So this is it, the end of an era. The very last Halo game developed by Bungie.
That’s more significant than the average video game release. The Halo franchise is the foundation upon which the Xbox empire was erected.
On its release in 2001, as a launch title for the nascent system, Halo: Combat Evolved demonstrated more than any other game that Microsoft would be able to go toe to toe with the reigning king of consoles, Sony’s PlayStation 2. The fact that this final Bungie release in the franchise, Halo: Reach, is a Big Deal was reinforced when sales earnt nearly $270 million in America and Europe within 24 hours of its release.
That frenzy isn’t really justified by the game. Halo: Reach is a good shooter in the tradition of earlier Halo instalments, but it’s showing its age. Not technically, of course, where it’s bang up to date. Conceptually, though, and in terms of storyline and atmosphere, it’s been superseded by similar games like Gears of War, and even less directly related titles like Call of Duty, Uncharted 2 and BioShock.
Still, Halo: Reach does a lot right. Set in the year 2552, Reach is a precursor to the original Halo, and as a result you know before you start how things are going to turn out in the campaign. I liked that. It added a feeling of desperation; you play the entire campaign under the cloud of knowing that no matter what you do. Ultimately it will make no difference, the Covenant won’t actually be beaten for another three games (and there’s a mini-game after Halo: Reach’s end credits just to hammer that point home).
Bungle has shown an admirable willingness to introduce new elements, too.
Among these are power-ups, which, depending on the one you select, enable you to generate a hologram decoy to distract opponents, camouflage yourself, become invincible for a time but unable to move, use a jet pack (very cool) or sprint.
The power-ups are handy, even if they feel a little tacked on and Nintendo-y, and you lose them between scenes (plus what’s up with making the ability to sprint a special power?).
Another series first is the introduction of an outer space dogfight sequence. It’s almost surprising it’s taken this long, because Bungie has always been concerned about giving players a rounded gaming experience, and allowing them to dabble in a wide range of activities. A game like BioS hock creates a consistent, contained world, and that helps to build a feeling of suffocation. Halo just gives you everything, certain in the knowledge that if you don’t like the sniping sequence you’ll enjoy driving the vehicles; if tunnels aren’t your thing, no matter, because in the next scene you’ll be flying among the stars. I’ve always enjoyed Halo’s variety, even if it’s come at the expense of atmosphere.
Not so great here are your Al buddies. Don’t rely on them too much because the Al is wretched, particularly at driving. At one point, while manning a gun turret on the back of a jeep-like car, I was driven off the edge of a cliff. Thanks for the help, guys.
Human team mates are much more effective, and Reach comes alive online, with a great selection of multiplayer options, including some new to Halo. The best of these is Invasion mode, an objective-based scenario that requires your team (or your opponent) to control positions, disable a shield and carry an item to a dropship, all the while unlocking weapons and vehicles — it’s a shame it was saved for the last Halo game.
Except it won’t really be the last, will it? Bungie won’t be involved, but Microsoft has too much wrapped up in the franchise to allow Halo to drift off into space. And I don’t mind that one bit.