Halo has always been one of the more polarizing series over the last decade of gaming. It came to reflect the Microsoft Xbox brand in much the same way Mario has for Nintendo, or Kratos has for Sony or even Sonic did for the Genesis. Thing is – I never played the series. I owned a Playstation 2 at the time, and did not have the budget for multiple gaming systems. So I missed the first couple of Halo games, and never really jumped on board for the Halo 3 and ODST releases either. First person shooters were never really my favorite genre. However, while they still do not top sports and RPG games for me, Modern Warfare 2 did a great job of getting me into first-person shooters and the competitive online aspects of such games.
So, when Reach came out, and a few of my co-workers were getting very excited about it, I was interested. I had let my Xbox Live gold membership lapse back around May of this year as well, with no intention to resume it. Then, Microsoft offered some good deals, including something like a good % off if you signed up during the Halo: Reach launch, and Walmart had a nice deal going where if you bought Reach during launch week, you got a free $20 gift card. So, I combined these deals, did the math and (most importantly) got my wife to agree to let me drop a few extra bucks on it.
Now, this was right around the time I quit writing for my blog here. Halo: Reach was the start of some serious game playing over the last couple of months, plus the kids starting school, plus work getting very busy so… the blog lost out. Well, since then, I’ve spent a good chunk of time playing Halo: Reach and I thought I would share my thoughts on it.
Graphics – 9:
This is one of those areas I see mixed responses on. Some people really love the Halo art style, and others come away very unimpressed. Overall, I liked them though. I found the color palettes appealing, the look of the environments to be engrossing, and characters moved pretty well. An additional detail I liked was that the customizations made to your armor appear to carry over in every aspect, including things like cut scenes. There were a few moments of slow down during some of the more intense scenes, and that is always frustrating, but they are relatively few and far between.
Music & Sound – 9:
I’ve never played any of the other games, but I first fell in love with the Halo theme song when they released a version of it for Guitar Hero 3 as a downloadable a few years ago. Since then, I’ve gone and listened to a lot of the more popular tunes and I’ve come away very impressed. That doesn’t really change for me here – the score fits the often epic feel of the game, and while some of the voice acting is a bit stilted, most of it is pretty good and really helps to advance the story. The surround sound is used to excellent effect as well, as you can hear a laser going off to your right, or hear a gibbering alien coming at you from behind. Excellent stuff all of the way around.
Gameplay - 9:
It’s smooth stuff – and I mean that earnestly. There’s a few different control schemes you can choose from, but they are all pretty intuitive. I picked up the game immediately and dove into the story and then the online modes with no problem. Menus were easy to get around in, and there is just a ton to do. The armor effects were pretty slick as well. I read about these, and they’re all new to the Halo series – but whether you’re using armor lock, jetpack, camouflage – they are all useful in the right circumstances. In the large team battles involving vehicles I find armor lock incredibly handy. In headhunter modes sprint does me a world of good. You versus everyone? Going invisible (or Predator Mode as I like to call it) is super fun. Jetpacks and holograms of your character also add layers of depth (and deception) to the affair.
Intangibles – 9:
The game has a pretty decent single player storyline. I still recall Modern Warfare 2’s being awesome – but really short. I could get through it in about 6 hours. Not so here. There are a ton of multiplayer modes, and that always helps replay value. There’s some custom side games like Firefight to keep you entertained as well. There’s a ton of extra polish here also such as the forge – that has some nice map making/adjusting qualities to it, and theater which lets you save images and video clips to store to your hard drive or upload to the Halo servers (like my entertaining sticky grenade one. It was fun – a guy tried to get away from me, and he leapt up an air/elevator so I launched a sticky that clung to his leg as he neared the next level, and it blew him up. I’d say you had to be there, but you don’t – I’ve uploaded it!). Perhaps my single disappointment is with the customization. It looks awesome, but I found the online rewards for Modern Warfare 2 to be more rewarding. Some people disliked the system of getting new items and attachments, and that sort of thing in Modern Warfare 2 because they felt it gave an advantage to more experienced players who probably didn’t really need said advantage. To me though, it was a lot of fun going through and making several loadouts with customized attachments and perk sets. Halo does have a more level playing field, but some of the game modes restrict the weapons and armor abilities you can have. It’s not a game killer by any means, but it did leave me wanting a little bit more.
Overall – 9:
Easy score to add up, but seriously – this game was a lot of fun and it made me interested in earlier games in the series. My son bought the first Halo for the Xbox awhile back (it retro plays in the 360), and I’ve considered picking up the others in the series to experience them and learn a bit more about the storylines. Tons to do, and a well-made overall game in terms of control, graphics and sound? That’s a recipe for success. Most of the people I work with really enjoy it too. One thing I do find interesting is that for most of them, the game’s not holding as much long term appeal as Modern Warfare 2 did, and most of them are using Halo to tide them over until Black Ops comes out. I’ll be curious to see how many of them, myself included, let Halo slip by less played once that happens this Tuesday.