California Literary Review

Video Game Review: Halo: Reach

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September 16th, 2010 at 9:49 am

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Halo: Reach box art
Halo Reach

Release Date: September 14, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Designer(s): Marcus Lehto (creative director)
Genre: First-Person Shooter
ESRB: M

CLR Rating: ★★★☆☆


‘Halo’ Finally Reaches Its Creative Nadir in the
Excruciatingly Familiar ‘Halo: Reach’

It’s time to say “Goodbye” to the Halo franchise. No, I don’t believe that this will be the “last game in the franchise.” Do you? Of course not. It’s time to say goodbye to the Halo franchise because, if nothing else, Halo: Reach proves that even Bungie can run out of ideas. Halo: Reach has the most lackluster campaign so far in the First-Person Shooter series, a ho-hum series of skirmishes with no point, no characters of consequence, and of no real significance to the rest of the series. It’s the worst game in the franchise, but that’s relative isn’t it? It’s still Halo, and it still technically plays well, but aside from the robust multiplayer offerings there’s nothing new in store for players in this mediocre prequel.

Halo: Reach takes place immediately before the events of the original Halo. The planet called Reach is home to an enormous human colony which has heretofore been kept safe from The Covenant, a group of alien religious zealots intent on destroying mankind. You play Noble Six, a Spartan (i.e. super soldier) assigned to a squad of badasses with names like… um, the big kindly guy, the girl… the guy with the skull on his helmet and… someone else. Was there someone else? It’s an interchangeable squad of badass space marines who get sent to the front lines when The Covenant inevitably attacks Reach. Yippee.

Halo: Reach

Hey, how come we can’t paint our helmets like that? Man, this game should be called Halo: Tease.

Frankly, that’s about all there is to it. The game’s plot is a sequence of one simplistic objective after another: Defend this position, then go here and press this button. The impact of your actions has little to no effect on the war surrounding you, except perhaps when you assist in civilian evacuations. Part of this problem stems from the fact that Halo: Reach is a prequel, and avid fans (as indeed many of us are) already know that the planet Reach comes to a… shall we say… unpleasant end. But that should have led to a feeling of dread, of horrifying inevitability, like Titanic with more explosions and slightly better dialogue. No, there’s just this sense of ambiguity to the whole plotline. Characters die tragic deaths, blow up enormous spaceships and find one MacGuffin after another, but we don’t care. So what went wrong?

The Halo franchise never had the most original story. Humans = Good. Aliens = Bad. Even the twists weren’t terribly unique, but they were originally presented in a compelling manner. The first Halo had a fantastic sequence of events: On the run from an alien armada, forced to crash land on a strange alien artifact the size of a planet, but ring-shaped. Rescuing survivors, rescuing your kidnapped captain, discovering the true nature of the Halo ring, and then discovering the true nature of the Halo ring… This course of action was not only epic, not only memorable, but also very easy to follow. You always knew what you were doing, and why you wanted to do that thing. I remember huge swaths of the original Halo game, and I haven’t played it in several years. In contrast I finished Halo: Reach less the 24 hours ago and can barely remember a third of my objectives. They usually weren’t based around characters we knew and cared about, but rather a series of tactical needs that had little to no impact on my actions in the campaign.

Halo: Reach

Is it racist to say that all Spartans look alike? Are “Spartans” a race?

It doesn’t help that the characters are stock archetypes with no interests outside of their main personality trait (compassionate, heroic, sassy… take your pick). Master Chief was a largely silent protagonist, a man of action. One got the sense that as Spartans went, he was special. His characterization was minimal, but the strong plotting (of the first two Halos, at any rate) and occasionally memorable supporting cast carried him through the original franchise. Now that we learn that Spartans were mostly just normal space marines with augmented physical abilities, poor Master Chief just seems like a boring guy. The guy at the party who doesn’t talk to anyone and eventually just sits down in the corner and reads a magazine. The protagonist in Halo: Reach, Noble Six, similarly suffers from being a cipher. You’re sometimes told that you have something interesting in your backstory (always five seconds before it becomes relevant to the plot, making it ring false), and late in the game are praised for being so very, very awesome, but you’re a non-entity no matter what they say. Aside from a few cameos, nobody in the cast makes much of an impression. Even when they die (as many of them shall), and the game clearly wants you to cry to the heavens, you’re response is likely to be limited to a disappointed, or even ambivalent shrug.

