Reaching for the Pinnacle of Evolution
That’s what Halo has become. It’s hard to imagine that it has been nearly ten years since the salivating masses had met Master Chief, and it’s even harder to imagine that Halo Reach is Bungie’s final farewell for the franchise. The feeling for most fans is apocalyptic dismay as the realization sets in that Bungie will pass the torch onto the unproven 343 Industries. But let’s disregard the murky future and concentrate on what Halo Reach means: it’s another Halo game and, my, it’s beautiful. Not because it’s the last Bungie-developed Halo videogame, but it’s because of the anticipation of seeing how much Halo has evolved over a decade of cultural change, though it might not actually seem that way at first...
Halo Reach, in the respect of back-of-the-box bullet-point game-play features, seems like a decline in functionality when compared to Halo 3, or even Halo 2. Let’s look at the main culprits: the regenerating health bar is gone, replaced by an archaic health pack system, and so is dual wielding, replaced by a narrow weapon selection. The collective decision to return to these formulas may signal to the ordinary fan that the developer is taking steps backwards in the franchise. On the contrary, Bungie has allowed Halo to evolve with these changes. Let’s be frank: dual wielding caused nothing but trouble in the online scene. Players constantly vetoed “Duals” in Halo 3matchmaking because it transformed the game into a clusterfuck of inaccurate, chaotic, gun-totin’, pea-shootin’ madness. Not to mention that the focus on balancing dual-wieldable weapons made signature guns like the SMG or magnum either practically useless or horrendously overpowered in ordinary game-types. The problems also seep into the single-player campaigns of Halo 2 and Halo 3, where the dual-wieldable weapons serve no other purpose than to severely imbalance the level design, and to, hypothetically, make the player feel like a misogynist action hero straight from Hollywood (in the wrong kind of way). Speaking on terms of level design, for example, charged plasma pistols and the magnum would guarantee un-legendary Legendary runs. Accomplishing tasks in the single-player campaign were also made easier with regenerating health, although, to be fair, it added interesting strategic elements to the online component.
The changes to these systems in Halo Reach allow the core Halo game-play to mesh together seamlessly in the campaign, vaguely resembling the days of old whenCombat Evolved’s single-player was (and still is) an excellent mix of difficulty and design, and when multiplayer was (and still is) a test of dexterity and skill. The revert back to single-weapon use, for example, is an excellent design choice because it forces the Spartan’s lethal library to shrink. Not only does this cause the weapon selection to feel much more balanced, but each Grunt-massacring machine in Reach feels more distinct than the toy-box of choices in Halo 3. The health pack system also improves the gameplay by allowing players to become more cautious and methodical not only in match-making, but in Legendary campaigns runs. Regenerating health only encourages the opposite: I have been trained in Halo 2 and Halo 3 to charge at my enemies directly and abrasively, knowing that I can regenerate my health completely in a moment’s notice. I’ve been trying to ween myself off of that obsolete strategy since the return of health packs in ODST (and so far haven’t been successful).
Moving on, let’s get to the main point: Halo Reach is a fantastic video game. It’s fantastic because of very simple nuances. From the hidden secrets in the campaign to simple game-changing multi-player strategies and tactics such as crouch-shooting or armour lock baiting, the newest Halo is definitely on top. There’s always the argument that Halo has always been shallow: this is not the case with Reach. The game follows the Nintendo rule of game design, and it follows it very well. Reach, especially in its wonderfully constricted multiplayer realm, is simple to pick up and play, but difficult to master, drawing you into its black hole of addictiveness with the arbitrary, but successfully implemented credits system.
After playing for almost two months now and having achieved the Lt. Colonel rank, it’s safe to say that the credits (cR) system is the difference between Halo 3 and Halo Reach. It does not necessarily force you to play more, like the experience system in Call of Duty, but, rather, it encourages you to play more, simply because the rewards do not have a direct effect on the core gameplay. It’s astounding to see such a system, which literally does not have any consequence on gameplay itself, is the most obsessive and addicting nature of the entire game. Obtaining cR is a metagame within itself that rewards you with points for completing certain goals, going through single-player missions repeatedly, and pulverizing poor saps online, which in turn you can spend on cosmetic items that you can apply to your in-game avatar. It’s genius, really, because the game is rewarding the player with no affect on the core gameplay is more appropriate in terms of fairness and balance, but somehow it still strikes jealousy in players because everyone wants the God damned Robotic Prosthetic or Gold Visor simply because it looks so fucking cool.
The player can even use these trinkets in the single-player campaign, which adds to the immersive experience on an almost unconscious level with the player. They are, effectively and vaguely speaking, their own Master Chief, parading around their own projection of mystique and masculinity, and, to a large extent, the player doesn’t realize how fucking awesome this notion is. The Halo franchise has evolved from being just a simple minded homage to a series of science-fiction archetypes to a literal psychoanalytical mind-fuck on the prospect of hyper-masculinity in video games! Gears of War has nothing on this shit.
...but let’s steer away from the psychoanalysis bit, which is another topic for another day, and focus on the product review at hand. You want to know if you should buy Halo Reach? Well, I think the answer is quite apparent. The game is the epitome of an already near-perfect gameplay system first introduced almost ten short years ago. The online multi-player is fantastically addicting, despite the cR system having no impact whatsoever on gameplay. The single-player campaign, while a teensy bit on the unoriginal side in terms of level design, manages to be both fun and arousing. The story is—and I’ll make this brief since this is not a story review or critique—more human compared to the epic grandiose of the first three games. Rather, as I’ve said before, Reach sets itself more comfortably within the same realm as ODST. So, if you were fine with the story direction in ODST, and loved the gameplay mechanics found in the original Xbox classic, you are definitely going to find a lot to love in Reach. It’s as simple as that.