Review by SSpectre
"Repetitive gameplay, poorly-designed levels, no originality, and irritating multiplayer. Everything this series holds dear."
+ Controls work well
+ Firefight and Forge are the best parts of the entire series
- Tedious, one-note gameplay is flat-out boring
- Multiplayer is severely imbalanced
- Noticeable lack of innovation even for a Halo game
- Poorly designed maps in both single and multiplayer
- Erratic difficulty
I have never liked Halo. I've always found the series full of monotonous shooters content to cower behind either the one or two important innovations the early games made, or that reeking cesspool that is their online multiplayer.
But you know, sometimes I doubt myself. Sometimes I think I just dislike Halo because it's popular, or because it ensured that the original Xbox (the worst major console since the ****ing Master System) found success. So I was prepared to be charitable to Halo: Reach. And after playing it more extensively than the other games in the series, I'm pleased to report that my original opinions were completely right.
To put it bluntly, Halo: Reach is ****ing boring. Almost every level consists of shuffling from one area to the next, shooting the same damn enemies with the same damn guns while riding the same damn vehicles we've not only seen for the last four missions, but the last four games. And it gets old. Fast. The occasional bright spot pops up near the end of the game particularly a vehicle sequence where you must avoid the legs of giant robots crashing down from the sky. But they're undermined by the many points that should have been bright spots, such as the spaceship dogfight, which is easily the dullest, emptiest setpiece in a game full of dull, empty setpieces.
Those specific moments are also undermined by the vehicles' weightless, floaty controls a problem that's been with the series since day one. To its credit, most of the on-foot controls work just fine. They're quite intuitive, and the hit detection is extremely precise. The levels are even designed to accommodate the game's lofty jumping physics, which would feel slippery and imprecise in any other game. Zooming in is still bafflingly difficult, since you're brought out of the scope with every hit taken, but overall, the game's low quality is not a result of poor controls.
It's a result of terrible design. Despite the game's linearity, it's still quite possible to become lost, because the maps are huge and everything looks the same. Playing through the campaign on co-op, I found that one of the most common phrases spoken was, Go down that path, it looks slightly different than the last seven. I wish I could say this was restricted to single-player, but Bungie even managed to screw up the design of a big square with walls in it, i.e. what all multiplayer maps essentially amount to. Many of the maps are so unnecessarily gigantic that it becomes a chore to even find any of your opponents, and most of the ones that aren't so massive seem to be made of a bunch of shapes placed at random angles. A handful of the maps aren't as wearisome, but for a series that prides itself on multiplayer, it's pretty sad that most of the content is reduced to a big jetpack war (since that's the only you'll find anyone).
On the subject of the jetpack, Halo: Reach's main new feature is the equipment system, where you swap out your sprint function for other abilities like said jetpack or camouflage. It adds another little dynamic to the combat, but the only really creative one is the armour lock, which gives you temporary invulnerability at the cost of movement. There's actually a staggering lack of new ideas in general. With the possible exception of the first one, Halo has never been a creative juggernaut, and the only other new things you can expect from Reach are some tweaks to the Forge mode (a combination of map editor and multiplayer mode introduced in Halo 3), and the Armory, which is pretty much just the experience system from every other shooter from the past four years, except it only unlocks cosmetic changes, giving me even less reason to care.
Speaking of the game's cosmetics, the graphics are solid, as expected. The models and textures are clean, the animation is smooth, and the sheer size of some of the levels and backgrounds is truly impressive. On the other hand, the environments look a little blocky, and there's a noticeable quality drop in split-screen, but overall, visuals are one of the game's few strong points. And hell, since Halo is still one of the only games to support the fantastic concept of online split-screen, I guess I shouldn't complain. On the audio side, the music still hasn't quite lived up to the surprisingly good score of the first game, but it gets the job done, and the sound effects are excellent. The voice acting is respectable as usual, and this time around, the Covenant enemies speak entirely in their own language, which is a nice way to make them feel suitably alien.
The quality voice acting is especially appreciated, because the dialog is awful. And by extension, so are the story and characters it conveys. Reach is a prequel, set slightly before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, following a team of six Spartan supersoldiers called Noble Team through the destruction of the eponymous planet. Here's the thing: you know how the Star Wars prequels only became interesting once they introduced things and events with specific connections to the original trilogy? Halo: Reach is sort of the same way.
