If there’s one sure thing that can be said about video games, it’s that stories have gotten better. It’s not that hard to comprehend when you picture Mass Effect 2 and Banjo Kazooie side by side. Due to technical marvels, the video game market has been flooded with all kinds of games, but they’ve all improved in some aspect. You may claim that Legend of Zelda was a great story and was a great series, but would a kidnapped princess really cut it today? If anything, it just serves as a middle man more than a plot, and allows Mario and Link to go off and do wondrous and crazy absurd things. This also means that with better technology comes better standards, and higher expectations. Unless you play Wii, it’s difficult to make an role-playing game or an adventure game without some deep story. God of War III may be an exception for adventure games, but things like Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Fallout, Bioshock, Halo, and Call of Duty are seen to need a story. And while some may have thinner stories than ever, the requirement still stands. We need a deeper meaning to things, and this brings me to Halo: Reach. I’ve been playing since release, and only stopped for one week to study for a test. I played the campaign with Grant and Erich and completed it day one at approximately 6 AM. I’ve been playing campaign constantly since, because I prefer campaign challenges over multiplayer challenges. At first you might consider the Halo Reach campaign epic and deep and incredible, but then when you kept playing it, the cracks began to unfold. This will cover what inconsistencies and frustrations I have with the Halo Reach campaign, what I believe would’ve been a great alternative, and I will discuss what it means to have a deep underlying story.
The Seven Samurai
So the biggest and most glaring problem is straight at the beginning. Before release, every game developer mentioned that the story was “character driven.” They also mentioned that it was loosely based off “The Seven Samurai.” Seven Samurai was released in 1954, and is considered the most important Japanese movie to ever have been released. A group of farmers are constantly being attacked by bandits, and they must pay a tax to keep them out. Suddenly, the account is finally overdrawn, and the farmers are out of money. They go to the city and ask for the aid of samurai. They eventually find seven samurai dumb or crazy enough to defend a bunch of poor peasants. Each has their own weapon, but each also have their own personality types. There’s the crazy irrational, there’s the young trainee following a wise reserved sage. There’s a jolly large drunk, and I forget the others. The point is that although each have their own weapons, they also have their own glaring personalities.
Halo Reach is not character driven. I’m sorry, but if you look at the plot, the only moment that was remotely character driven was Kat’s idea of a Slipspace Bomb. Kat’s pure intellect came up with the next plot device. The rest are orders given from up top, which is certainly not character driven. Then again, as a video game, maybe it’s not their fault. A video game, especially shooters, require action, and it’s much harder to have character development when you need action. It becomes so obvious when you consider Reach’s PR campaign. There’s a trailer about all the characters and who they are. There’s a trailer about how the last Noble Six died dropping a bomb into a carrier (which is actually a Spoiler for the game they released, if you think about it), and the E3 trailer was the first trailer of the game! It’s easy to assume that when they realized that we might not connect with these characters, they needed to try lots of things to get us interested.
So what is a good character driven game? Mass Effect 2 is the pure definition of a character driven masterpiece. The plot is thrown aside for great personalities. The plot is simple: gather a super elite team to go after the Reapers. This leaves the end covered, but the filling to be made by characters. And it’s really exciting because you get to visit these planets, gather a team, and talk about what makes them tick. And each one is varied in his or her own way. Thane is a deeply philosophical assassin and my personal favorite. Zero cusses like a sailor, and is driven psychologically mad by testing. Grunt is a blank killer, with no previous life to call his own. Mordin is a swift talking highly intelligent, highly amoral scientist. Character driven stories are great for bridging trilogies, like Empire Strikes Back. With that said, I guess it’s difficult to make Halo Reach a character piece. This is easy to see in the first hour of the game. There’s the Noble Actual cut-scene.
Okay so in the very first cut-scene, during the flashback after the charred helmet scene, we are greeted to a warthog speeding down a barren and good looking plain. Keep this in the back of your head as you read on. Noble Six reaches his destination and gets out and what follows is a mini montage of almost each character and what they are doing. Game developers know that unless they’re making Bioshock or Mass Effect 2 or even Too Human, that the story is forced to be thin. This is what made Bioshock 2 so insulting. The people that played the first played it for a good story. Don’t tell me that the action was unparalleled because that is false, especially four years later. Bioshock 2, instead of focusing on a clever, deep, and intense story, instead focused on technological aspects, including new weapons, and multiplayer being the final insult. Any time taken to create a multiplayer experience has detracted from the single player.