But to hell with the plot, how does it play? It plays well. As always the controls are seamless in the Halo franchise, and as always there are things missing or altered from previous iterations in the franchise. Dual-wielding still refuses to make a comeback, but there are a number of different armor effects – like a temporary force field, a sprint mechanism, even jetpacks – that rarely make the campaign feel fresh and new but add limitless possibilities in multiplayer. They also raise another plot-based question: How come Halo: Reach takes place before the events of the first Halo game and yet its characters have access to superior technology? Has nobody learned anything from the Star Wars prequels?

Halo: Reach

Okay, I’m just going to name this one “Skullface.” But I’m Italian, so it’s pronounced “Skull-FAH-chay.”

Ironically, while Halo: Reach claims no fealty to weapons continuity, it remains paralyzingly committed to the continuity of Halo’s antagonists. Every enemy but The Flood makes an appearance in Halo: Reach, and occasionally our protagonists act surprised to see them because the game predates their suppose first appearances, but with the exception of a few minor variations to Grunts and Jackals (and an all-too-infrequent occasional attack from the indigenous wildlife) they’re all familiar threats to the player. As a result, Halo: Reach rarely reaches a dramatic crescendo in the action.

By now even the dreaded Hunters, who for most of the installments in this series could be relied on to convey a sense of heightened danger, are familiar and almost pathetic foes. Run around them, shotgun in the back twice. With the new sprint functionality in particular you will find that Hunters are easier to defeat than your average armored Brute, if slightly more time-consuming. Without new threats to introduce there are very few opportunities to escalate the tension of the game, leaving a very monotonous campaign filled with familiar experiences. Even the eagerly-anticipated outer space combat is relegated to a single, brief level, and plays exactly like every other airborne sequence in the Halo series. If you’ve flown a Banshee, you might as well have flown in space. Whoop-de-Doo.

Halo: Reach does present a significant visual upgrade from the rest of the Halo franchise: bright, colorful and easy on the eyes. But even that becomes a detriment in Halo: Reach. The environments are increasingly realistic now, which makes the fact that many of them appear to have been designed by Nerf even more distracting. Halo is a colorful universe, full of pastel, oblong shapes and ray guns that look like Super Soakers. Making it look realistic was not the best plan. In contrast, Halo: ODST (for all of its flaws) had a more novel presentation, evoking gloom with its nighttime hub and melancholy score, and while it too suffered from a uninspiring series of objectives the game’s flashback structure and brisk duration kept that from becoming too obvious. Halo: Reach is a step backwards, narratively. Even the ending, which finally ties the game in to the original Halo, feels unnecessary. It doesn’t change our knowledge of the Halo universe. No, it just answers a question nobody really asked, and with good reason. There’s not a particularly compelling story behind it.

Halo: Reach

For all its flaws, Halo: Reach’s multiplayer still chases The Blues away. Unless you’re playing as The Blues, naturally.

Like Halo: ODST, this installment often feels like an elaborate bonus feature for Halo’s much-lauded multiplayer content. As always, these offerings are plentiful, functional, and endlessly playable. (For those concerned, the multiplayer offerings add an entire star to Halo: Reach’s CLR Rating.) Matchmaking is simple, and new options like requesting casual or hardcore matchups, quiet or loud teammates, and your choice of loadouts are all welcome additions. Players are often given options to vote on which variation of the game to play during a given match, but the choice of games is often inconsistent, which is frustrating when you’re only in the mood to play one type of game and don’t always have the option to do so. There are also a lot more options available for character customization, including a choice of voice-overs, but most of the armor possibilities cost a lot of points for what amounts to a very limited change to your appearance. Aside from the helmet and a few of the more compensatory shoulder pads, most armor choices result in the same basic overall appearance when you’re all running around like idiots trying to Gravity Hammer each other to death.

But as the supposedly last full Halo game from Bungie, Halo: Reach falls short. It’s a tired sequence of repetitive levels with an uninspired narrative that makes no attempt to tell a compelling story for new or even existing fans, or even disguise said narrative’s failings with flare or gusto. If you’ve never played a Halo game before, you’ll find Halo: Reach a perfectly functional, albeit perfunctory gameplay experience. If you’re a fan, you’ll find nothing new to challenge, inspire or even particularly entertain you. More of the same might be enough for some of us, but if this is really all that’s left to be done with the Halo franchise then I say “Goodbye.” And perhaps even “Good riddance.”

YouTube Preview Image

Halo: Reach Trailer

  • Leering

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say you like cod?

