Sunday, April 03, 2011
Halo: Reach Completed for the 4th Time
Just now, I completed Halo: Reach for the 4th time, my second on Heroic. This also marks the conclusion of my Halo franchise playthrough where I went through all six titles in a row; my first time doing so.
Halo: Reach may be a prequel, but it's Bungie's swan song to the franchise and is the definitive Halo experience, the sum of nine years worth of experience creating Halo games. Since I've just played through every single Halo title over the last six weeks, I can see clearly how each title has improved (or not) on what's come before, and for the most part Halo: Reach really does show the sum of all it predecessors.
Aside from being the most beautiful and visually stunning title of the franchise, Halo: Reach showcases a key piece of Halo lore that we've all heard and read about since the franchise began: The Fall of Reach. I still consider it a great shame that Bungie saw fit to retcon nine years of canon, however on its own merits Halo: Reach has a solid storyline punctuated by an exceptional soundtrack.
One of the biggest additions to the franchise is Armour Abilities, replacing the Equipment introduced in Halo 3, and the most important and staple Armour Ability introduced is, without a doubt, Sprint. Welcome to 2003 Bungie! Seriously though, Sprint was sorely missing from the franchise and should certainly have been included in Halo 3 onwards, but better late than never.
Actually, Sprint helped to make the overall experience easier as you could now do something you never could before: If you found yourself in a bad situation, you could hall ass out of there! This simple concept prevents one from loading their last Checkpoint dozens of times, but sadly it also shows one of the key flaws and disappointments of Halo: Reach's Campaign, something I just experienced in full on the final Chapter of the game: lack of flexibility.
One thing I adored about Halo 2, and have yet to see equaled in any game on any platform since, was the flexibility in which the player could approach any linear situation. The weapons you chose to use, or not, greatly affected how the upcoming battles would handle, but most choices would lead to doable situations; the design and balance was excellent. In Halo: Reach, however, should you choose the wrong weapons or Armour Ability for a situation you will have an awful time.
In Chapter X, I made the mistake of taking Hologram with the intent of experimenting and having fun against the AI. Instead I was met with significant frustration in several key parts. My frustration became so great I finally decided to start using the noob combo (Plasma Pistol and precision weapon) just to get past some more challenging battles, which unto itself soured the experience for me.
Another odd dichotomy with Halo: Reach is the AI. The enemy AI is the best I've experienced in any game period, and the Elites are wonderfully challenging opponents. Your friendly AI, however, is stupid. It's the worst friendly AI in the franchise and I can't believe how hard Bungie dropped the ball on that one.
AI allies, such as Army Troopers, don't always fire, take a while to hop on vehicles, or simply won't hop on at all. Your Spartan allies are quite lucky that they're invulnerable, because they'd be useless otherwise. Horrible and sloppy friendly AI, and even the Arbiter from Halo 3, who spent a good amount of time unconscious or on fire from my own Flamethrower, was more useful.
Now, having said that, the individual battles are generally great. While the massive vehicle battles found in Halo 3, such as taking on two Scarabs at a time, are absent, Bungie created grand infantry battles throughout on a scale not seen in the franchise before. While the incompetent friendly AI can hurt these, the enemy AI and level design more than make up for that short coming and ensures the player will have a great time, minus some ridiculous sections that require a fair bit of profanity to prevail in.
The Halo franchise as a whole is a great experience, and no serious shooter fan should miss it. Featuring a great military sci-fi story, interesting characters, and innovative game design in several of the titles, there's a solid reason why Halo has shaped a lot of gaming today: it's simply a great collection of games.
And Halo: Reach, despite some flaws, is a great addition to and conclusion to Bungie's work on this epic franchise.