I can’t claim to be a fan of Halo. More accurately, I love the idea of Halo. I love what it stands for. When the Xbox first hit the market with Halo, it was an amazing game to showcase what the console was all about. It was fresh and exciting; an evolution of the First Person Shooter that would set the formula for a certain subset of the genre. If an FPS wasn’t trying to be Half-Life, it was trying to be Halo.
Yet every time I play a Halo game, I walk away wondering why I keep going back to them. Every time, I try to convince myself that I like the series, but experience shows otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate them, and I have a number of good memories centered around playing the games, but none of them have ever clicked.
Case in point, I had a craving for some mindless shooting, and it felt like Halo was going to be the only game that I haven’t played a million times over that fit the bill. So I bought the Master Chief Collection on PC, because every once and a while I have to prove to myself that Halo just isn’t for me.
THIS IS SPARTA!
Anyone familiar with the lore around Halo likely knows what went down on the planet Reach. Heck, I haven’t picked up a Halo novel in my life, and even I know what happened. So it’s no surprise that your character is wearing… what’s the opposite of plot armour? They’re not likely going to live to see the credits roll, is what I’m saying.
The game is a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved and it’s about… Reach. Actually, the central plot mechanic isn’t introduced until near the end of the game. Now that I’m actually deconstructing the plot, I’m realizing it’s not really all that well told.
You play as a Spartan super-soldier known only as Noble-Six, and you’re a part of Noble Team. The Covenant, an alliance of flamboyant aliens, start showing up in greater number around Reach and things just escalate until eventually you’re given a mission of actual substance. If I had to break down the plot into its components, it would be, “There’s a battle here, a battle here, a battle in space, a battle here, and then stuff happens.” Along the way, sad music plays because, like I said, you’re screwed.
You could say that the story is more the personal tale of Noble squad, but let’s see if I can name one… Nope, can’t do it. Wait! Jorge! And one of them was a woman.
BANG BANG! PEW PEW!
Have you ever played a Halo game? If not, it’s best described as a shooter wherein you shoot things. Halo was pretty amazing in that it nailed this really special flow to the combat on its first try. It’s an over the top, super-mobile, run-and-gun kind of style that has just a pinch of strategy to keep things interesting.
A lot of the strategy is identifying key targets. Grunts go down with a shot to the face. Jackals do too, but they’re usually hidden behind shields; shoot them in the hand to get them to drop their guard. Elites need to have their shields whittled away before you can feed them lead breakfast. Prioritizing targets while staying mobile to dodge their nerf-ball projectiles.
Overall, it’s the same dependable combat that’s made the series enjoyable with very few tweaks. Very, very few. Maybe a few guns, but I don’t remember because I never use the alien weapons. They’re all plasma-based and they sound weak and ineffective like I’m slinging wadded up paper balls at enemies.
FOUR WHEEL DRIVE
My favourite part of Halo games has always been the vehicles. I’ll never get bored of driving a Warthog, with its floaty four-wheel drive and unique steering. Thankfully that’s all here, and again, it’s largely untouched. None of the driving sequences stand out as particularly impressive, but at least they weren’t omitted entirely.
That said, one new addition to the series is aerial combat, including one section in space, and holy crap, they are boring. Normally, I’d welcome the change of pace, but the space mission is so slow and unexciting that it feels like it should have been cut altogether. The other flight mission isn’t as bad, but that’s largely because it was less combat-focused.
At least, for the missions where you’re terra-bound, you’re not forced to plumb the depths of samey-looking alien architecture or fight the mindless flood like you do in basically every other Halo game. For those reasons alone, this might be my favourite game in the series.
BENEATH THE HELMET
If there’s one thing to take from this review, it’s that Halo: Reach is more of the same from tip to top. Whether or not that’s a bad thing will come down to personal preference, but sometimes, all you want is something safe and comfortable to return to.
The multi-player is yet more of the same, taking me back to the days of high school and playing 8-player Combat Evolved with two linked Xboxes. I didn’t get too involved with the online component because, well, I’m not much into competitive multiplayer, but what’s there is fun.
There’s also co-op, which I didn’t get to try this time, but it’s usually a good time. If I ever play this game again, it’ll likely be with a buddy. After all, I played most of the series with a wingman. At least I’ll have someone to complain about the space sections with.
THIS IS NOBLE-SIX. OUT.
So, as usual, my feelings on Halo: Reach are kind of split. Did it scratch my itch for some straightforward gunplay? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Mostly. Is it something I’ll go back to? Probably, but only because every once and a while, I need to remind myself that Halo just isn’t a series for me.
On the other hand, a few features really elevated this entry for me. Simple things like the lack of alien buildings and the ability to play as a female Spartan are enough to make this my favourite in the Halo series, for what that’s worth.
This review was performed on a PC using a digital Steam copy of the Master Chief Collection. It was paid for by the author.