Some of you may have noticed that Bungie just released a new HALO title — HALO Reach. (video and pics at the bottom)
Reach is a prequel to all the other titles, if you know anything about HALO and the story arc, then you know, we lose this one. Very ambitious of bungee to give us a game in which we lose. So did they do the story arc justice? Blah. …Thankfully the game is great.
The character development and story within a story was pretty good.Where Bungie failed, I think, is in pulling these subplots together and plugging them into the over all story of HALO. You’ll recognize characters and ships from future titles, but they rewrite a few pieces of HALO history — not cool. In some ways it seems like they had the character stories, gameplay and everything else done and realized they needed something to make it feel like it wasn’t a total loss. I expected to feel heartbroken at the loss of human life, they totally missed the ball on this. Sure, we saw a few civilians die throughout the levels – but they totally missed the whole “hey, we’re the covenant, we’re here to kill everyone on your planet and soon, the rest of your planets.” It should have been more emotionally involving. With 1 through 3, the whole game you feel like you’re fighting for something. You have great moments of victory and defeat. At the end of the game you let out a big sigh and sit back a bit amazed at what you’ve just experienced, the story, the characters and oh yeah, the game play — you don’t want to move, you can’t believe it’s over.
Reach missed it. The game was great, the story could have been.
–SPOILER ALERT (slight)–
So, they glassed our planet, a lot of people died. In the end, you die. All of this was to save Cortana. There is plenty of emotion to tie into there. Late in the game, you start finding dead bodies laying around. In various cut scenes you see ships blow up but the connection is never made that there are people in those cities – sure you rescue some, but it doesn’t convey the thousands that you aren’t able to save. Every good sci-fi where aliens blow up a city has a shot of the ship pulling overhead and people running. Overdone? sure. But it would have been a start to tie that in with the final level cut scene where you die. And what about Cortana? She never says a word. seriously? We rescue her and she doesn’t say a word in the entire game? Our entire victory is getting her onto the Pillar of Autumn and it off planet. The final image should have been Cortana looking at Reach being destroyed as the ship makes it’s escape. Bungie, I love you, you failed us on this one.
If you look past the lack of story cohesion and involvement. This game is awesome. 99% because it’s HALO and the other 1% because they have really refind the gameplay.
A little perspective
You have to look at all the other titles to put this one in perspective.
HALO: Combat Evolved (halo 1) was revolutionary — It changed console gaming. The Story, the gameplay and most noticably, the beauty of the game… textures, scenery, architecture everything was beautiful. Truly an epic game. “Combat Evolved” was really “Gaming Evolved”.
HALO 2 – Introduced one of the first, good, online multi-player games. AI improvements were again revolutionary but some of the gameplay lacked polish.
HALO 3 – Fixed the issues with H2 online multiplayer, thus launching a solid online platform that wouldn’t be touched in the next HALO release ODST. The campaign was awesome, but seemed a bit short. The gameplay was good, but had lost some balance (guns, enemy) and in too many places was a “run with trigger held” game.
HALO 3: ODST: Sucked.
So that brings us to the current/first/last (depending on how you look at it) of the HALO titles.
This aspect is done well. From the first cut scene and definitely after the first couple of trigger pulls, you WILL notice how beautiful this game is. Much like the first few minutes (and really every new level) of H1, you notice textures, scenery, and detail that is in this game. H2 and H3 were also beautiful and 3 even did HD justice, but Reach is a step above them all.
I’m a big fan of Martin O’Donnell, the sound in all of the HALO games has been amazing. Only once did I notice that usual “epic” sound classic to HALO, you know the one where you turn a corner and the music changes, picks up and you know it’s about to get bloody. I’m glad I didn’t notice the sound all the time, like in the other games. But I think a more moving and powerful sound may have helped in some places with the problems noted in the previous paragraph. That being said, when you do pay attention to the sound, again, his work is amazing.
