By Irishjohn 1 Comments
I have a weird relationship with the Halo franchise. I own but have yet to play the original Halo, past the first level. Halo 2 was the video game that finally convinced me to return from the barren wastelands of extended bouts of Championship Manager and the occasional Minesweeper session to actually play video games again. I always enjoy playing Halo games, though I'm not very good at them. I play Halo multiplayer, at least since Halo 3, though I shy away from most other multiplayer games. I get very excited about Halo games for months before they come out, but I begin each game having completely forgotten what happened in the previous one.
So, I never got indignant about Halo 2's ending (I actually really liked it) or the limited extent to which it felt like "Earth" in the first half of Halo 3. I've never been invested in Halo to the point that I would be frustrated by the series, or feel let down by Bungie. Honestly, this is a pretty good way to be about fictional universes in general. With Halo, I've been happy by accident.
It doesn't mean I have no standards though. Playing Halo games has been fun, except for the Flood parts, because Bungie makes a really good first person shooter. Over the last few years, the games evolved (for me personally) from guilt free quality shooters to guilt free quality shooters with interesting plots to go along with the overall fiction. I found the idea of an intensely religious confederacy of alien races bent on destroying humanity appealing from the start. Talk about going big. Bungie has been open about making the franchise a grand project from the start. Halo: ODST showed that the developers were also open to delving deeper into the side stories that sprung up from the larger fiction.
Halo: Reach was the beneficiary of both of these approaches. First and foremost, it was a Halo game, and a very good one. It was also the best Halo game ever made in terms of story. The fiction of Reach is a big deal for major Halo lore fans. I couldn't have cared less about Reach before I bought this game, but by the end of the game I had been converted. Bungie took a major keystone in their overall story and told it from the perspective of a group of characters that had never been heard about before, but became more meaningful to me as a guy playing a video game than Master Chief or Cortana ever did. It was inspired stuff. I also got to shoot dudes in space.
ODST made an effort with characters, and I felt it mostly succeeded. Before Reach, though, I thought of Halo characters I liked in terms of people who did the voice work. In this case, Nathan Fillion and Keith David. Ultimately I realised i just liked Nathan Fillion and Keith David.
In Halo: Reach, the player encounters a cast of characters who have distinct personalities. The characters interact with each other. The player's character feels like a member of this team. Jorge is the classic Jesse Ventura style mini-gun toting beast, but proves to be a softer touch than the rest of the crew. Kat's prosthetic arm contributes to excellent art design that tells you what you need to know about the character: she's tough, she's experienced, she's been through more than most members of the team. Her gender is irrelevant, and I think that's a great thing. Emile has a really cool helmet.
Maybe it was just another Empire Strikes Back thing and I'm a sucker for a doomed conclusion to a storyline. Or maybe Bungie decided to take a game that could have been the ultimate piece of fan service and make it something even better. Reach is a goodbye to Halo fans, and the ending of the game especially feels like a tender goodbye. I mentioned earlier, I'm not the biggest Halo fan. When playing ODST I had no idea what the Master Chief was up to; the events of Halo 2 seem like a distant memory and I never finished the first Halo game. However, I still am a Halo fan, and Reach felt like an intimate and grateful goodbye. I rarely get those feelings from people who make games expressed so freely and so well. What a great experience.