Tuesday 11 November 2014

Recalling Reach

I could be mistaken here, but I feel like most fans of the series don't hold Halo: Reach in particularly high regard. This seems like a real shame to me - when I decided to replay the series, I was far more excited to get to grips with Reach again than I was for Halo 2 or 3. Call me a Heretic (Covenant jokes? Really? Shame on you. Nerd.) but I really enjoy a prequel that holds together - and for me, Reach is one of the good ones.

The Halo universe is good old fashioned Space Opera, and doesn't apologise for it. Halo: CE wrapped its parasitic little tendrils around the ornate brass and quartz mechanism I keep where my heart should be way back before I knew what space opera WAS. As a consequence it's the yardstick I measure all my sci-fi gaming experiences against, and I'll always have a soft spot for the Chief and his chums. The series is a good mix, really - it's just bright and shiny enough without being on the Megaman scale of eyeball liquidization, and just gritty enough to have some impact without being populated by Gears of War style perambulatory tree-trunks, seemingly covered in a thin layer of leaf mould and communicating via a series of dour grunts.

So: Reach.

It's not often I play a game in which I know from the get-go that most of the major characters are going to die. Probably painfully. Certainly needlessly. It's tough to get attached to them: some of them, I never did. The archetypes are rather unsubtle in this one - Noble Leader (Carter) no more character than the faceless, nameless, apparently gender-nonspecific player character, Noble Six. Some storytelling lessons were learned here from the exploits of Commander Shepard, I'll wager. That being said, the opening shot of the game focuses on the battle-worn (and notably empty) Spartan helmet that is quite clearly decorated in the colours you've most likely just spent some time picking out for your character - for me, that was enough of a hook. And it's worth saying that Reach is really, really pretty. In skybox terms, Bungie didn't pull any punches. The gameplay is recognisably Halo, of course - FPS, recharging shields, Grunts making silly noises and running away - but with enough of an overhaul that it feels pretty fresh. Noble Six certainly feels a little more delicate than the Chief - she's a Spartan III, a rather pale imitation of the older, tougher, more 'kidnap your kids, brainwash them and turn them into cyborgs without their or your consent' Spartan IIs. Dual-wielding is gone (or.. hasn't appeared yet? Chronology is hard, you guys), but armour abilities are introduced that work far better than the 'equipment' of Halo 3: none of them are overpowered or gamebreaking, but they allow you to mix things up a little here and there, and that's all to the good.

Also: Jetpacks.

I'm still not sure how they explain away the disparity in the performance and availability of the weapons and vehicles you encounter in each subsequent game, and ESPECIALLY in Reach: not only that, but there are new Covenant enemies in this game that don't appear anywhere else in the series. The only conclusion is that Noble Team murders them all. (Achievement unlocked: Genocide! - 40G) One of the first things I notices in this game was how QUICK the Elites are. It certainly makes them feel like more of a threat, especially when they're also a lot bigger than everyone in your squad (except maybe Jorge, being your lone Spartan II. Yes, Jorge, we all see your magnificent giant machine gun. No, noone thinks you're compensating.). The assault mode on Multiplayer was pretty damned great, too.

As endings go... pretty bittersweet. We knew it had to happen... but that post-credits sequence was surprisingly harrowing. ("Current Objective: Survive." OH GOD I TRIED) I don't think I've ever been so invested in a single fight sequence, and seeing Six's visor slowly crack as she takes damage and finally succumbs to overwhelming odds makes the ending monologue from Halsey (or Cortana? These space ladies all sound alike to me) genuinely poignant.

Other stuff to love:
> The Fillion cameo (yes, Fillion again. Shut up, he's dreamy.)
>  Using armour lock to stop bastards on Ghosts running you down
> Halsey/Cortana/Pillar of Autumn
> Jorge being Jorge. I liked him.

Stuff to hate:
> that SON OF A BITCH grenade launcher. It is just the worst.
>  Kat's accent.
> Emile being Emile. I didn't like him.

Thought for the day: never underestimate a Bungie employee's ability to come up with new synonyms for 'Ghost'.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I thought the post credit sequence was quite powerful - as gamers, we are used to the idea of success. To have a character in a situation where all they can do is delay dying, pointlessly (because by this point there isn't even anything left to die for)... it's rare to say to the player "you're helpless, have a nice death".

The hero became the victim. That was different.

And I never put enough time into Reach back in the day - I think I barely did more than the campaign on normal and some firefights. It deserved more hands-on time than that.