And with that, there’s a huge level of exaggeration that comes along with these characters. Except for maybe Jorge, no other characters are mentioned beyond a couple lines. You could say Kat has a lot of personality, and you may be right, but most of it is technical jargon that most people might not understand or care about. So in this scene we have random things like Carter being briefed from up the military chain, and Jun loading rounds into his Sniper Rifle. Physical aspects include a camoflage sort of armor on for Jun, a large suit for Jorge, and Kat immediately shows off her robotic arm for Noble Six. It becomes immediately apparent how much the player should pay attention. The only thing we know or could know about these characters is either physical aspects, what they say, or what you read if you received Dr. Halsey’s notes with the Limited or Legendary Edition. Things are moving too quickly to have time to sit and discuss, so they take a couple minutes of footage and exaggerate EVERYTHING. Kat has a robotic arm, this isn’t her first time on the field. Carter is talking to a superior and no one else is, he must be the team leader. Jun is outside, alone, loading sniper rifle rounds into a magazine while sporting a bland green suit, he must be the team sniper. Jorge is huge, and carries a chain gun, he must be the team’s anchor and gunner. He might even be a Spartan II. I don’t know if this is insulting or smart, because I don’t know how else they would’ve done this. Well I do, but we’ll wait for that.
Spartans on Police Force?
So Carter’s superior tells him straight up that while others believe that sending Spartan’s off on a report of vandalism is a “misallocation of valuable military resources”, he disagrees and sends them anyway. Just because Bungie admits this, it does not mean that it is okay. Billions of dollars, and hundreds of lives were lost on experimentation and the creation of Spartan II’s and Spartan III’s. Would they really send them on a routine mission to stop insurrectionists? Don’t they know there’s a war on?
So with their excuse they hop into a couple falcons and head toward the relay station. Carter says that communications are jammed so they’ll be silent and will have no word from command. And this is supposed to be bad? Once again, this is a TEAM of Spartan III’s, genetically engineered and suited for most operations, and especially quick reconnaissance and surveillence. Would they really need word from command? This is all just a ruse to create a tense situation in which we boldly meet the covenant. Speaking of which, later on as you investigate the farm houses, Carter comes to the conclusion that they were rounded up and interrogated after seeing military personal stuck on the wall. If you heard this at first, you probably thought “Oh, okay” and move on without a hitch. But then a little after you probably thought, “what?”
So one of the biggest changes they made to Reach was to restore the covenant’s native language. They even did this to the grunts, who spoke English since Halo: CE. This begs the question, “how exactly did they interrogate these peasants?” Most of them did not even speak English, but instead spoke a particular Reach dialect that Jorge knows as a native inhabitant but not even all of Noble Team uses. Would the Covenant really be able to speak it or translate it? Not only that, if we take the whole story at once, we now know that the Zealot advance team was looking for “ancient artifacts” which is most likely forerunner tech. Would these farmers know anything about this? Would they know about the forerunners? Even Cortana throughout the series is still trying to piece together their race and what they did to disappear.
So then we meet the covenant and several fights break out. Then word breaks out from the worst voice actor I’ve ever heard. “We’re being attacked by covenant forces. The covenant is on Reach. I say again the covenant is on Reach.” Instead of Noble Team hurrying to the relay station and having Kat temporarily create a link so Carter can inform the UNSC of the situation, they instead decide to save a couple of marines and officers from a covenant strike force. Jun, once again states “don’t we have a lot better things to do?” Carter replies, “we don’t leave people behind.” First of all this is a grand example of doctrine gone dogmatic. Not leaving people behind is a military only bond of strength that arises between you and your comrades. If Emile or Jorge was trapped over there, I could understand a rescue attempt, but the fact that they risk precious time that could’ve been used to establish planetary defenses is borderline insubordination.
Hold this Position
So only after saving some random marines who will probably die anyway later, they go and make their way to the relay station. It is here we meet our first “Hold Position” set piece. In one of the most insulting moves by Bungie, we are told to defend random positions just to increase the amount of time in the campaign. Most people can see right through this. Instead of programming more geography, we use the same geography for delaying the player. Although it’s not nearly as bad as ODST, which nearly made me throw my controller, it still happens five or six times. Wait...
