First Impressions of Halo Reach

Posted on December 5, 2019 by richardgoulter

So the Halo Master Chief Collection made its debut on Steam with Halo Reach.

This seems to be in line with Microsoft making money based on the brands they’ve built up before. e.g. They’ve re-released Age of Empires II in an “HD Edition”; and recently re-released Age of Empires II in a “Definitive Edition”. (That said, in addition to graphical and quality of life enhancements, the games also included new game content). Similarly, Age of Empires 1 saw a “Definitive Edition” re-release; although this was initially only through the Microsoft Store. (Also “not just on the Microsoft Store”: the Halo mobile games (Spartan Assault/Spartan Strike) and a Definitive Edition of Halo Wars; although Halo Wars 2 remains only on the Microsoft Store). Age of Mythology had also seen an “Extended Edition” (although the new civ wasn’t very good), and Age of Empires III will receive a Definitive Edition, too.
(Age of Empires: Online being forgotten, apparently).

I did play Halo 1 on the PC way back when.
Just the single-player game.
But the times I’ve touched Halo since then was with its Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike. These are twin-stick shooters; so in terms of “when were we gonna get Halo on PC?”, they “didn’t really count”.

Having played through most of the Halo Reach on PC, I get the impression that the Spartan Assault/Strike give off a fairly good emulation of what Halo gameplay is going for. – There seems to be an emphasis on challenge-based or score-based completion.

See, uh.
Halo is cool. It’s a militaristic sci-fi shooter. (Halo’s impact so pronounced that it defined the new-school only-two-weapons-at-a-time, cinematic shooters).
Other sci-fi shooters aspire to be Halo the same way that fantasy fiction aspires to be Lord of the Rings.

But, I’m not sold on the base gameplay itself. Or maybe I was spoiled by Titanfall 2. This outstanding review by Shammy sold me on it.

Halo Reach’s story is just unengaging.
Maybe it wants to be Call of Duty. Everything is big and exploding and swinging from roaring success to absymal failure and the player really has no agency over this or any sense of scope. It’s kinda hard to care. (But maybe that’s ’cause it’s not the first game in the series and there’s story in the other ones and stuff).

The gameplay is more appealing.
I’m not too familiar with the rules or the game logic. The human guns are good at killing unshielded enemies, and the alien guns are good at taking down shields. You have a shield, so you either gotta kill fast, or hide behind cover. The game can be pretty patient with you, which really emphasises the “ludo-narrative dissonance” where the story is saying it’s the end of the world, but the game isn’t advancing while there’s one weak enemy unit running around waiting to be killed. – It kinda feels sluggish to use just the human weapons to kill the enemies, but on normal difficulty the game lets you do it. (Whereas, seems like Bioshock 1 really emphasised its paradigm-shift of ‘zap them then hit them’).

I think where the game is fun to play (at a casual level of “on normal difficulty, not interested in score”) the challenges setup in the arena. Some of the time the enemies are easy to kill with weak weapons. Sometimes the enemies are harder to kill, with weapons or abilities to kill you in one or two hits. Sometimes there are enemy vehicles you can hijack.

I tried playing the controller-centric game with a controller at first. I lasted about five minutes before deciding that keyboard and mouse was just that much more comfortable.

Having finished the game, I’d add:
The levels are quite distinctive.

I think the story is more interesting if it’s spoiled going in.
It’s apparently going for the same kindof plot what Star Wars’ Rogue One is going for: all the heroes die in the story, but after they manage to get the McGuffin that is humanity’s last hope to the remaining good guys. Rogue One ends by passing the Death Star plans to Princess Leia, blending into the Star Wars movie. Halo Reach ends with where the first Halo game starts.

I want to like this game. I can chalk my disliking it up to me being bad at it. But, from here I don’t quite get why people like the Halo series so much.

I wonder if remakes like this justify better engineering effort. It makes sense for the first release of a game to have an extreme “just get it done” mentality where maintainability isn’t a consideration. But for content with strong cultural cachet which can be milked for money by improving graphics every few years, surely it’s more viable to invest in maintainability.

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