  • gringo

    yeah, i think you should realize that reach is for the fans of halo, who can appreciate the game. we know how it ends, weve known for a while, but tha doesnt keep us from just enjoying and not taking it seriously. pretty much any firs tperson shooter is gonna be shoot something, go somewhere, and hit a button. wether thats halo, resident evil, or even gears of war. you dont like the genre, dont play it.

  • whatisthisidonteven

    That was a poorly constructed review. Were the captions for the photos an attempt at humor?

    It’s clear you went in to this game with a negative mindset – and for that you are a horrible reviewer.

    By the way, the header photo is from Halo 3.

  • Tony

    I think you might be a bit off base. I think the game play is great. Did you play on legendary with skulls in there? This game is not that easy. Maybe you played it on easy? The plot does not have to be super great as long as the game play is fun and you try bang out a good bit of achievements.

  • test

    why are you such a halo hater? you obviously only want to point out anything you can to try and talk this down. Everyone knows that halo is made for the multi player and the campain is only a snake compared to the full meal at hand. get a life and get over your hatred.

  • mu

    This is the strongest, most fair review I’ve read so far. In fact, the author is clearly a Halo fan — just one who’s been, like many of us, progressively disappointed by the series.

  • ImJustGonnaPlayCombatEvolvedAgain

    I agree with mu. Best review I’ve yet read of the game. I’m still on the fence about buying because I’m still hoping against hope that Bungie’s developers still had one more Combat Evolved in them.

  • no

    Mu, would you mind elaborating on why this review is strong and fair? Stating that the environments were designed by “Nerf”? Really? And he bashes the fact that there is “new” technology in a prequel yet in his whole review – he states that there isn’t enough “new” in the game.

  • Oddity

    I agree with ‘whatisthisidonteven’. He didn’t even mention Firefight or Forge? This review was very long for not having much in it at all.

  • Uh

    1) The first picture is from Halo 3
    2) “Is it racist to say that all Spartans look alike? Are “Spartans” a race?”
    What? Spartans are humans…if you’re referring to their armour they are issued it based on their combat role
    how would you envision them looking different, is my question to you
    3) “Master Chief just seems like a boring guy.” While other Spartans specialised in certain traits, he was the most well rounded and therefore survived Reach while they didn’t, he’s far from boring
    4) i actually agree with you about the space mission, i found it kind of boring, apart from when you’re [SPOILER]
    inside the covenant vessel fighting in zero atmosphere, hardly being able to hear anything, that was awesome

  • yaya

    I just bought the game yesterday and this is waht i think bout it:

    I think yes it is still the same game with an extra 4-5 people to join with you. I do have to say that this is far the best game Bungie has ever made. Im liking the outerspace fight and all the new vehicals. Now for the weapopns im pretty sure with all the new upgrades to the weapons will make the fight even more fun. the story mode on the other hand is still pretty much the same old same old. I love what they did with the heli for the second to last mission. To me I think the creaters of Bungie is just starting to warm up when they come out with there next Halo game. I think there just working out the kinks to build the most played and the best game for years to come.

  • IOwnBothCODandHalo

    This game is amazing and it is written for the fans. If you know anything about halo (which I don’t care how much you think you do, you obviously don’t) you have to feel the structure of Combat Evolved at the core of this game with so many awesome tweaks. Truth and reconciliation, silent cartographer, many of Reach’s campaign levels have this same feel But still unique in its own right, which was exactly what everyone was asking for.

    And what did we do in combat evolved? We activated this, we blew up that ITS A FPS!!! We like pushing buttons that make things go boom.

    The graphics were beautiful, You say ‘Halo is a colorful universe, full of pastel, oblong shapes and ray guns that look like Super Soakers’ and that it was a mistake making it look realistic?

    That sounds pretty alien to me like H1 and H2 when they were on ALIEN rings, THIS IS ON REACH A HUMAN COLONY.

    And whats with “If you’re a fan, you’ll find nothing new to challenge, inspire or even particularly entertain you”
    (SPOILER)
    New weapons, new vehicles, ELITES ARE BACK, you get to fight in zero G, fly a spaceship and a Heli, shoot a MAC gun, GRUNTPOCALYPSE. I’m pretty sure any Halo fan that hasn’t played the game yet, just busted a nut reading that.

    And The ending?? With its nazi zombie/last stand feel was exactly how every end to a spartan should be. And maybe this should be the end of your reviews because obviously you wasted your time as did I replying to this garbage.