Without the insight into their inner workings provided by the other Halo games, the Covenant are a very uninteresting enemy, whose blandness is only surpassed by the ostensibly human, yet very mechanical characters we're supposed to be sympathizing with. From both a story and gameplay perspective, at least the originals were livened up by the presence of The Flood and a second playable character who was much, much more interesting than the soulless, faceless, worthless excuse for one that Master Chief was, and Reach protagonist Noble Six still is. Reach's story improves near the end when Cortana is introduced and when the battles start to escalate, but until then, it's a series of small firefights where every character gets a turn to ominously say, It's the Covenant...
If there's one thing that didn't change between instalments, it's the challenge level. Or more specifically, its inconsistency. Once again, grenades, vehicles, and melee attacks are all incredibly overpowered, for both you and your enemies. This means that one moment you can be mowing down everything with nothing but the butt of your gun, and the next you'll be a ragdoll on the floor because of a grenade you couldn't possibly see or avoid. Having multiple difficulties alleviates this problem a bit, but stuff like this is still going to happen way more often than can be forgiven.
I can already hear the cries of But multiplayer! so let me just say that Halo: Reach is a terrific multiplayer experience...on paper. It contains more multiplayer possibilities than it does polygons, and they can range from obvious ones like map changes to obscure, crazy differences like gravity alterations and astonishingly specific damage effects. But it's all ruined by two things: a completely lopsided idea of balance, and the most ****ing annoying fanbase ever seen in gaming.
People always ask me how I can criticize a game for its fanbase, and in the case of Halo, the easy cop-out answer is always Screechy, vulgar, racist twelve-year-olds. A more reasoned answer is that multiplayer is a large percentage of the experience, and if that experience is largely spent in the company of servers full of tools, it's simply not a very enjoyable experience. But even that explanation doesn't sit right with me. The real reason I can't stand Halo players is because none of them play the ****ing game right. I feel sorry for Bungie; they crafted a slew of enjoyable multiplayer modes that no one plays because all anyone wants to do is play deathmatch, regardless of if the mode is actually set to deathmatch (sorry, Slayer). In my entire time playing Capture the Flag, I think I saw one person other than myself actually capture the flag. And of course, the massive levels are all designed with whole servers full of players in mind, so this can't even be soothed by getting a group of like-minded players together for split-screen.
Regarding the balance issues, I think the best way to demonstrate the problem is to outline how a typical game of multiplayer plays out in Halo: Reach:
First, pick a mode. Doesn't matter what you pick; it'll be played like Slayer regardless. Next, choose a map. You'll probably select None of the above the first time, because as previously discussed, most of the maps are terrible. When you start your game, you'll quickly find that all of the default weapons, and most of ones you can find on the ground are useless, so the game quickly descends into a grenade war, punctuated by the occasional two-hit melee kill. Eventually, someone will pick up a rocket launcher, at which point you can pretty much just add four kills to their total. Also eventually, someone will pick up the energy sword or gravity hammer, at which point you should turn to your team and tell them to equip the jetpack. However, you'll soon discover that they've already done so ten minutes ago, because it's the only useful piece of equipment to begin with.
This is the essence of Halo: Reach's multiplayer: tons of options, of which you will use about five. True, grenades and melee attacks still take skill, so it can still be fun in small doses, but having to ignore entire menu screens worth of content to make a game fun is just depressing. Again, I can hear your cries of Maybe you just suck! but that's what's really sad: I was actually quite good at Reach's multiplayer, and I still found it boring and obnoxious.
All of that preaching aside, Reach does contain one multiplayer mode that's usually played as it was intended, and as a result, is actually quite fun: Firefight. It's a simple endurance mode where you're pitted against wave after wave of increasingly more difficult Covenant. It still contains many of the problems of the campaign, but put in an endurance setting, it removes the abrupt, broken feeling that plagued the rest of the game. Unlike the campaign, which only becomes tolerable when played in co-op, Firefight actually becomes hugely entertaining when played with a friend. The Forge mode is also interesting, partly because like all other multiplayer facets in Reach, it really lets you run wild with options, and partly because Bungie really did make an effort to improve the mode, making it considerably more convenient to use. It also has the potential to alleviate the rash of awful maps that afflict the multiplayer.
While Firefight and Forge are great, keep in mind that every other shooter these days incorporates an endurance mode, and some of them have decent full games attached as well. And taking the full game into account, Reach suffers from brainless design and an incredibly bland campaign, and it can't even use decent multiplayer as a crutch. I suppose if you really enjoyed the previous Halo games, I can recommend it, but even then you might be disappointed. And seriously, if you really enjoyed the previous Halo games...why?
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/02/11, Updated 12/05/12
Game Release: Halo: Reach (US, 09/14/10)
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