1) Holding out with random marines
2) Kat and the malfunctioned door
3) Defending the Waterfront with random marines
4) Defending the Comm Relay after Jun places the bomb in Nightfall
5) Holding until Falcon arrives in Tip of the Spear
6) Holding in a space fighter until Anchor 9’s defenses were up.
7) Holding the Slipspace bomb on the covenant carrier in LNOS
8) Holding the random elevator for random civilians in Exodus
9) There is an escort mission on New Alexandria, but I’ll let that slide because it’s a little interesting
9) Holding Halsey’s office in The Package (Glacier)
10) Holding the line in the FINAL MISSION while waiting for Keyes.
11) The whole last mission dedicated to fighting until you die
I understand this a couple of times, but seriously the player will get worn out, especially when you consider skulls and challenges. People will get upset especially during Nightfall where two side by side scenes are defending missions.
An attempt to characterize: Role Reversal
About two-thirds of the way through the first mission, we experience a cut-scene in which we learn a little about Jorge. Jorge in a roundabout way feels like his role is a curse, especially when he tries to communicate to the daughter of the dead scientist. Jorge seems to be a kind-hearted giant who just wants to live in peace. Unfortunately, this is a classic case of role reversal. We like Spartans but why do we like them? Well Master Chief proved that a strong relatively silent character who is huge is sort of majestic. We don’t know what his past is or where he came from. All we know is that he’s a cybernetic being that is engineered for war. The only being that Master Chief can really communicate to is Cortana, a copy of Dr. Halsey’s personality in a mobile A.I. Master Chief never contemplates what he is doing, all he knows is the end result. It does not matter what opposition is before him. This is easy to see in Halo 3 in which he convinces Lord Hood that he can go through the Ark and save Cortana from the clutches in the grave mind. Indeed he does this mostly alone. Now with everything I just wrote, Jorge is a huge role reversal from what we know about Spartan II’s. Although they were created to be an anti-terrorist unit, a sort of perfected and feared SWAT team, they were instead used immediately with the arrival of the covenant. Odds are the Spartan’s would be on the front line in every single campaign after Contact Harvest. Knowing what this does on soldiers, especially considering the Eastern front of World War II with the Russians and the Nazi’s, a certain loss of humanity would be immediately apparent. Not only that, consider the gap of human vs. alien conflict and consider how easy it would be to disregard their lives. Master Chief along with Jorge were built from the foundation to not have a moral conscience, to follow orders, and were undoubtedly chiseled down from seeing marines and covenant obliterated in every way possible.
Would Jorge really be a kind-hearted man? If anything Jorge should’ve been the one constantly charging, forsaking command to kill, and would say barely anything. If Jorge would’ve said nothing the whole time throughout the game, and instead after hearing that Halsey died at ONI, he would’ve grabbed Noble Six, thrown him out against his will, and detonated the explosive. This would show that maybe Jorge had a moral conscience, and after losing the one person closest to him, decided that life in this world was not worth living. This would’ve been a huge contrast to previous parts of the game in which he would’ve said nothing, and did everything.
ONI: Sword Base
So in this mission Noble Team is asked to defend and reestablish communications at ONI, one of the most important locations on the planet. Right here must be where you think it gets better. Spartans are being used wisely now, and ONI is under siege, preventing any mass evacuation. However there are several problems with this mission
Anti-Aircraft and Warthogs
So I didn’t think I was going to get too technical when discussing the Reach campaign. The Halo universe isn’t really science fiction and instead is more space opera, so I really shouldn’t pick out things. But in this case, one blaring problem arises, and that’s with the half of the mission after securing the entrance to ONI that has you reactivating a “large” anti-aircraft gun to gain a foothold against the covenant. Now when I was thinking anti-aircraft, I was picturing a massive rocket battery, or maybe a large gauss cannon, but instead it is a belt fed chain-gun. You would think by the year 2552, they would come up with something more useful. It’s especially insulting when you reactivate it, and they drop a gauss warthog, a cannon that destroys everything, right after activation. The gauss creates a ton of force, has a much faster projectile, and fires just as fast. The chain gun is clunky, fires in bursts, and has slower rounds. You would think they would apply the warthogs, whose specific purpose is ANTI-AIRCRAFT (Halo CE: Manual). But instead you’re sent out to two different locations at the same time to mimic Halo Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Reached
So you gotta be a total idiot not to see the obvious parallels between the first halo, and Halo Reach. And while there are some things they do every time, like a tank mission, this is just blatantly spitting on our faces. The first is a new soldier is being thrust onto the field. While neither Noble Six or Master Chief are recruits per se, they both are thrust into a group or ship respectively that is not originally theirs. It allows the player to reset with the character and experience everything new again. While Halo 2 and 3 returns with Master Chief, the ODST in…ODST repeats this feature. Much like Marcus Fenix in GOW or the two recruits in Call of Duty 4 or the protagonist in Mass Effect. Commander Shepherd has been alive for some time, but is new to the Spectre program as you are. This is a common thread, and it’s only duplicated here.
