I don’t like Master Chief.
After finishing Halo: Reach’s campaign, I realized that I enjoyed Bungie’s space marine adventures a lot more without the green super soldier at the helm.
I have nothing against him per se. I simply don’t enjoy how Bungie handled his adventures with its religious overtones and talking plants. But let’s not dwell in ‘why nots’ and look at why I think Halo: Reach’s campaign was Bungie’s best.
Halo: ODST started exploring the stories of the soldiers with the Covenant conflict serving as backdrop. I wasn’t listening to the Master Chief talk to his little purple pixie friend or suffering through the droning of the guilty spark. Halo: Reach continued that trend by just focusing on Noble Team’s last days of Reach. Bungie kept it simple and didn’t waste time retelling what was already told.
They touched upon the life of Spartans and the citizens of Reach — nothing in-depth, just an acknowledgement that these superhuman soldiers are still human. They spoke in their native tongues, showcased differing personalities and flaws. And for the first time, I could actually take these moments seriously thanks to some solid voice work and a revamped engine.
People’s faces were no longer hilarious reminders of the Halo: Combat Evolved’s visuals. The underlying tech was vastly improved over Halo 3’s — I’d say Halo: Reach is one of the best looking titles on the platform. And it wasn’t because of the technical accomplishments like the improved character models, textures or the inclusion of edge smoothing. There were stylistic changes as well.
The environments, for example, weren’t all made of concrete. There were areas which reminded me Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2 with its Tibetan villages and neon lit night clubs. I may have seen these locales before, but not all under one title. I appreciated Bungie’s efforts with trying different mix ups and stimuluses. However, I doubt the sensation of sluggish framerates was one they intended on.
The impressive engine did have its share of faults including framerate drops and blurring. The framerate held together for about 75% of the game. It wasn’t until the final chapters when things began to get sluggish. I realize the final battle should be spectacular, but they shouldn’t have allowed the framerate to take such a big hit to achieve it. The blurring (or ghosting), on the other hand, came and went depending on the cutscene which was quite distracting.
Fortunately, the gameplay was a very smooth experience. I rarely felt bogged down by the objectives that were being asked of me. There were classic Halo tropes like the Scorpion tank section and the turret flybys, but they were short and sweet. They broke up the action and allowed some much needed breathing room. Why? Because the Elites in Halo: Reach were serious business.
The Elites were fearsome foes in Halo: Reach — they looked and played the part very well. I can stand back, backpedal or sidestep my way around Brute, but I can’t be that passive against an Elite. They’re beefy shields and unpredictable aggression meant that I had to keep wits about me. And to makes matters worse, they were rarely alone and employed team tactics. Squads would charge in a room I was in, but then scurry away once I began opening fire. And, while this may sound unfair, these damn Elites were also able to smell “blood”. If they knew my shields were weak, they’d rush me to finish me off instead of trying to pick me off with plasma fire.
With the return of thick-ass shields came the need to juggle weapons and tactics more frequently. I can’t say I did the same for the armor abilities though. I’m not sure if it was Bungie’s intention or not, but I rarely swapped armor abilities unless I absolutely needed to. I enjoyed sprinting too much since they helped me get away from pesky Elites. I wonder if the game would have been better served with selectable powers akin to Crysis.
We’ll never know.
What I do know is the fact that Halo: Reach’s campaign was a real treat. Its set pieces were well earned and the light sprinkles of narrative pushed the journey along without getting in the way. But most importantly, I believe Halo: Reach’s firefights were the best the in series — maybe the best of any FPS in recent memory. It took awhile, but I finally found the Halo game I’m going to keep. It’s just a damn shame that it happened to be the last one with Bungie’s name on it.
For more information on Halo: Reach, visit the official website.