Sep 15 2010
The prospect of a “last” Halo game is kind of a sad. Many of us have been playing this series since our early teens or before, and the fact that the series is “ending” with a prequel is a bit disconcerting.
But make no doubt about it, Reach is most definitely trying to be the Halo 4 we’ve all been waiting for. A series like this always needs to change things up in each new outing, while fundamentally keeping things the same, always a tricky prospect. Halos 2 and 3 I’ve felt have done that extremely well, but after one day of Reach, I’m a bit hesitant to say the same. At least not yet.
Keep in mind I’ve played the game for maybe, six hours at this point, so my observations may reflect issues that are resolved as I put more time in, but here are my thoughts so far.
I’ve spent my time pretty evenly split between the campaign and multiplayer so far, and we’ll start with the former. Halo campaigns have always been enjoyable to me, despite the usual complete lack of compelling plot, because I like the way the missions are structured and I find it possible for me to even beat them eventually on the hardest setting, Legendary, one checkpoint at a time. This is a prospect I find FAR too frustrating in other games, and interpret what you will about the series’ difficulty curve (or I guess my Halo skill level) from that fact.
A girl Spartan? Well I never…
This campaign has been worthwhile so far, but five missions in, and I have yet to see anything that much different from previous games. In fact, in a lot of ways it seems to be taking some steps backwards.
You and an elite Spartan team are on Reach, an Earth-ish world that finds itself inexplicably invaded by the Covenant. I guess the game feels like we should be familiar enough with Halo lore to know why this is happening, but I have no idea.
People are saying that this game has a better plot than previous ones, but I have yet to find that to be true. Yes, there is a bit more character development, as your squad mates take off their helmets so you can bond with faces instead of masks. Master Chief’s weird love affair with a holographic computer program from previous games was sort of a weird plot path, but here, conversing with your team who all have a preposterous amount of facial scars, isn’t much better. I’m glad I’m hanging with such a diverse crew who is a cultural rainbow of not only American, British, Asian, Russian and Black, but a literal rainbow in terms of their armor selections. It seems a bit odd that an elite strike team in the future is allowed to paint their battle armor like a Lisa Frank folder, but so be it.
Aside from a lack of story (go places, kill aliens, blow up big purple Covenant things), not much else is different either. So far, five missions in, there are no new enemy types. Zero. Grunts are back, an enemy I’ve never understood as they completely change the tone of the game to something goofy, and I might as well be fighting Ewoks. Then there are Jackyl snipers, Brutes, Elites and those giant spiked things that always take eight years to kill. And the fact that the Flood should theoretically not be in this game at all, we won’t see anything new from that race either.
This is as new as it gets, with a Starfox-ish space fighting mission that is fun, but quite easy and seems like it should be in a different game entirely.
And then there are the guns, and this critique extends to multiplayer too. There aren’t new guns. Not really. Yes, the Battle Rifle is now the “DMR,” and it shoots one bullet at a time, but it’s the same. The Brute Shot is now the “Concussion Rifle” and the Carbine the “Needle Rifle,” but they’re the same guns with minor tweaks. The Beam Rifle now shoots a steady stream of energy which is rather cool, making it perhaps the biggest change out of all of them, but it still is a replacement, not a new weapon.
The only “new” additions I’ve seen before I believe are single player only, as they’re too powerful for multiplayer. There’s the blatant Hammer of Dawn rip-off (taken from Gears of War) which calls down an artillery strike on a target from space, but that gun did it better. There’s also an alien homing rocket launcher and a Marine grenade launcher which are rather cumbersome.
Gone are the SMG and Spiker from what I can tell. Also inexplicably absent is the ability to dual-wield weapons, which may not have been used that frequently, but it’s puzzling why they would take away the option entirely.
And never fear noobs, your assault rifle is identical.
Also scrapped are the specialty items like the shield depleter or bubble shield or regen cloud. Instead these are replaced by “armor powers” chosen at the beginning of each game. In some modes, each power will limit your starting weapon choice, though most times it will not. It adds a new level of strategy to the game, but I’m not yet sure if it’s an improvement over the last chapter.
The jetpack is undeniably fun to use, but it is the choice of beginners on Team Slayer, as it just makes you a target for anyone in a mile radius. Active Camo only works while standing still, and it scrambles both your and your opponents radar. I can’t wait until it becomes even easier to camp in one place with a shotgun or sword…
There’s also Sprint, which is pretty much useless unless you’re returning something captured to a base, and Hologram, which projects an image of yourself out in front of you, distracting your enemy while you can identify your position and take them out. Cool, but tough to use in the heat of combat. Armor Lockdown is perhaps the most curious, as it makes you invulnerable but unable to move and shoot. It’s essentially like calling “time out” in a game, but your enemy will just be waiting for you once you unlock unless you take them completely by surprise or a friend comes and saves you.
Uhh, guess we’ll call it a draw?
The armor powers represent perhaps the biggest change to the game, but so far I don’t know how I feel about them. As I progress past day one, I suspect I’ll warm up to them, but it does seem like kind of a tacked on afterthought at this point. As for everything else, the campaign format, the incredibly familiar weapons, it doesn’t really feel like a whole lot has changed.
This doesn’t quite feel like a full Halo sequel, rather like someone redesigned Halo 3 in a parallel universe, where everything is the same, but looks and behaves slightly different.
I’m having fun so far, as I always have fun while playing Halo and it’s cool to explore new maps and such, but I’m not sure this is the game we’ve all been waiting for. Time will tell, and tune in for the next journal installment next week where I’ll focus more on the rest of the campaign, and how the combat and experience system have changed.
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