… or maybe that should read, the day my resistance to all things HALO fell.
You see, for some time now I’ve been completely avoiding the Halo series, particularly since the on-line multiplayer game developed into a bounce-fest of jumping and high-ranking boosters. That’s just my own opinion of course, but based on what I experienced none-the-less, and therefore what put me off altogether. I did buy HALO3, much like everyone else who were hoping for something as ground breaking as HALO2 was. But the day had darkened and I found myself in BlockBuster with a copy of HALO: REACH in my grubby gamer paws…
Damn my perverted eyes, but I was tempted by a decent price for a pre-owned copy. Although peer pressure wasn’t an issue (honest!), I felt it would be useful for keeping in touch with the community’s Bungie fans. I also missed a bit of Warthog racing, so it was a done deal. Of course, hearing the news that HALO: REACH brought in $200 million in combined US and European sales in the first 24 hours of its release, eclipsing the previous Microsoft mark of $170 million set by HALO3 in 2007, was mighty impressive and had my curiosity raised (just a little).
REACH tells the story of the violent fall of the colony the game is named for. The first contact between humankind and the Covenant is about what you’d expect, based on their subsequent history: brutal, chaotic, and infused with all the desperation of a struggle for the two species’ very survival, with no quarter asked on either side, and none given.
After being introduced to the rest of Noble Squad, I headed out on my first mission. I was sent to investigate a downed relay station, and some missing military personnel. From the outset, I sense this game was designed to appeal to more of a mature age group of gamer, and there’s a hint of foreboding as you team up with Noble squad and go in search of survivors at the first objective where the distress signal leads you. It’s not unlike the tension I felt at entering the colony in Aliens vs Predator. As much as I was expecting the all-too-familiar move-shoot-checkpoint scenario that HALO tends to offer, I was pleasantly surprised to have something that resembled more of a squad based shooter game. The Noble team as a group work fairly well together considering it’s all AI, and you feel like a part of what is happening.
There’s something a bit more believable now in this rendition of the Sci-Fi action adventure, and I think it’s got something to do with both the team unity, or at least the suggestion of it as a game premise, and the unmasking of the heroes. They seem more like someone you’d expect to see in a Call of Duty game, battle-hardened, scarred, even dirty. None of the brightly coloured and gaudy armour that cursed the previous games. I confess that the bright colours in the first games gave me a headache after a few hours play! So although each Noble team character has their own unique outfitted armour and colours, they still look ‘soldiery’ enough to be part of the same unit. This time round the armour is meaty and chunky, and it looks like a space-battle suit; something I always thought was missing a bit from the previous games as well. REACH takes place before the original HALO as it is a prequel to the whole series, so Master Chief doesn’t make an appearance as a playable character. Master Chief always looked the part, don’t get me wrong, but he always seemed unprepared for the battles ahead, with no webbing, battle-straps, holsters, or Swiss Army knife. Maybe he was more the lean-and-mean Spartan of the future though? Seeing a cut scene of one of the team sharpening a large Gurka-type knife showed some originality and depth to the characters as well for example.
A couple of missions in and I find my character is dressed for night recon and working his way up a mountain slope as part of a two-man sniper team. We’ve got to get in close and assess the Covenant’s (yes those meddling kids again) strengths and numbers. To my delight, I’m told I have to sneak up and kill the first sentry from behind with a rear throat-cut; a welcome influence from a modern war game I feel, and one that helps HALO step up a notch on the respect ladder. I’m seeing this game isn’t just as run-and-gun as I thought it would be, well from a single player campaign anyway. Who knows what the multiplayer matchmaking experience will present.
In the previous HALO titles, I’ve always felt that there was little in the way of story driven action – almost you stumble from one objective to another, killing as many grunts as you can with an Elite or Hunter pair thrown in for good measure. It never made sense to me, even if the AI characters laid it out in black and white for me. It appeared very samey across the whole series. REACH does seem to break that mould and there’s more to the stories than killing everything in sight, such as defending or protecting other characters, giving covering fire while someone runs off nobly to their swift demise, or taking out orbital weaponry.
Sadly though, there’s only so many ways you can retell the same tale of the Covenant invading a new world. So although I’m happy to have bought it now, and will certainly give the campaign and a bit of multiplayer a good seeing to, it’s going to be one of those games that is ‘handy to have’ rather than as a ‘must have’. Who knows though, after a bit more play and a fiddle with the Forge, I may welcome it with open arms…
We’ll be seeing an internal league event for HALO:REACH coming soon anyway, so watch out for news in the near future!