Halo: Reach-ing a New Appreciation!

I was never a big fan of Halo.

Saying that probably invalidates any chance I ever had working for Bungie or Microsoft Game Studies (MGS), but so be it. Well…let me back up and clarify that statement. For many years, first-person shooters (FPS) weren’t my particular cup of tea. I just found the format too ‘restrictive’ and highly repetitious in its offerings. But that changed over the years as better games came along such as Quake, Call of Duty, Bioshock, and one of my top 5, all-time favorites, Half-Life 2. But I’m also not the biggest fan of multiplayer (MP) game modes either. Don’t get me wrong, I can do a good game of co-op play all day long. Borderlands dominated my TV most of Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. But standard deathmatch / CTF rounds lose my interest after 15-20 minutes. And let’s be honest: No one buys Halo for its riveting campaign; it’s all about the multiplayer. So what does any of this has to do with Halo: Reach? I’m getting to that; bear with me.

I first played Halo the day the original Xbox launched. While I enjoyed the game, it really didn’t win me over as a blockbuster title due to the bland campaign. In short, it wasn’t touching Half-Life 2. Yes, I realize they’re different games with their own merits, but that’s besides the point. Regardless, I still forged ahead with Halo 2 & Halo 3. Again, both were really great games, but still didn’t win me over. In fact, I was so turned off by the trilogy’s campaign that I skipped out on ODST completely. But then, Halo: Reach came along.

I picked Reach (limited console edition) for two reasons. One, I really wanted one of the new, slim 360’s. And two, I sincerely wanted to show support for Bungie’s hard work all these years and experience their final mark on Halo. Despite my indifference to the series, all the Halo games are top notch, quality products worth any gamer’s time, fan or no fan. Having completed the campaign and running the the multiplayer mode, I feel comfortable to weigh in my final verdict. Simply put….

I…LOVE…THIS…GAME!!!!

Everything about it is just a vast improvement from my previous gameplay experiences. Bungie even managed to nail the campaign appropriately. It starts off a bit slow but once it kicks into gear, it really evokes a true sense of overwhelming despair and impeding doom. As a swan song, it’s very poignant, yet very fitting for Bungie. Similar to Noble Team fighting a war that’s already lost, the Halo franchise has grown tremendously and is showing no signs of decline. It’s essentially bigger than Bungie’s bandwidth. Like many successful creations, there comes a point where you have to let go and move on so it can continue evolving. But let’s get back to how awesome Reach is. To Bungie’s credit, they’re never afraid to incorporate new elements into their games. One of the most memorable moments from Halo 3 was taking on the Covenant Scarab. The seamless transition from ground combat, to hopping in a plane to disable the Scarab, and then scaling back to ground combat was simply incredible. But this time, Bungie went all out by dedicating a full level for space combat. And they actually did it well, the sense of speed, the combat audio, etc. It all just works perfectly. I wouldn’t be surprised if their next project is a vehicular combat game or has a heavy vehicular component. But let’s jump into the real meat and potatoes of Reach: the multiplayer.

Based on my previous sentiments above about MP gaming, my expectations were minimal. Having finished the solo campaign, it was time to jump into MP. Now I started playing at about 7:00PM Sunday night, my play session ended a little after 6:00AM the next day. That’s right, I ended up playing over 11 HOURS of Reach multiplayer. And honestly, the only reason I stopped was due to an important incoming call that day, I needed to catch at least a few hours of z’s. That’s how much fun I had and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. The type of game modes and customization aspects can be pretty daunting; but it’s worth poking around for some of the more interesting, user-created game types. Thanks to the great matchmaking system, the level of balance is perfect. Regardless of the game type or weapon loadout, you never feel you’re put at an unfair advantage. That in itself is one of the greatest aspects of this game. In spite of all its depth, practically anyone can join in, have fun, and perform accordingly. Side note: this quick tutorial is great starting point for MP noobs like me.

I would be hard pressed to find anything truly negative about this game. Most of my nitpicking is with the contents of the limited edition console, not the game. The console is a slick, flawless, shiny marvel. Everything else? Ehhhhhh. For starters, it only comes with component cables, not an HDMI cable. Common sense would infer that gamers who can afford a $400 system most likely have an HDTV as well, so why not include both types? HDMI cables aren’t expensive at all. Hell, I’ve even sourced HDMI cables in bulk within a few days at previous employer. Moving on, the wireless controller is pretty slick but comes with regular batteries. Way to be green Microsoft. Again, most gamers buying this system probably play Halo for extended periods of time. As such, I would’ve expect them to include some play-and charge kits or at the very least some rechargeable batteries (some of which are cheaper and last just as long). And it would’ve been appropriate had they branded the headset with the ‘Halo Reach’ logo as well. Again, I know it’s extremely petty, nitpicking on my part. But for a $400 console bundle and as a developer send-off for their flagship title, I’m expecting something with a bit more posh. And these are simply little blemishes that could’ve been avoided. Had I been part of their product team or supply chain group, this would’ve been produced more properly. 🙂

Pettiness aside, I take my hat off to Bungie for a job well done. But I really want say, “Thank you Bungie” for helping me gain a new appreciation for how great (& fun) this franchise really is. A lot of passion, sweat, and tears went into producing this game; and it clearly shows through. Excelsior job indeed guys! These are exciting time for both Bungie and gamers alike. It’s safe to say Reach will keep us preoccupied for quite some time. And for Bungie, they get to start with a fresh clean slate to create a new and even better intellectual property. But whatever it is, I’ll definitely be there front and center. Until then, I’m fine with playing numerous firefight & MP rounds while struggling through the legendary campaign.

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