There’s a mission where you ride around in a warthog and complete a multi-part objective, and while you may think that’s cool, it pales in comparison to the original. In the original Halo, the Pillar of Autumn has been utterly destroyed and forced down onto an alien homeworld. You and several other marines barely manage to scrounge an escape pod, but you crash land, leaving you as the sole survivor. The pod is dark, and you come across a bright light: the exit. You leave the pod, and suddenly you’re vision explodes with a massive ring and huge environments. Cortana guides you out of the area and you stumble across some marines defending in an old forerunner structure. For the rest of the mission, you are asked to locate other downed marines and defend until an evac can be called in. This is so necessary because it creates a guerilla resistance for the REST OF THE STORY. Why you move from mission from mission is extremely important! So with all this, why did you go to defend ONI? Well it’s because it’s an important location…that’s being hit…by the enemy…And you have to turn on a couple of things…Which has nothing, and I mean nothing to do with the rest of the story. All these missions are so scattered and separated that although the mood might be right on, there altogether framework is God awful.
There’s a night mission in both, and while you think it’s cool in this one, it’s really just nonsense. Captain Keyes of the Pillar of Autumn has been captured, and is being held on the “Truth and Reconciliation.” An effective resistance would not be possible without him. So, you drop in away from the gravity lift and make your way to the ship gunning down and sniping your way to the ship. Right from the beginning you know what is going on in the story. What is going on in Nightfall? Well you are “assessing…the strength…of the covenant.” This mission description is so baffling, I cannot wrap my mind around it. The human race has had years of research and tons of lives lost. Spartans should’ve been ship hopping. It should’ve been epic, suicidal missions in order to slow the covenant advance. They should’ve been doing insane stuff, which only happens with the slip space bomb and Cortana. So in Nightfall, you’re forced to blunder through the valleys and save some civilians and place a remote detonation bomb on…something. I’m still not sure what that does.
There’s a tank mission, and while you think it’s really cool here, it is simply not the same. In “Assault on the Control Room”, the scope of this mission simply rethought my view on video games. I’m not kidding. When you’re on the high natural bridge above a huge drop, and then 3 minutes later, you’re down there engaging the covenant in huge battles, my jaw dropped. You and the marines are clawing your way to the Control Room, where there you’ll find answers to the mysteries of Halo, which is the turning point of the whole story. Now while the end of The Package may end with the same turning point, you’re only going there because you were ordered to and by now Noble Team probably thinks, “why not?” I mean really. Kat was shot by a sniper, New Alexandria is burning, Jorge is dead, and Carter seems a little tired. Bungie has a strange tendency to have the player retrace exact steps through geography, and while this may seem cool, it’s definitely not as cool as the original. Halo’s true destructive power is discovered, but 343 Guilty Spark knew this all along. And when Master Chief and Cortana discover, the game flips on itself, again. The first time was with the flood. It is truly beautiful when a game tells you how the world works, and then throws a whole different plot element to change it forever. Bioshock with Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine is a good example, and KOTOR with Darth Revan is another good example. So the truth is uncovered, and you play “Two Betrayals”, which is Assault on the Control room backwards, and it’s so fascinating. Night setting, it’s quiet, but off in the distance the emerging flood attacks and envelops every covenant establishment. What are you doing in Reach? Well once again, you’re going there because you’re told to. Hardly character driven, don’t you think?
