Genre: First Person Shooter
Developed by: Bungie
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, Xbox Series X
Feeling Like: Far-Reaching
I see many people online claim Halo: Reach as their favorite in the franchise, and it’s very easy to see why. The campaign is a tonal shift, much like Halo 3: ODST. Sure, it’s about fighting aliens and defending the human race, but it’s pretty clear early on that this story isn’t going to have a happy ending. Prequels are a tricky task; you have players coming in with brute-sized expectations and pre-conceptions about what a Halo game should be. You can’t go absolutely anywhere with the plot – we know what’s going to happen eventually. The appeal of Halo:Reach, at least to me, was to make me care about the characters I was playing and provide a fantastic, somber ending. It’s difficulty not to think of Star Wars: Rogue One.
Melancholy is the primary emotion when I think of Halo:Reach. By 2010, I wasn’t in a situation where friends were coming around to play video games all that often; it’s a natural event when you get older. I didn’t lament this, but it did remind me that when games like this came around, I would never get the satisfaction I did from Halo: Combat Evolved because this wasn’t the first Xbox game I’d play, and I wouldn’t spend dozens of hours playing split-screen multiplayer in the basement of the Smith household on their waterfront property on Hollywood Crescent. I wouldn’t get to tell Jane what my requested toppings were for the pizza she’d order for us, and I wouldn’t have to worry about stubbing my toe on their weird bathroom floor. Such extraneous factors matter greatly on the 500 and Halo: Reach is at a disadvantage here.
I distinctly remember in an early review of Halo: Combat Evolved , they mentioned how cool it was that the soldiers in the same Warthog were acting independently, fighting alongside you. We’d had decades of going it solo, the concept of fighting alongside a mini-army was thrilling. Early hardware didn’t allow for such miracles, but the notion that not everything was centered around you made the universe feel much more real. Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST really lean into this and I’m all for it; even if I didn’t play through the campaign co-op, I certainly didn’t feel alone. The idea that not everybody looked exactly like Master Chief and your rag tag bunch all had different colors and designs of their power armor added visual variety and helped you connect with them. These are not faceless buddies, but personalities we had yet to see in a Halo game.
Since my experience with Halo: Reach was fleeting, I figured it was high time for another guest post. I can’t think of a better choice than my buddy, Mitch. If there’s anybody that knows Halo, it’s him; he’s been a long fan of Bungie, and still plays Destiny 2 religiously. Here’s what he has to say about entry # 280.
The phrase “swan song” was thrown out a lot for Halo: Reach, Bungie’s final foray into the universe they helped create and the one that launched the Xbox platform and made online gaming viable on console. While the phrase is trite, it’s also completely apt.
Halo: Reach went back to the beginning, to steal the marketing parlance, and showed what happened on those final few fateful days on the eponymous planet. While the story did slightly retcon a few existing pieces of lore (fans of Eric Nylund’s “The Fall of Reach” novel will remember this), the tale of Noble Team’s heroic sacrifices grounded the central conflict of Halo in a way that the previous epic space opera mainline games did not. It should be mentioned, though, that Halo 3: ODST was very much a precursor to this kind of “boots on the ground” story telling despite being a smaller game in scope.
With an overhauled graphical engine and more attention paid to facial animation than Halo fans had typically come to expect from Bungie, Reach was a gorgeous game replete with stunning skyboxes and expertly crafted levels. Each mission of the campaign felt unique, whether you were sneaking along on a night mission, attacking a Covenant base with a UNSC assault, or – in a first for the series – taking the fight to space with an excellent starfighter combat section.
Multiplayer was refined with evolved combat featuring the use of armor abilities that gave players the capability to sprint for short distances, turn themselves invincible for a short amount of time with Armor Lock, use a jetpack to get a better vantage, or other unique skills. Players could also unlock customized pieces of armor to take their unique Noble Six into the various game modes.
While the level grind was a bit punishing, the idea of greater customization for your Spartan would be something that would carry on into the future, non-Bungie Halo games and become something of a point of contention once the armor design started moving away from the “tacticool” military sci fi of Reach.
It’s hard to make a game feel fresh and new by the time the fifth entry rolls around, but Bungie brought out all the stops for Reach and with the game’s recent re-release on The Master Chief Collection, it’s seen a whole new wave of appreciation. Quite the send off for the franchise that made its name bringing multiplayer firefights to consoles and turning the Xbox into a household name.
(Mitch’s writeup finished)
Hmm, maybe Mitch should takeover the entire 500? I, at the very least, should take notes. Thanks Mitch!
I’ll end this entry with the ending mission, possibly the best single level in the entire franchise.
Your team is done, gone. You’re all that remains and as the alien warships descend through the dusty skies, your objective pops up ominously – “Survive”
Yikes. Nowhere to go. No magic switch to hit that will call allies, no bomb to detonate that will take out your enemies, no McGuffin to collect, no checkpoint to reach. Survive. You can hide, but your safety won’t last. You can take out as many enemies as the game throws at you and it doesn’t matter. You are going to die. Noble team will end with this mission.
As time passes, and your cracked helmet is shown against the backdrop of the most beautiful mountain you’ve ever seen, you’re assured that “It didn’t take long for Reach to fall. Our enemy was ruthless, efficient. But they weren’t nearly fast enough, for you had already passed the torch. And because of you, we found Halo, unlocked its secrets, shattered our enemies’ resolve. Our victory…your victory, was so close I wish you could’ve lived to see it.”
This is the kind of epilogue that elevates Halo: Reach beyond most games. It left me with a lasting impression, one that is equal parts tragedy, nostalgia and success. It’s impossible not to be overcome with frisson watching the cut-scene on YouTube, even ten years later.