    But I’m Italian so it’s pronounced IDIOT.

  • IOwnBothCODandHalo

    Oh and for Mu

    How can you be a Halo Fan but be ‘progressively disappointed by the series.’?

    Oh wait.. I don’t know.. YOUR NOT A HALO FAN. Get your guy’s panties out of a bunch, and realize the only mistake they did make was transporting Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn, when the PoA should be in space already according to Reach the novel. Thats a blog I’d like to see some idea’s about.

    F— You guys I’m gonna pwn some newbs on invasion.

  • The Saint

    The reviewer just wants attention. He wants to be different. Let him have his 5 minutes of fame.

  • HaloLostItsHalo

    Totally agree with this review.

    Halo Reach was an enjoyable game but definitely not deserving of some of the incredibly high scores some gaming review sites are giving it. I mean, some game review sites are rating this higher than the release of Half Life 2! That reeks of fanboyism…or bribes from Microsoft.

    The Halo series reminds me of the Resident Evil series before Resident Evil 4 came along – fun to play, would always be loved by the fans, but seriously needing some to catch up to the level of current games.

    Perhaps, in Microsofts hands, with their recent success in the superb ‘Gears of War’ series, this will happen (and maybe that is why Bungie is no longer involved?)

  • Meh

    Agree 100% with this review, the story of reach is barely scratched in the very short campaign which is rather disappointing. Also it seems as if you were suppose to be emotionally attached to these characters with there poor quality voice acting and lackluster personalities. But when it comes down to it and they all die, the only thing I could think of is…. who cares? Its the same reused combat over and over with slightly prettier graphics then before. I am a Halo fan I’ve played all the games just to become increasingly disappointed with each new release.

    The only good Halo remains Halo 1.

  • Rob Morrow

    Oh and the best line of the entire review — ” Now that we learn that Spartans were mostly just normal space marines with augmented physical abilities, poor Master Chief just seems like a boring guy.”

    Where do you get your information from Mr. William? No Spartan are “normal space marines.” Even the Spartan III’s were selected at an early age according to their genes and trained their entire life for combat, nothing more.

  • Finally

    Finally a review of this game that is actually true, honestly I don’t understand whats so great about this… halo 1 was amazing, 2 and 3 weren’t bad but everything after that thus far is just garbage.

  • Hyped2Much

    This game was so hyped up it was failure when I actually started to play it. I am a fan of all FPS games and give them all a try. When I read other reviews of the game you can seriously tell they were either paid to give good reviews or Really huge halo fan that wants to support their game. Although I don’t agree with everything this guy says, the score he gave it is right 3/5 stars or 7/10 at most. Black Ops will blow halo out of the water for sure. Don’t get me wrong i’ll still be playing this game, but just that it isnt all it was hyped up to be.Graphics is the only really change I can notice in this game.

  • haloisbetter

    i dont know what you smoke but you must smoke alot of this this is the best game for the 360 thus far its better then the cods the fable and the gears of war.Nothing new to the halo series thats a load of bs where else can you find forge world but in reach.Fire fight 2.0 .in your review you dident mention eather of those.

  • ripcallofduty

    black ops will be lucky to sell more then 2 copys

  • DeVore

    Though I don’t disagree with the points in your review, I probably enjoyed playing it more than you did.

    That said, I know there are books and presumably a established back story for Master Chief, but I was hoping that somehow, the Noble 6 spartan would become Master Chief by the end (technically impossible from the get-go as you are given the option to play as a female spartan). Your team mates in the campaign are terribly inefficient at their jobs and after you kill >95% of the enemies yourself, I figured that was why Master Chief is later labeled “The Demon” by the grunts. Oh well.

  • Blackbaldrik

    I found the Halo: Reach campaign quite challenging, and the storyline quite good, and I really liked the unceramonious deaths of the spartans, and the ending was incredible!
    As I agree with the fact that the Halo: Combat Evolved was the most incredibly awesome Halo in the franchise, I really, really, disagree with your assessment of the Reach campaign, you obviously have something against it, because all you do is knock it! The characters and missions were also great, what did you expect? They must be 6 Master Chiefs that beat back the covenant and fly right to the homeworld and kick all the prophets in the face, and end the war right there!!! Serriously… PS: It’s Humans = good, Aliens = bad, because it’s played from the human point of view, if you were playing as a elite or something, the story would portray the humans as evil.

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