Sunday, 19 September 2010

Halo Reach

Bungie's last Halo game for Microsoft ends where it began by showing how the war with the Covenant started. But is it worth the wait?

Before I begin, I must admit I'm a casual Halo gamer. I've completed the first 3 (so I haven't done ODST or Halo Wars etc.)but I rarely play it online. I enjoy pissing about with all the vehicles and stuff, but I'm more of a Call of Duty man. I have done my fair share of online play with Halo 3 and some multiplayer fun with the first two but really, I want it to concentrate more on the 'campaigns' aka the story.

The events take place before the plot of the first Halo - this means no Master Chief etc. but instead you are part of a small elite team of Spartans entrusted with some important tasks during the first few moments of the Covenant attack. I have a few issues with this already. I enjoyed the way when I first picked up Halo that you're in the middle of something big already, it's when makers start filling in the gaps in our imaginations (see Star Wars Episodes 1-3 for instance) that I start getting annoyed. I don't want full detailed explanations on everything. However, saying this, they don't dwell too much on what's going on - instead it's a sheer instinct of survival and trying to evacuate as many people off the planet as possible. Baring in mind the events of Halo, you already know you're planet is fucked so it doesn't matter too much what they do. There are no surprises. At all. Which is probably why I don't rate this game too highly.

The problem is, this is just another Halo, it's the same kind of enemies, the same kind of weapons, the same kind of vehicles. Okay, so there are slightly different variations this time round, but essentially it's the same thing. In fact, I'd argue it's got somewhat worse; the interchangeable abilities you can pick up along the way range from jet packs to a shield to sprinting, which means that you won't be able to run if you have a pretty useless shield option. It's a unique touch to the game that wasn't need and feels forced as you make your way through the game. Unless you think haven't a jetpack is completely amazing for an entire game, you're not going to be that bothered.

The only other variations of the gameplay is some outer space shooting and a bit of flying around some skyscrapers. All of which is very nice but again, it all just mixes into the same Halo routine for me. I don't think I could actually tell you what happened in the first three games and this time round, for obvious reasons, there's no swarm; which are really the bits I enjoy the most.

I imagine the team would like to think this is their 'war film' piece. A torturous, no holds barred, all out apocalyptic piece and although it does have this feel of almost complete hopelessness, it instead feels completely impersonal and instead invokes a feeling of indifference. The idea of being in a team is short lived as you soon just go and do your own thing anyway (unless playing online), the team don't really interact with each other all that much and as the story progresses, it gets even darker. There might not be any surprises in the plot but I did enjoy where it went. However, there's little fleshing out of the characters and rolling from one battlefield to another just becomes second nature, so you soon don't care what's happening, you just want to start shooting again. The main insult is that the game was way too short and also didn't have much of a climax at all - the after-credits sequence made up for it slightly but really I felt cheated.

So with the same old gameplay then perhaps you have something pretty to look at right? Well, yes. The cut scenes look spectacular but there's not much change from Halo 3's graphics I would say. The sterile cities that you find yourself in also look dated and plain, as if it was for a PC game from the turn of the century. The views of the cities burning in the sky is a lovely touch but really, you're seeing the same thing you always see. There were also a few glitches I found such as getting into a lift and then suddenly dying. For no reason. Lame.

I also had issues with the saving as instead of starting from the exact moment you left it, unless you Save and Exit, you'll end up only able to begin at one of four or so big checkpoints during the level which is annoying - the little checkpoints just don't cut it. The whole set-up for the game has been designed for Halo perfectionists - those who want to be able to change every single possible factor within the game. Which brings me on to the online aspect.

The way so much energy has been pushed into the multiplayer options annoys me a lot. Sure it's great with customisable characters, new types of games ('Invasion' etc.), a voting system to choose what kind of game you might want to play and all these lovely, lovely options to make sure you get whatever multiplayer experience you need. Except, I'm not that bothered about playing Halo online. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy it and will play it, but really I'm getting this game for it's story - and it just felt a bit half-arsed, it's instead concentrated on it's longevity as a multiplayer online paradise and for me, it just leaves the game without any depth and might as well be some kind of add-on rather than a game in it's own right.

I can't complain too much. I did enjoy the dark aspects of the campaign, the cut-scenes were ok, and I can tell I've only just scratched the surface of what it holds in terms of online gameplay, but really it's lost that initial thing that I loved about Halo - unique FPS with a gratifying story. I can't help but think it's turned into something it shouldn't have done, which might be why Bungie are leaving. I doubt I'll go back and play the campaign again, but I will definitely hold it in high regard as catering for the gaming expert but, if you were a newcomer for instance, this would more likely be more overwhelming with it's level of detailed options when really, you just wanna play the fucking game. Geeks rejoice, but those who like to move from game to game might think nothing more from this than an average FPS. When I read 10/10 5 star reviews, I wonder if Microsoft are paying them off or if they are scared they might upset a few people by saying a Halo game might actually be a bit shit. This was a big one for them and I feel short-changed - it just didn't reach out enough.

Rating: 7/10

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