Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Halo: Reach review


    Having gone through the original Halo trilogy, we've gotten to enjoy a huge amount of Bungie's output and I'm pleased to say they knocked it out of the park. I wasn't a big fan of Halo: ODST, though, so I came with somewhat mixed feelings toward  Reach. The Master Chief and Cortana are such an integral part of the saga I didn't know if it was impossible to really care about someone else in the primary character role(s).
    Reach had another strike against it in that it was a prequel to the main story, taking place on the planet where Earth suffered its greatest defeat during the war. Barring massive retconning, there was nothing our new protagonist could do in order to avert the catastrophe coming to humanity. The fact you'd have a customizable character also bothered me as while the Master Chief didn't have much in the way of characterization, he did have some and losing that would be a real shame.

Noble Team is a great bunch of characters.
    Still, this was the swan song of Bungie for the Halo franchise. Despite being responsible for the previous four entries into the series, they were moving on to other projects like Destiny and this was their final love-letter to the universe. While not a big fan of prequels in general, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and see what they'd come up with before moving onto the sequels by 343 Industries.

    So, was it good?

    Mostly, yes.

Kat is my favorite of Noble Team.
    I didn't have quite the same feeling of triumph and kickassery as the original Halo trilogy provided me but I enjoyed it a great deal more than ODST. As expected, the characterization suffered for the fact the main character is a faceless and genderless protagonist. The only thing we learn about Noble Six is they've done a lot of spy work for the Office of Naval Intelligence, which is appropriate given all of the Spartans are ONI projects.

    The other characters on Noble Team are underdeveloped but colorful enough at least some of them are memorable. They're about as memorable as your average Call of Duty protagonist with Emile being a stand-in for Modern Warfare's Ghost. I think they could have easily doubled the amount of time being spent on showing their personalities and interactions without even scratching the surface of who they are. My favorite of the six was probably Kat, who is the brains of the group and pulls numerous crazy plans from her ass throughout.

The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, even by Microsoft standards.
    The premise, for those unfamiliar with Halo canon, is Reach is the most heavily-defended human planet save Earth itself. A beautiful pastoral world, the planet falls under the attack of the theocractic aliens known as the Covenant who intend to do nothing less than reduce the entire planet to glass. Noble-Six, a customized male or female Spartan-III, is sent to join Noble Team which is composed of other Spartans. Their mission is to make as much havoc as possible until either the Covenant withdraws or they can evacuate the planetary population.

The game is full of great map designs.
    The game does something clever by starting it off as a "hoo-ray" military shooter with the planet Reach being beautiful, green, and everyone gung-ho to fight the Covenant. While you know the planet is doomed from Halo canon and the ominous loading screen with your main characters helmet shattered on a wasteland, the narrative convinces you it's possible to defeat the Covenant. Only mid-way through the game do they pull out the rug from you with the game revealing there's no way to save Reach and the Covenant truly is overwhelming as well as unstoppable. It becomes a game about saving as many of Reach's citizens as possible before the world is completely destroyed.

Combat is fun and vigorous.
    Noble Team is mostly undeveloped with the only characters receiving any real characterization being Kat, Jorge, and Emile. Noble-Six doesn't get much development and only exists to say yes or no throughout the game. Despite this, I can't help but say I felt moved the handling of the team in the game.

    It's not a spoiler to say not all of them make it through the gave and not all of them die heroically either. I like this, as David Weber explained, " Military fiction in which only bad people -- the ones the readers want to die -- die and the heroes don't suffer agonizing personal losses isn't military fiction: it's military pornography."

    One element I really enjoyed wad finally moving Doctor Halsey, creator of the Spartan program, from the Expanded Universe to the mainstream games. I've always been fond of her character and see her show up here was really appreciated. Sadly, the character's paperback journal which comes with the special edition of the game hasn't been made available separately yet.

Doctor Halsey finally makes her first appearance in-game.
    Graphics-wise, I think this may well be one of the most beautiful Halo games. The maps are huge and intricately detailed. We have lush farmland, jagged cliffs, the interior of spaceships, deep space, a futuristic city, a Japanese hotel, a nightclub, and a ship's graveyard as just some of the locations you get to explore. I also like the design of the character with Kat and Doctor Halsey being especially good designs. I played this game on Xbox One and recommend it there but it's still beautiful on Xbox 360.

    Gameplay, things are still pretty similar to the mainstream Halo games with the biggest change being the special-armor abilities. You're capable of generating shields, rocket-packs, locking yourself down, and other items which I didn't actually use all that much. The biggest change is the addition of a starfighter you use in a memorable segment blasting Covenant ships in orbit around Reach. Starfighter combat isn't something I've experienced before in a Halo game and it's actually quite entertaining.

The starfighter section was an unexpected but welcome bonus.
    Sadly, there's some definite bugs with the Xbox One version. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any Achievements for completing the game and I ran into some other minor gameplay issues as well. While I'm not upset about the latter, I've got to say the former was a huge bug and one which diminished my enjoyment of the game considerably.

    In conclusion, Halo: Reach is a good-good game but could have been better. I think they could have expanded the characters and their personal interaction and made what could have been an immensely personal game. Instead, it's just really-really good and entertaining throughout. It's a pretty game but not a moving game. Nevertheless, I'd recommend this to any fans of the Halo series as Bungie's last entry into the franchise.

9/10

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