Let me preface this by saying, I love the original Halo Trilogy. Accessible gameplay, rich multiplayer, engrossing campaign, an overlooked and underutilized console connect feature, and let’s not forget single handedly revolutionizing what could be done with console based online play; as much as it may be easy to hate it for being the original haven for annoying 13 year olds, and unintentionally laying the foundation for the oversaturation of FPS in the video game market, Halo, in and of itself, is truly one of the best trilogies in FPS-dom. Some would consider Halo “babby’s first big-boy” game, and while it’s story is a bit bare-bones and it’s goofy machismo attitude is campy by today’s standards of game narrative, Halo was one of the first games to introduce a generation to untouched aspects of war: themes like loss, survivor’s guilt, religious zealot extremism were introduced to many FPS players for the first time, while not diminishing the “fun” value of the experience. Easily understandable gameplay, simple controls, and a level playing field between players new and old (no matter who you are, you start with an Assault Rifle and a Pistol), it provided maximum depth with minimum complexity.
Then Halo: Reach came out, and shit all over everything. Just a giant steaming pile of money making feces.
Two months after the wildly successful Halo 3 launched, a new sheriff came to town: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Call of Duty quickly became a phenomenon, and its revolutionary customizability of player character load-outs in multiplayer would go on to influence every online FPS for the foreseeable future.
Not long after, Bungie announced they would be developing a new Halo game titled Halo: Reach. Based partially on the Eric Nylund story Halo: The Fall of Reach, the game would tell a story of a spartan group dubbed “Noble Team” who attempts to defend Reach in the last hours of the planet, shortly before it is glassed following an invasion by Covenant forces.
Now, I actually read the book Halo: The Fall of Reach, and enjoyed it a lot. So, when it was announced that the Reach conflict would be the setting for the next game in the Halo series, I was ecstatic.
Then I played it.
This wasn’t Halo. This was Call of Duty in space. The load-outs, the ability-powers, the flashy but totally useless assassinations. Why did we need those? Hitting somebody in the back in the original trilogy of games was just as easy, and allowed you to do it without being stuck in a compromising position for the duration of the animation cycle! The load-out took the accessible gameplay and level playing field of Halo, and threw it in the trash and set it on fire. As, in multiplayer, lower-level players have a more restricted load-out menu. When you are stuck with an assault rifle and a pistol, versus a dude with a carbine and a mauler, we all know what happens. Not to mention the ability powers are disgraceful in their design. Certain powers don’t even make sense to have. Sprint? Yeah, let me have the option to be able to run, fine. As if there was any reason I would pick the ability to move slightly faster (which is something that people can generally do without special powers) over the ability to, I don’t know, BE FUCKING INVULNERABLE! (Armor-lock, I’m looking at you.) People say Abilities are the evolution of Equipment from halo 3. The difference is Equipment was found on the map, meaning all characters had a chance to get it, and there could only be so many people with the Equipment at one time. Not everybody spawned with Trip Mines that automatically respawned in your inventory after 60 seconds.
This is where Reach really disappoints. After seeing Call of Duty’s gameplay, Bungie attempted to tack those features onto its game without changing the basic feel of the gameplay. The game wasn’t built with those powers in mind, and so they feel sloppily managed. Not only that, but this changed the controls of the game as well. Even though the player does essentially the same things in Halo 3 and in Reach, the controls were changed to accommodate the ability powers, and makes the game feel much more like Call of Duty in its play style than the Halo feel many veteran players were used to.
In a review of Halo: Reach, IGN’s Erik Brudvig said “If you've played a Halo game in the past, you'll feel instantly at home.”
Really? At home? Maybe if my home had just been burned down in front of me, and then the ashes vomited on? Yeah, maybe so. Miserable, lost, alienated. That’s the kind of home I came back to in Halo: Reach.
*Sigh* Maybe I give the game a lot more shit than it deserves. I do love the expanded Forge mode, and the campaign setting is pretty cool, letting the player see a side of Reach that wasn’t explored in the book. Maybe it doesn’t deserve the title of a “bad” game, but if there were a “Review a Disappointing Game Day”, or “Review a Disingenuous Game Day”, I would most certainly file Reach in that category.
The issue with Halo: Reach is a mixed one. It’s design is sloppy, it’s controls and “upgrades” are alienating. It wasn’t Halo. I didn’t start playing Halo because I wanted a flashy FPS spectacle, I wanted a game that was easy to grasp and provided a sense of camaraderie when I play it with friends. Reach doesn’t feel that way. Bungie wasn’t satisfied being a great game with a legacy, they had to be the biggest thing on the block and riding the newest wave of popularity. They couldn’t quietly accept that their time at the top of the charts had passed, they had to imitate the hipper kids in order to try to retake their dominance. Years later, they still haven’t. This is a valuable lesson: You cannot copy a great idea, and expect to maintain long lasting success over the person you copied.
A cover band will never be better than the band they are covering.
I know this review seems really nitpicky and bitter, and frankly, it is. But I think that’s what makes a game bad more than anything is the sentiment, not the design. I will defend Phantom Dust to the bitter end, because that game was a game that wasn’t afraid to be itself. Like moving away for a few years, and returning to find an old friend has fallen in with the wrong crowd, Halo had lost itself. It got caught up in the world around it, and and forgot all the things that made it great in the first place.