What really pisses me off about Halo Reach is that it’s really good. You might think that’s an odd thing to say, and you’d be right. I was aiming for an interesting opener.
As a follow-up to Halo 3, video gaming’s master of online, first-person shooting, Reach was guaranteed to be involving and plot heavy, with a slew of juicy new, and finely tuned, online features. What do you know, it does.
Halo’s single player plot was lost on me from the very start of Halo 3, all those years ago. Reach, surprisingly, made a bit more sense but I was concentrating really, really hard.
Halo Reach is a prequel so there’s no Master Chief (the green dude from the other Halo games, the last of the Spartan super soldiers), instead there are about half a dozen of these Spartan super soldiers. They, presumably, are the penultimates of these Spartan super soldiers.
Throughout the single player campaign you watch each of your trusted team die, until there’s only you still standing. It all comes to a head on the last level when you’re left, alone, on planet Reach (yes, Reach is the name of a planet, who knew) to survive as long as you can. It’s all a bit sad, but rather cool.
The campaign, though, is about 20 per cent of the fun, as playing online is what Halo Reach was created for in the first place. Sufficed to say, the online side can be involving. Deeply involving.
You see, everyone playing it online earn ranks. Ranking up and gathering awards (aka competing with your fellow player) demands you earning experience points and credits. These are earned by simply playing the game. A lot. You can earn faster by completing optional daily and weekly challenges the makers of the game, Bungie, suggest to you.
The annoying thing about these challenges is that they work very well in boosting you through the ranks a little quicker, thus not looking as rubbishy next to some of the highest ranked players in the game. But it requires you making time, every day, to play Reach. A lot.
This is the essence of a good Halo game; a bragging tool, a way of boosting your ego on your chosen world stage. Yes, you’re just killing aliens, or your fellow gamer, over and over and over again. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat and it’s fun.
The online ranking system is different to Halo 3’s system, but probably for the better. Reach splits skill level and experience into two different arenas; one is for regular gaming, the other is a highly competitive league.
This, wonderfully, takes the added pressure off when playing online, as there are also dozens of different scenarios to keep you and your competitors distracted and busy.
Playing any Halo online is always a bit intense. It’s not like Call of Duty or Battlefield with their paced gameplay and huge maps. Reach is fast and action-packed; if you spend more than, say, three minutes alive in an online game you’re doing something wrong, the game has crashed or you’re a brilliant player (in which case stop reading this review and go and play Halo Reach).
This intensity makes Halo the worst game in the world for first person newcomers. Why so many boyfriends show their girlfriends Halo in an effort to help them appreciate games is beyond me. It’s like putting someone who’s just past their driving test into a Formula 1 car and asking them to jump the Grand Canyon. If you’re a boyfriend who’s done this with Halo, you’re an idiot.
Us Halo fans can understand the fun of playing so much Halo; the game is riddled with little rewards to keep you playing, rewards you can compare with your friends. But these rewards take time and effort, something your non-Halo playing friends won’t understand after you back out of yet another trip to the pub.
Personally, I’m pretty into Halo now, Reach especially. I understand how it works, what awards I’m aiming for and what times of the day are best to play online. Reach is Halo refined, it’s what all the fans have been waiting for and it’s exactly what we’ve received.
Like its predecessors, Halo Reach is a bastion of good, quality, exciting online console gaming. It’s as involved as you want it to be and demands a lot of gameplay. For all these reasons, Halo Reach is a pain in the arse.
I’ve not left the house in weeks.