Didn’t notice sound effects either. In H2 I believe it was, maybe 3, I noticed how accurate and detailed the sound effects were like when the empty shotgun shell hit the ground after it was fired, but I noticed them. In Reach, I don’t even recall their being sound effects. I think that’s a good thing.
Blood, Guts, Language.
We all know how many crazy colors covenant blood comes in – in the previous games there was blood everywhere. So much purple alien guts splattered on the walls that it was almost laughable. I’m sure it was there in Reach, but I didn’t notice it like before, it’s very toned down. That’s not to say you can’t separate a grunt’s head from the rest of it’s body… it just doesn’t make as much mess.
If you’ve read the books or know anything about The Fall of Reach then you know the Flood doesn’t show up (and this part they didn’t rewrite). Two of the major characters in every HALO game aren’t in Reach. 1) Master Chief 2) The Flood. I miss the Chief. I don’t miss, not even for a second, the flood. I think the flood in H1 and H2 were the week point of those games and only half done. H3 had to have them, and they were done well, but I still hate playing flood levels.
Levels and Maps
I’ve already touched on the beauty of the environment, but taking a look at the actual levels, overall, I’m really impressed. There are a few (in campaign and multi-player) that are remakes of h2 and h3 multi-player levels. At a couple points in the game you’ll get that deja vu feeling and know exactly where you’re at. It’s noticeable, but not annoying. It might be a bit more annoying in the multi-player, though I haven’t played those levels in MP yet.
Another thing we didn’t have in this game was repeated maps. Nothing I hate more than getting lost in the same maze of hallways, multiple times. I thought this was a weekpoint of the previous games, really without the arrows the forerunner conveniently left we would still be playing some of those levels. (Though you still had to remember if you were on the level where you needed to go with, or in reverse off, the arrows) On Reach I don’t think any map was repeated, nor was much of the architecture. The architecture was fresh and only in a few places had that “forerunner look” to it. Which, by the way, I kinda missed.
Previously you were either indoors and in close combat or outdoors in a sandbox, hundreds of enemy on a big field. There was very little in between. When playing coop you were always right on top of each other or in danger of “checkpointing” each other. Both of these are much improved, the layouts are varied – some large combat fields, some close and most in between. They are also laid out in such a way as to promote co-op play i.e. multiple paths and strategic setups – this is a perfect coop game
The space combat level rocks! ’nuff said.
I’m rather impressed with the gameplay. The AI, player movement, balance of the game all are polished. Not revolutionary but refined. There is a noticeable improvement in the AI if you die and respawn on a checkpoint, they probably wont do the same thing again.
A few changes with Player movement include the carried equipment. Thsi has been changed to include such things as Sprint, Armor lockdown (love this), drop shield and most awesomely – jetpack. The jackpack is awesome, but not used much during the campaign.
Game Balance is much improved. You’ll quickly notice that 1) brutes are weaker 2) elites are stronger 3) your armor sucks. Literally two minutes into combat I ran into the middle of four elites. Would have been bloody but survivable in earlier games. In this case, I got schooled. So tone down the charges at elites just a tad, but feel free to take on a few brutes, even chieftains at the same time. Both seem more responsive to being pistol whipped. Jackals are also a touch softer but their shields tougher.
I mentioned earlier that this isn’t a “run with trigger pulled” game. Many previous HALO levels fell into one of two categories. Run and Gun levels were those that so long as you kept moving and kept the trigger pulled, you’d be ok. Look but don’t touch levels are those, you know them, that if you stay toward the side of a map and don’t initiate contact… you can usually run or drive through them with little engagement. Both of these are pretty much gone in Reach.
The story is good because it’s HALO, it lacks a bit in overall emotion and engagement, but it doesn’t take away from the game. You’ll find that better maps, better movement and gameplay balance come together to make it the best HALO game yet. It’s not revolutionary like HALO: Combat Evolved.. it’s Combat Refined.
If you liked any of the previous HALO games, you will like HALO Reach
Quick gameplay vid, showing the jetpack in firefight mode.
A few screenshots I took from Campaign and Firefight.