Now I understand with video games it’s important to follow a certain method or process, but if you keep repeating them, we’re only going to point out when it was done best and forsake the rest. That’s what everyone does: first or last.
Nightfall: and Inconsistent Style
Halo Reach was going for a somber approach, with music and certain set pieces following up very well on that. As far as the details though, it’s a little shaky. It seems like it was going to be really risky and really ambitious. Those scenes with Jorge attempting to talk to the natives was really interesting. But then all emotion is thrown aside as we move from point A to point B blowing shit up and saying “Yes-Sir” all the while. Then we get intense first person fights with Zealot class Elites, then shaky camera work in Nightfall. What really bothers me is that the camera does not exist, but there it is, moving on foot and shaking just like your character directly in front of you. It’s trying to give you this humanistic gritty approach of navigating this, but Bungie still wanted to show off your character. But I was removed from the scene when I realized that there was no reason that the camera should be doing that because the camera man did not exist! If you have that kind of power, you should be using wide sweeping shots and then slowly center on you to show how you’re just one piece of the puzzle. Or how about shots from the cliff bottom, with rocks cracking under your boots to show how far the drop is? You know? Like every movie with a cliff? You’ve got super big action scenes like Tip of the Spear, and really gut wrenching scenes like Jorge dying or Kat getting shot. You’ve got super over the top bad-ass moments like when Carter throws himself at the scarab while saying, “signing off.”
So as stated before, nothing happens in this mission, except for the insulting things, like indigenous creatures. At some point, I’m sure that someone said there needed to be animals in the game to make it feel alive. So now we must fight through a completely pointless scene in which huge creatures are beating the hell out of some grunts. Instead of focusing on, you know, the story, they instead talk about this thing like we’ll see it again. Except we don’t. Ever. Looking back it was just as big a waste of time as the sniper rifle rounds I had to rip into those things. Tip of the Spear and Unrealistic Tactics
So now we come to the big dumb battle. Yes, I say the big dumb battle because instead of using proper positions, humanity rides out and meets a massacre out there. But Kat blew up the whatever so I guess we’re okay. You think the Japanese just rode out to meet the Americans on Iwo Jima? Make no mistake, humanity is on defense. As far as the Covenant is concerned, they are unmatched in space. Books and Dr. Halsey’s notes confirms that while ground troop tactics are on the verge of absurd for the covenant, the technology and firepower of the Covenant Space Navy is total. Something about the spiritual beliefs of the covenant cause a sort of Japanese banzai charge, or kamikaze act. And while that may seem amazing, it means huge losses for the Covenant. But don’t forget that the COVENANT is a collaboration of species who are led by Prophets and a single religious cause. There are most likely billions of them, with an exception in Hunters, maybe. So with all that said, why did the marines blatantly go out onto a huge plain and attack ARTILLERY (Wraiths) and FIGHTER BOMBERS (Banshees). I can tell you: because Bungie wanted a big dumb battle. Humanity should be using dirty tactics. They should be bunkering up, forcing bottlenecks, and turtling. But since that is not fun and looks retarded in a video game, we are forced to endure total incompetence as the UNSC uses hundreds of reconnaissance and AA warthogs that eventually get obliterated by everything.
Not only that, but after all this fighting and AA gun destroying (which you do twice, and in the same way) and needless chores we finally come to the falcon scene and to the Spire. And as they speed towards the EMP barrier, they say that it is an EMP barrier. Woah guys, hit the brakes. Shouldn’t we try to get in some other way? But instead of dropping down to save the pilot, the Spartans recklessly enter and we get to see a “really awesome” first person view of a helicopter crash. If Jorge honestly cared about human life, he would not have sacrificed a falcon pilot so that he could land all cool. But of course, it’s what the kiddies want. After this scene a second time, I was flabbergasted by how stupid Noble Team was. So we go to blow up a huge Spire, that disrupts…something. Either it disrupts satellite view of the area, or it provides shielding to bombardment. So you go up and kill the elite running the thing and in true 80’s action art, you throw your body out and grab Jorge’s hand. First off, the falcon was a whopping ten feet from Spire, and the shield wasn’t even disabled, and the MAC gun was not even approved to fire yet. Having him jump off and possibly miss and fall to his death is completely unnecessary. Jumping from the tanker in Call of Duty 4’s first mission WAS absolutely necessary when you consider that the ship was sinking, or it could explode at any minute, and the helicopter was taking off. This is just cool stuff for the sake of cool stuff. Or for the kiddies…
So instead of planting a bomb at the bottom to blow it up and keep using lives to erase the shield at the top, we have to use a frigate’s MAC gun to blow it up. And then it gets spotted by the Covenant Space Super Carrier. Don’t they know the possibilities by now? I find it hard to believe that after nine years of players and developers playing and making Halo that anyone should be surprised by this.
