Halo Reach enjoyed one of the biggest game launches of the year along with an enormous amount of hype. I was impressed enough to award it a 9 in my full review... but now the fuss has died down enough to hear a nagging undercurrent of disappointment and dissent. Many people felt let down by myriad aspects of Halo Reach's campaign and multiplayer; and now we've had seven weeks to settle into the routine, I've undertaken a thorough analysis of the game as well as how it's evolved over these last few weeks. Did it deserve such high praise? Did it really deserve a 9? Did I make a mistake? Let's find out.
The Campaign: Hindsight's A Bitch
I was blown away by the campaign during my first playthrough. However, a series of nagging doubts started to eat away at my confidence over the next few days. They say that hindsight's a bitch, and she certainly wasn't kind to Halo Reach at first. After completing the campaign another three times- including a solo Legendary run- I've come up with an important addendum to the review.
To the uninitiated, the Campaign was an intense affair that stacks up very favourably next to the staccato singleplayer offerings that many competing shooters provide. It's a thoroughly enjoyable experience that delivers a consistent level of excitement, though the short levels made it all too easy to ignore potential opportunities for exploration or experimentation with different combat tactics. I'd strongly advise against playing on anything less than Heroic difficulty- because the limited number of enemies per encounter and decreased challenge on even the normal mode actually makes the game weaker as well as easier. If you were disappointed, I'd recommend cranking up the challenge and taking the blinkers off. It completely changes the face of the game, forcing players to think laterally and devise new strategies to prevail where brute force fails.
If only that were the end of it. Any sense of disappointment is amplified exponentially if you're a fan of the Halo universe.
I've always firmly believed in critiquing a game based on its own merits... but for those of us that bought into the Seventh Column since the original Combat Evolved (or Marathon, they're everywhere!), the last few months have been spent secretly fantasizing about what features Bungie were going to bring to the table. Enormous pitched vehicle battles? Nope. Shocking twists that change the face of the storyline? Fat chance. Bungie's aforementioned decision to focus on ground pounding seemed like a step backwards for the series, even compared to the expansion stylings of ODST. The campaign lacked those quintessential 'Halo moments' where vehicle shenanigans and a little luck create unforgettable gaming anecdotes. On top of that, I know that I wasn't the only gamer who was unpleasantly surprised by how tenuously the storyline ties into the canon. Even Dr Halsey's diary (included in the Limited and Legendary editions) felt like a retcon rather than a revelation. Nathan Fillion's Gunnery Sergeant Buck makes no more than the tiniest cameo appearance despite ODST setting it up nicely. Fan service was at an all time low for this one, and the twist was as weak and insipid as it comes. Did you lose us, Bungie? I think we both know the answer to that.
The bottom line? Bungie fan or no, it's important to empirically accept that there's a difference between disappointment and poor quality. The campaign may not have fulfilled our wildest fantasies, but it still delivers an impressive effort that stands up to unbiased scrutiny. It's an 8.5 at best... but hell, I'm rounding up.
Multiplayer: I Need A Weapon!
Multiplayer has always formed the crux of the Halo experience- and as far as I'm concerned (and researched to the point of RSI), Reach has delivered the best yet.
Halo Multiplayer has always revolved around balance, creating a completely level playing field where skill is the only divide between players. Everyone spawns with the same guns in a similar position, and there are no perks or unlockable weapons to fall back on. Despite the new armour abilities and loadouts that could have ruined this delicately weighted playing field, Reach manages to absolutely nail it. Halo and Call of Duty/Bad Company 2 traditionally form opposite sides of the same coin- but Reach has made inroads into providing persistent rewards with the credits system. The continual influx of money and cosmetic armoury upgrades not only makes taking part as important as winning, but also makes the online space much less intimidating for new players. It's fun regardless of ability, with a slew of game modes that are suitable for any mood, occasion or skill level.
Bungie have always provided impeccable community support as they genuinely listen to fan grievances- and we've already seen the evidence during these first few weeks. The fantastically-popular SWAT gametype (my personal favourite) and the divisive Infection zombie killing modes have been separated into distinct gametypes so that we can preferentially engage or avoid them at our discretion. The netcode has also been noticeably tweaked, especially in Firefight that now doesn't resemble a flicker book caught in a slow breeze most of the time. Even when European and American servers collide. Cheaters got banned. We all laughed. New maps, new achievements and some more netcode improvements are on the way- and as we've seen since Halo 2, Reach's multiplayer will run and run. Quite honestly, 343 Industries must be seriously considering leaving multiplayer out of their first Halo title.
So, does Halo Reach deserve its praise? Yes. It's easy to dissect and nitpick each individual element of the game, but our 7 weeks on Reach has taught us that it's a truly cohesive package. There aren't just separate singleplayer and multiplayer components thrown together in the same box for the sake of convenience- rather, it blurs the line between the two. Want to play with friends? Enjoy the story? Firefight? Hardcore FFA? It's all good. Reach delivers something for everyone, and easily deserves our respect. And the 9.
I'm only one man- and this is only half the story. What did you make of Halo Reach? Disagree with my assessment? Have your say in the comments! It's a monument to all your sins.