(Read journal #1 here first)
It’s been about a week since I picked Reach up, and I’ve now had adequate time to dive into the game and so we have a lot more to talk about this time around. As it turns out, I had almost beaten the entire campaign on day one, so we’ll only briefly touch on that, and the rest of the time I’ll be discussing multiplayer, the meat of any real Halo game.
The campaign was fine, it was as enjoyable as any Halo campaign that’s come before it, but really did offer nothing new from start to finish. There was maybe one new enemy type at the most (little jumpy guys with shields on their wrists), but other than that, it was more of the same from previous games, which is a bit disappointing for those who wanted something more than what seems to be Halo 3 DLC.
I simply do not understand why everyone was raving about this game’s story so much. There flat out isn’t one. You’re part of a team running around a planet that’s completely fucked, striking minor blows against an overwhelming enemy that you know will ultimately crush you. Bungie describes this as a “tragedy,” I just think it’s poor storytelling.
*Spoilers ahoy* One by one, every member of your team gets picked off executing some selfless act, and we’re supposed to feel bad for them, despite hearing only three or four lines of dialogue from each over the course of the game. I did like the haunting last mission, which has your character stranded on the planet, fighting off waves of enemies by himself until inevitably he’s overcome. It was the most compelling moment in the game when you finally fell, and no one was even talking.
Wait, turn around, I need to shoot you in the head for it to count toward my “Dome Inspector” achievement.
I’ve beaten the campaign twice now on Normal and Heroic, but looking at the achievement list, I’m only Iron or Bronze in everything, meaning I’m pretty sure I’d have to play through the entire game maybe twenty times to get all the headshot, machine gun and vehicle kills I need to complete all the game’s requirements. No linear single player campaign is worth playing that many times, and this one certainly isn’t. The only ones who will kill themselves playing the same level fifty times sniping grunts are the die-hards with far too much time on their hands.
I have similar thoughts about Firefight, which boasts a handful of levels pulled from the campaign (all the multiplayer levels are too incidentally, tsk tsk for lazy design), and though it’s fun initially, it gets dull and repetitive pretty damn fast. It’s just like the campaign without objectives, and you can’t even lose as dying merely effects your “score.” The game tells me “par” for each level is 50,000 points, but even with a team full of crack shots brutally tearing through all enemy forces, I’ve never managed a squad that’s gotten above 20K. Am I missing something here?
But now we get to the final mode where we’ll spend most of our time, Multiplayer. I’ve gotten used to it at this point, but I’m not convinced it’s a step up from Halo 3. What’s different?
The life bar is back. I guess this is a double edged sword. It’s frustrating to hit someone five times only to watch them retreat and get all their life back. The life bar should solve this, as players can now receive “permanent” damage, but most people have just adapted, and hide right after the shield breaks anyways. It also serves to make battles uneven. Two guys spot each other in a hallway, and as is Halo tradition, both should be on even ground. but if the one player has been previously injured, he loses the advantage and will probably lose the battle. Not a fan of this decision overall.
Warthogs have been nerfed (easier to blow up, and the gun overheats) and are only available on Big Team it seems.
Rifle butting is far, far more underpowered than it used to be. It’s lost both the ability to kill after only a handful of shots, and its ability to rush forward slightly to hit someone. Even a hundred or so games in, and I still find myself frequently swinging wildly at the air, as I’m used to the old system. There’s also no real point of reference yet as for when a butt will kill someone. You used to know almost exactly how much a person needed to be shot before a butt would KO them, but far more often than not, I find myself yelling at the screen about a guy who should have died if we were using the old mechanics. Maybe it’s just something to get used to, but it’s caused me a great deal of stress so far.
Lastly, the armor abilities are obviously the biggest change to the game. I find myself often just picking Sprint as I forget to use the other ones most of the time, outside of levels that obviously require a jetpack. I almost want to say these abilities change the game TOO much, and not for the better. If everyone is jetpacking around, it just feels like a different game entire (Duck Hunt, to be precise) and Armor Lock, when used correctly by a team, is way, way too good compared to the other abilities. The player can be invulnerable (so their teammates can attack their adversary), they recharge their shield to some degree and they explode the shield of anyone standing too close when they unlock. It’s far too many good things for one ability, and it’s frustrating each and every time you encounter it.
So I’m not a big fan of the changes made to the multiplayer over the third game, but what I do like better is the ranking and achievement system. It’s moved to a straight up experience system, using money instead of XP, but players can even earn cash by playing the campaign or doing firefight, not just matchmaking. It stands to reason that even an average player like me can attain the highest rank if I just play long enough.
So what to do with all your money? Buy armor upgrades of course. I use the term “upgrade” loosely however, as they are merely superficial and serve no actual practical purpose in the game. It’s merely a way to show other people what rank you are by what you have bought, although they could figure that out just by looking at, I don’t know, your rank symbol?
I’m tempted to say that Reach should have gone all out, and done a Call of Duty style system of weapon and class upgrades, making loadouts mean a lot more, but I feel that probably would have made the game lose what makes Halo, Halo. It’s always been about balance, and though some of the armor powers might be a bit skewed, overall the game is pretty much an even playing field. But I do think they should take the armor upgrades a step further, as if what I’m seeing is all there is, it’s a less than impressive selection. And people getting flaming skulls for buying the collector’s edition is just flat out annoying. Those flaming skulls used to MEAN something damn it!
I really would like to see Halo 3’s combat system combine with Reach’s achievement and experience system. That would have been a game I could rave about. But I feel the changes that have been made are a step backwards in many cases, and I just can’t really consider this an upgrade over 3. It’s fine, it’s fun, but it doesn’t really seem like anything special, and I don’t think it will hold my interest long enough for me to sink the thousands of hours I need to complete all its achievements. If this is goodbye to Halo, it’s bittersweet.
Perhaps I’ll revisit the game in a little while for one more retrospective journal entry, but until then, I think I’ve said everything I can for now. Underwhelmed, but sufficiently amused.
3.5 out of 5 stars