Long Night of Solace (Armageddon) and Fan Expectations
So you can’t help but think of Bruce Willis while playing this mission. “The automatic detonator is…broke.” Which may be the worst line ever placed for emotional convenience. So how about the idea that we go out to space? This must’ve been the worst brainstorm ever, but instead, because there’s nothing left to do (?), we’re going to fight in space. Full flight controls on a controller are awkward. Like strategy games, people just do not understand what does and doesn’t work. So this all boils down to fan expectations.
“Well in Halo 2 we had the Arbiter, and everyone was like ‘WOAH!’ We need something like that.”
“Well in Halo 3 that one time the Flood became your allies for like 3 seconds? But then they had Cortana and the Grave Mind talk in your head and that sucked!”
“Well they had the engineer and they commandeered an Elephant in ODST remember that?”
So what did they do: Space.
Space is where you go when you’re out of ideas. Mario? Space. Call of Duty? Space. Everyone thinks space is cool for the wrong reasons. So Bungie decides, “I think, what the fans really want is to go out to space in a ship.”
WRONG. Wrong you idiots wrong. What we want is an action packed intense campaign, with a thrilling story, and flawless perfected multiplayer. Space fighter combat has nothing to do with that. This is my least favorite part of the game because it lasts for like ten minutes tops and you’re DEFENDING something once again. And it comes off as really awkward and basic. It’s basically Star Fox 64 in all range mode. That’s how dumb and simple this is. Once again, another worthless misallocation of developer resources. Walking or fighting on space is cool, because it takes physics and what you know about the world and it alters them. But flying comes off as trying to hard. It’s like a kid waving his hands for attention. Unless you have a joystick, flying games are arcade-ish, dumb, and unfulfilling.
So after this brain schism, you fight through the ship to activate a fueling run to the super carrier, your ultimate target. And once again you are defending, except you’re defending the slip space bomb. So Jorge will eventually tell you that it’s fried, and he has to fire it manually. If that was the case, we should’ve just sent you in a pelican on a collision course with the super carrier with the bomb attached. But this was actually probably the best part about the game. Because it took all the elements of the game and mashed them together. We’ve got Kat’s personal idea, a character driven moment. We’ve got a collaborative effort by Noble Team to acquire the bomb and fight for the space fighters. We see the massive outlook on the conflict with the UNSC Frigate Savannah exploding. We see sacrifice in Jorge and finally we fall back down to Reach for Hell to meet us.
Exodus: A Complete Waste of Time
While Battlefield Bad Company 2 shamelessly has you locate your teammates one by one immediately after becoming separated, Bungie does the stupid thing and has filler in between. This game is about you and Noble Team. No one cares about civilians in video games. In fact, most people shoot civilians to see them drop on their ass. Once again, the plot is thrown away for a cool jetpack scene with the “BullFrog” squadron of ODST’s that are there. Even if the developers were showing people dying in a ship in the water, or people being strangled by brutes, we don’t care. Halo has always been about those few close people, and especially in this one, it’s about the men next to you. I couldn’t help but feel like they wanted a sort of city engagement, so they made you drop into New Alexandria to kind of Black Hawk Down your way through a terrorized city. But Halo 2 already did this, and better. Nothing beats driving through New Mombasa with a Gauss Rifle and taking down that Scarab on foot. If anything was achieved, it was how alone you feel without Noble Team.
