Bungie Unloads a Dropship
It's here! Bungie's final word on the Halo saga has arrived to much fanfare, hype, plastic figurines and a mainstream marketing budget large enough to build a small army. But that's nothing new. We've seen Halo dominate the mainstream gaming world many times before. The question is... Is this one worth it?
I've decided to compare Halo: Reach to another genre of game, which some may find strange. Let's compare the Halo franchise to that of Madden or MLB The Show. Both of these sports franchises have a loyal fanbase - rabid and dedicated to the games. In some ways, very similar to Halo. Each year these sports franchises dump millions of dollars into developing and marketing new features to try to polish a game in the slightest ways in order to enhance the experience. And each year critics pile on accusing them of releasing "the same game, with roster updates". Now, anyone who cares about the sports titles knows that these changes can greatly enhance a game, especially if someone spends an entire year devoted to it. By now, you probably can see where I'm going with this... Why are the critic scores so astronomical for a Halo game that's basically a very polished and fine tuned version of what we've all played for the past decade?
Let's start with the campaign. The Halo Reach campaign plays to the same formula the franchise has always succeeded with: Set up a level with a cool cutscene, drop a player into an alien environment with a specific location needing to be reached, and continue to bring in dropships full of enemies. Rinse and repeat. To be fair, the enemy AI in Reach is greatly improved. Small things like taking cover and reaction to grenades really makes the battles more realistic. Also, there's a whole lot more enemies at one time, adding to the scale of the battles. Weapons and vehicles have been fine-tuned and are balanced perfectly in the campaign. At one point the player is taken into space to fight covenant Banshees and other ships. Although it wasn't the most progressive of gameplay decisions, I was really pleased to get a break from the dropship after dropship formula. Clocking in at about 7-9 hours, Reach fulfills campaign length expectations.
Although the soundtrack for Halo: Reach is epic and extremely well done, the story and acting fall flatter than a pancake. Having played games like Mass Effect 2, Alan Wake and Red Dead in 2010, Reach's plot came off like a B Movie script acted by amateurs. Some of the fake accents were especially cringe-worthy. No real connection is made with the Noble team members throughout the game, which meant watching them meet their fate was more or less ho-hum.
Let's enjoy some bad acting... and great music:
On to the multiplayer. Overall, the Halo multiplayer is killer. The additions of Forge and the ability to customize players, levels and combat modes is spectacular. Matchmaking also introduces the feature that will auto-mute a player if he/she is being muted often... Great add! Multi, again, is what you've come to love and expect from Halo. It's a solid entry that will provide the Halo enthusiast a long-term solution for those who found slight faults with other Halo entries.
Maps are variants of campaign levels, which can be seen as good or bad, depending on the player. There's no doubt Bungie will introduce plenty of map packs to keep things fresh, but the ones included with the game aren't too bad... Just don't expect to see anything that hasn't been done before.
Firefight is back, having been a success with the recent ODST. I did get a chance to play about 4 or 5 hours, and really enjoyed it. Playing with a group of 3 or more buddies is really the only way to experience Firefight. Maps are varied enough to provide a lot of different battle types, and enemies are smart enough to make the game mode a winner. Firefight with your own friends is also the game mode of choice if you want to try to steer clear of the plagues of 14 year old boys yelling and crying at each other on XBOX LIVE.
All in all, I enjoyed my time with Halo: Reach. But in the end, I couldn't help but feel like I'd played the game before... When I played MLB 10 The Show earlier this year, my expectations were low. I'd read critiques of how the game was "basically the same" as the 09 entry. Although I did agree, the small additions streamlined the experience for the core player.
After reading reviews bestowing 9.5 and 9.0 from big-time critics, I went into the game with pretty high expectations. Perhaps that's why I'm a little jaded about the game, but high scores should deem an excellent game - one that moves the genre and gameplay forward. Halo: Reach... Well, it does a really nice version of Halo.