Friday, July 8, 2011

Halo Reach: A Flawed Legacy

Halo is a series that I have always loved for it's art style and streamlined gameplay, but with the latest addition to the franchise, I feel it falling short.

Halo has always stood out for because of the dramatic contrasts it presented to the player. You gun down thousands of aliens, but on a mysteriously beautiful island, or in pristine yet ancient system of corridors and hallways that snake through the canyons of a great chasm, or high on the outer walkway surrounding vast city that lay covered in a think veil of fog thousands of feet below. The environments were also very mysterious and foreboding: there is almost always some massive structure that obscures the horizon ahead of you and completely dominates the scene. There was also always something just out of reach, some area or island that has a story or secret that you aren't told and can't find out.

Some of these things may seem rather insignificant, but they add a sense of vastness to the game that few games manage to accomplish. Vastness makes the player feel insignificant in the world they are in, which makes for a more immersive experience and just makes the game feel bigger.

In Reach, you could go just about everywhere, and while some of the locales were definitely interesting, you knew what everything did. Now this may seem ridiculous, but there were subtle things in the other games that made you want to know more. There are doors in unexpected places that you can't open, switches that seemingly have no function, passageways that lead to nowhere, things that make you want to see whats behind them or know what they do, but you can't. They were always placed in such unusual places that you felt that you found something special, but they did nothing. They were just...there. They were a part of the world, a seemingly useless addition the the environment that just makes the places feel all the more real and natural.

The issue with Reach is that it's more like Modern Warfare with a year 2500 facelift and more colors. You know what a house is for, if there's a locked door, it's probably a closet or bedroom. If you're in a city area and there's a locked door, it's probably an office or an apartment complex. You didn't feel the need to see what was behind these doors because they're supposed to be there. These are familiar environments with a shiny new coat of paint. Naturally, this had to happen seeing as the game details a covenant invasion on Earth, but I just can't help but to miss these elements. Everything is just too normal and functional.

I also found the Multiplayer hard to stomach. It was a totally different style of play from the previous Halo games, and while I really feel terrible because I'd rather just have Halo 2 with better graphics, I think it would have been better if they would have just slowed down with the amount of added features. It was just too much, too fast. One of my biggest issues was the Ranking System and how it was executed.

One of the best ways to rank up was by playing Challenges, and they were usually something like "Kill 150 enemies in Matchmaking". They weren't usually too hard to achieve, they just required time. I found myself having fun just playing the game as it was meant to be played for the first few rounds and found it quickly becoming a chore. I just wanted to hit that damn goal. Reluctantly I would put in the extra four or five rounds after I had grown tired of the game and accomplish the goal, and eventually this stacked up and eventually I just didn't want to touch the game at all because I knew that when I would go to shut it off that I would only be 33 kills away from unlocking this weeks challenge or something to that extent. This had a really negative effect on my experience, because I simply wouldn't feel satisfied with that last round because I had forfeited all the effort I had just put into the game those past couple hours.

The game is good, a top notch shooter, but it just isn't Halo. Hell, even the Halo theme is absent in this game. Too many elements are missing and it just doesn't have the same tone or feel anymore.

I hope that 343 realizes what makes Halo, Halo.