Oh wow, a knocked out series of platforms I can’t get to by jumping. Oh look jetpacks…
New Alexandria: Blatant Delaying
So it becomes painfully obvious that they didn’t know how to continue the campaign after Jorge’s death. With Exodus we get some great Michelle Rodriguez voice acting, some stupid put together civilian rescue, and turning on MORE AA weapons. I swear, they might as well call you the Anti-Aircraft Officer, because almost every mission involves destroying or turning on Anti-Aircraft weapons. With New Alexandria, we get some good Aisha Tyler voice acting (Archer), and some…more civilian rescue. Noble Team for two missions becomes FEMA, or the National Guard. Noble team should not be doing this absurd dumb trivial stuff. They should be blowing up hundreds of bases, wrecking cruisers from the inside, and going on covert leadership assassinations.
Instead we get “the Falcon mission.” By this time in the story it did not surprise me. We get a brief cameo by Nathan Fillian as Buck from ODST, but hardly anyone noticed. It’s a mish mosh of random tasks put together and called a mission, with it all culminating at ONI. While on their way out, heading somewhere, Kat gets sniped by…a sniper? I didn’t think I was going to get even more technical, but it sucks that now the covenant have no sniper weapon besides the Focus Rifle, and it just wouldn’t be the same if Kat took a beam from a focus rifle for a full five seconds before dying. Instead, a Needle Rifle shot has to be used, and when considering everything doesn’t seem that bad.
The Package, and the Final Insult
So as stated before, you’re traveling to ONI: Sword Base because you’re told to, and you are rerouted, because you’re told to, and then you stumble upon Dr. Halsey, and a forerunner structure. And it was here I realized what the forerunner’s really were. They are not an ancient race, they are a dumb plot filler.
One of the biggest most amazing things I was interested about in this campaign was strictly business. What I mean by that is no space opera crap. No Halo, no forerunners, no BS, nothing. You’ve got a huge covenant invasion, and you’ve got a team of Spartans: Go. Instead we have to endure once again the forerunners, who apparently had their fingers in everything. When the Bungie developers don’t know what to do, they talk about the forerunners, because they died thousands of years ago, and only they know who or what they are. This presents a huge intellectual gap that allows them to hold all the cards. We just cannot have a huge story without a giant forerunner structure underground can we? So in all the records and all the history books and all the notes we here that the covenant attacked Reach en masse, but did not attack Earth en masse. This is because they did not expect humans to be on Earth, because the Ark was on Earth (more forerunner-ness). But we just saw advance teams arriving on Reach looking for forerunner technology at the beginning of the game. It’s insulting that we just can’t have a good action game about soldiers on the battlefield. Then I realize I’m not playing Brother’s in Arms.
Is this really what Bungie has become? A bunch of tired developers who have to keep referencing itself to keep from creating a new and fun experience? And this of course culminates with getting Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn, which brings up a multitude of questions that have to be answered in Dr. Halsey’s notes: AGAIN. If Cortana was calibrated for Master Chief, and the notes say this happened very soon earlier, why didn’t they stay together? Why is Cortana here anyway? Why in Halo does Master Chief say to Cortana “no thanks to your driving, yes”? This infers that they’re together before. Why leave each other? Why is Master Chief, one of the best soldiers humanity has to offer in a friggin’ cryo-chamber?
But instead to make the ending seem epic, Noble Six is charged with getting Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn. So much is referenced to the past games that I almost vomited at all the convenience.
The Pillar of Autumn and 13 Endings
So in what starts to be a classic Halo ending of driving a vehicle across vast territory, you ironically get out and work your way on foot. Irony! Unfortunately you get out to do more defending. Carter dies, and we all feel sorry, or we’re laughing by now. And here we are with the closest partner of Noble Team. The guy that has stuck by us and has had so much to offer personality wise to the game: Emile. I could not care less for Emile. He never takes off his helmet, he is sarcastic and a wise ass. But he also dies heroically fighting like 8 elites after getting stabbed through the chest. Defending the platform, and seeing the Pelican coming in, Bobby Kirkpatrick (or Kenton, not sure) brought up a very good point: Would Keyes really go out and personally greet the Spartan and retrieve Cortana? No. He would be prepping for launch and would’ve sent his second officer or something. But also in Dr. Halsey’s notes, it’s revealed that Keyes and Halsey loved each other, and Miranda was the result. Maybe Keyes loved her enough to take Cortana in person. I feel bad for those who don’t have that trusty little notebook. It says a lot about what it should’ve been said in the game.So the big dumb ending, where we get on the MAC gun and tear about Phantoms, who seem to have no interest in Keyes, but every interest in you. And then the massive carrier in the back. It makes Jorge and Kat look terrible and stupid respectively in hindsight when all anyone needs is one MAC gun shot to the abdomen. And also with the speed to which the Autumn takes off, the carrier probably couldn’t have done anything anyway.
