I haven’t owned an Xbox long, so I never really got into the whole Halo phenomenon. I played the third game split-screen a few times with friends and other than that I really had no exposure to the series. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I took the plunge on Halo: Reach. Maybe it was because it’s been a while since I played an fps, or maybe it’s just because I felt like my Xbox needed to get some use. Either way, it’s been an interesting experience.
Just to get this stuff out of the way, Reach looks good. The scenery of the planet is excellent and as a fan of sci-fi I must say that this is a terrific sci-fi setting. The draw distance is probably the most impressive graphical feat in the game as almost every level seems to have at least one beautiful vista to pause and gaze at.
I’m a bit mixed on the audio. The voice acting made the cut. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t anything memorable. It’s kind of cool that you can pick pretty much any major character from the series to serve as your voice. Naturally, the one voiced by Nathan Fillion is the best choice. The music is absolutely outstanding, especially the theme during the intro sequence when you first launch the game.
Moving on, the Reach campaign is a strange thing. There are plenty of large action sequences and long battles but I didn’t find any were iconic or even memorable. The fps market these days seems to be flooded with large setpiece action scenes trying to wow the player, but I never really felt that during Reach. Interestingly enough, the levels where it changed things up were those I enjoyed most. One level has you flying a fighter in outer space; another has you moving around a crumbling city in a dropship thing with some really well-designed controls.
The shooting segments, though, just seemed repetitive and long-winded. You move from locale to locale, fighting wave after wave of aliens who take a million bullets to die. Maybe it’s because I’ve never played a Halo campaign before, but other than having very good controls there was just nothing outstanding about it. I was definitely invested in the story and wanted to see what happened next, but (in the last level especially) it became an exercise in frustration.
Near the end, the frustration became a big problem for me. This is due, for the most part, to the checkpoint system. It seemed that when there was no action, there was a checkpoint every five seconds, but during fighting segments you could lose very substantial progress for tiny mistakes like stepping in front of enemies who kill you in one hit. I understand that Reach is a Halo game for Halo fans, and because of that alone (and the rather interesting story) I suppose I can let this go. Perhaps it’s my own fault for choosing a harder difficulty my first time every playing a Halo campaign.
Then again, apparently the campaign doesn’t matter much because everyone really plays Halo for the multiplayer. Now I know why. There are so many damn options, modes, tweaks, and features in Reach that it could drive a person insane. Though the names are unique, all the modes are things fps players are familiar with: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, capture and hold, zombies, and everything else you can possibly think of.
The well-designed controls lend a great deal to the quality of the multiplayer. The game feels very arcadey and casual despite how seriously some people may take it. It’s very easy to pick up and be moderately successful and have fun along the way. I’m sure this is why people have been playing Halo for years and as something to do split screen with friends it’s great.
The multiplayer has its faults, but I don’t know if I can really blame the developers for them. I often found myself waiting as a player or two left the game in the first five seconds of play. I’m still not sure why people do this, but in the end it gimps one of the teams and just lowers the experience for everyone still playing. The matches don’t last that long so I don’t feel like it’s that big of a deal if you’re given a mode you don’t care for.
I don’t really know what else to say. As someone new to Halo, I feel like everything good and bad I’ve noted here has just been stuff everybody else has known for years. If you’re reading this and you’ve never played Halo before, it’s worth a rental. The arcade feel of the multiplayer and the responsiveness of the controls are to be commended. The story is interesting but the campaign may irritate you on higher difficulties. Online mode is good for some mindless fun; just be wary that the stereotypical Halo fans are out there and if you don’t find them amusing, they may kill the experience for you.