than saving the planet from annihilation, and it makes you feel a bit more like you actually have a real purpose again. As cheesy as the whole story can get at times, you really can’t deny how epic it is. Epic is definitely the correct word, and nobody can argue that Halo doesn’t pull off epic in the best and most classy way possible.
I’m going to be as honest as possible with this, and I have to admit that my past, uninterested disregard of most things Halo probably marred my experience of Reach a little bit, but I can say with utmost certainty that I definitely enjoyed the game. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying its the best game ever, or that you should definitely go and buy it, but one thing I can’t deny is that its a damn solid shooter with some great set pieces and a decent amount of varying gameplay, with some great weaponry, awesome vehicles, challenging enemies, a good enough storyline, and most importantly, that little something that really makes it a bit different to the rest of the Halo games. I really, really couldn’t wait to be done with Halo 3, and even playing it coop I was incredibly bored by the end. Reach, however, held my attention throughout, and maybe it was because of the differences I’ve talked about, or perhaps it was even because it was fairly detached from the focus of the Master Chief character and his exploits from the original games. One thing is for sure though, since Halo: Reach is supposedly the last game in the franchise that developer Bungie will be working on ever, it was definitely the right way to go about it, coming full circle back to their debut Halo game with the climactic ending of Reach, and I can’t see any reason why all the hardcore Halo fans out there wouldn’t have been well and truly satisfied with it’s ending.
You have to hand it to Bungie for making the right move and putting the franchise to bed now, rather than milking the life out of it for the rest of eternity (fingers crossed).