Disappointing things left out:
Carter and Kat: possible love interest?
If anybody does more dialogue back and forth, it’s Carter and Kat. Nothing makes things seem more human than love, and Carter should’ve expressed some disturbance from her death. Jun says, “he’s got her dialed in.” They constantly chatter about everything, and they speak very bluntly and plainly while the rest of Noble just takes orders. It’s my interpretation that they were in love. But we never really get to see that fleshed out.
Spartan II’s Spartan III’s and Dr. Halsey
So in case you don’t know, the biggest difference between the two grades of Spartan is in the designer. While Halsey personally oversaw the II’s, her project was stolen from under her, made much more efficient by limiting the genetic modification, providing much more of them, albeit a little weaker, and smaller. It’s obvious in the notes that Dr. Halsey is infuriated by this stolen part of her. And in the game, we see great evidence of this with Halsey’s gentle hello to Jorge and her contempt with Carter and the rest of the team. She’s pissed at Kat for taking ONI property. She is pissed at Carter for threatening her. But unfortunately after that we hear nothing about this important part of the Spartan process. In fact, Halsey becomes completely different when they meet again. She has every confidence when leaving the culmination of her life’s work in the hands of a Spartan III instead of leaving it with Master Chief a little while earlier. Knowing what makes them different and what conflict there is in the UNSC having trouble while trying to work together is important when you consider that you, the character, are the subject of the disagreement.
Keyes and Halsey Love interest
After Master Chief, and Cortana at the beginning of the “Most Important Characters” list, Halsey and Keyes should follow. Knowing that they were in love at one point is not only important in general, but important to the fans that have spent nine years growing with the franchise. It wouldn’t have been too hard to throw a bone out to them and get the word out.
How I Would’ve Made Reach
So with all this in mind, I would’ve made Halo Reach a sandbox game. Before you cuss and exit out, just know I’ve got some pretty good reasons. So if all these trivial assignments were put together in a huge environment, not only would the developers keep the feel of the large environment they wanted intact, but it would change and make the game much more exciting. I would have it Dead Rising style where there is your scarred burned helmet, but then it flashes back and it periodically gives you “time until the end” or something like that. So you’ve got a huge environment that you can place all your cool multiplayer locations in, and you’ve got a much bigger necessity for vehicles, and you’re acting in real time. So the beginning of the game would be a huge fight and then afterward, a timer starts, and periodically you have events you have to do, or can optionally do. These events could even affect the ending of the game. These events would be, I don’t know, turning on AA guns, defending certain places, escorting people to safety, while the necessary missions would be much bigger. Heck most of the missions before could be relocating and reuniting Noble Team after the first big fight that separated everyone. Have AI buddies or 4 player co-op that can travel into your world. As the timer hits closer to doomsday, it gets more intense and more somber, because you know you’re losing. Have certain missions force certain characters to die. The open world is begging to be used. With Forge World and the Impostering system they made, it’s not as crazy as you think. The more I played Just Cause 2, the more I thought about how it could be done. Scale would be so much bigger! Just what Reach would need. Have like New Alexandria in the middle, like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and have certain settlements and ONI: Sword Base somewhere, and have a couple Spartan safe houses that can store weapons and vehicles and the game can be saved or something.
While everything may seem action packed, the Halo Reach campaign after close scrutiny comes off as being tired, lazy, and just plain trivial. The campaign once again is just an excuse to do real cool stuff and to provide locations for multiplayer maps. One of the developers said in the Multiplayer_ViDoc interview that “Campaign presents an amazing table, but the multiplayer is the meal.” He’s so right he doesn’t even know it. With challenges, skulls, difficulties, and easter eggs, the campaign can definitely stand on its own. But story-wise it is nowhere near other games. It is disappointing, but I will most certainly keep playing, which I guess makes this game a success. I just wish they would’ve tried a little harder on what used to be the most important aspect.