Halo: Reach Campaign Impressions

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Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Halo: Reach came out MONTHS ago, aren’t you a little late to the party, Matt?” Why yes, I am! But hey, I didn’t get a copy until right before Christmas, and there have been so many games coming out on a weekly basis to start the year that it’s taken a while for me to get around to it.

But Halo is Halo, so even though I’m a bit tardy here, I’d still like to share my thoughts about Bungie’s latest FPS hype magnet – the campaign specifically – and maybe get a discussion going to see what your experience with the game has been like. So let’s get started!

The Good:

+ No Master Chief: I know the Halo devout will despise me for saying this, but I’m glad to finally see Master Chief out of the picture, just like I was happy to see him missing from Halo Wars and Halo 3: ODST. Master Chief has about as much personality as my big toe – and if my big toe had some type of disfigurement (which it doesn’t) it would have MORE personality. To me, Master Chief, about as generic as sci-fi supersoldiers get, is the most overrated mascot ‘icon’ in the history of gaming. He recently ranked third in the Guinness Book of World Records’ vote for the 50 top gaming characters of all-time, and I’m sorry but that is completely absurd. I could pick hundreds if not thousands of characters, and Master Chief would never make my list of all-time memorable video game stars.

Halo: Reach introduces us to a new band of heroes, and while the crew of Noble Team at the heart of Reach’s story isn’t the greatest cast of characters either, at least the individual team members have identifiable personality traits, enough so that I cared about their journey through the game and felt rewarded for seeing it through to the end.

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+ Familiar Halo, Broader Scope: Borrowing from common political speak, Bungie didn’t take an axe to Reach for this last hurrah, but rather used a scalpel to carefully retool the Halo experience without disfiguring it beyond recognition. For the most part, Halo: Reach plays like any other Halo, using familiar guns to shoot at familiar alien enemies in a new yet familiar sci-fi setting. And that’s fine by me. No, I’ve never seen the Halo franchise as the pinnacle of console FPSs, but every game has certainly been well designed and a heck of a lot of fun to play, so I didn’t expect, nor did I hope for, any drastic changes to the formula.

But amidst these familiarities, Reach feels like a much larger game than any of the previous outings, and with the Noble Team regularly fighting by your side, the battles feel more alive and more intense. Bungie did a fantastic job opening up the environments to allow for dynamic firefights that never seem to play out the same way twice, and in comparison to a heavily scripted and rigidly linear game like Call of Duty: Black Ops, the gameplay offers so much more freedom of movement.

In particular, the New Alexandria level really stands out as one of the more exciting video game levels I’ve experienced in an FPS. The stage takes place at night during a lightning storm, with the city of towering skyscrapers on fire and crumbing down under the Covenant’s attack, and in the mission you are piloting a Falcon helicopter between objective points, engaging in aerial dogfights and then touching down rooftop to rooftop to clear buildings of Covenant, all in what feels like an open-world city without any loading transitions. It’s pretty spectacular, and definitely a memorable gaming moment I’ll take away from this game.

+ Other New Touches: As I was saying, Reach’s makeup is very familiar to previous Halos, but in addition to the more open level designs Bungie tucked in some other interesting features to further spice things up. The spaceship combat, while not a large part of the game, is great fun and something completely new that Halo players have never seen before. There is also a new equipment system in which you get to carry one special ability with you at all times, whether it’s sprinting, stealth camo, shields, or — my favorite — a jet pack!

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+ Epic Score: The music in Halo has always been spectacular, but for me Reach’s score took things to a whole new level. Every moment in the game is made more epic, more momentous, more touching simply because of the music, and that’s exactly what you want from a great video game soundtrack.

The Bad:

– Generic Plot, Generic Characters: Even though the Noble Team is more interesting to follow than Master Chief, the characters, setting and plot still struck me as overwhelmingly generic. The ending sequence closes the prequel story on a high note, but other than that there isn’t a single thing that happens in the storyline that sticks out in my mind. The guys and gals at Bungie know how to design fun gameplay, but unfortunately they have yet to prove themselves as great video game storytellers. Halo Wars, in my opinion, has the best story of all the Halos – but it was developed by now-defunct Ensemble Studios.

– Nitwitted Friendly AI: The enemy AI is quite formidable, constantly shifting around on the battlefield and working to flank your position. But the AI for friendly squad mates is noticeably undeveloped. If you choose to mount a Warthog’s turret and let the AI drive, you’ll regularly find yourself flipping over, getting stuck in corners or on rocks, driving into dead ends, and sometimes not moving at all as if the driver has suddenly gone brain dead. In combat, they really don’t seem to help much either, beyond being bullet-sponge distractions.

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– Still No Iron Sights: Every FPS these days has an iron sights view, but still not Halo. Certain guns have a sniper zoom, but it’s just not the same as being able to zoom in without losing the view of your weapon.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Halo: Reach. I’ve never been a big Halo guy, but this is the first one I’ve played that left me thinking, “now that was actually worth the hype,” when it was over. If you’ve loved Halo all along, you are certainly going to love it some more after Reach. But if, like me, you haven’t always been on the bandwagon, give Reach a shot and it may just convert you, if only for this one game.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!