Halo: Reach is one of those games which critics like us love and loathe in equal measure, because it’s almost impossible to do things ‘right’. Whether we like it or despise it, we can be sure of a torrent of abuse and hate mail accusing us of being either fools or fanboys.
This time though, we’re lucky in that our honest response to Reach has been one of complete indifference. We’d be nonplussed if we weren’t so ambivalent.
It’s not that Reach is a bad game – it really isn’t. The core of the game is still as pleasant as ever and, like all previous entrants in the Halo series, it’s balanced perfectly for consoles. With that familiar, floaty movement and those super-fun weapons, Reach is a joy to play.
This is Noble Team, we think.
On the other hand though, Reach isn’t especially good either. The supporting AI is prone to glitching out and, as the Xbox 360 is starting to get on a bit, we can’t help but pine for a higher fidelity of combat. Reach’s problem isn’t that it’s ‘just more of the same’ – there’s plenty of new content and features – it’s that Halo now needs more than a few new modes and weapons to remain as attractive as it once was.
It’d be fine if the characters grew from these starting points, but they don’t. They’re stereotypical space marines fighting a clichéd alien invasion – and Reach’s transparently tragic plot doesn’t inspire you to search for anything deeper. You never feel close to the team or any particular character – even minor, disposable marines get their own names at the bottom of the screen, while you exist only as the mostly-mute ‘Noble 6’. It’s a far cry from the memorable exchanges between Cortana and Master Chief, in other words.
The tragedy of Noble Team and the slightly morbid we’re-all-gunna-die tone that pervades through Reach therefore becomes a problem too. Bungie tries to motivate you by having you save civilians by the hundreds, but it’s a flawed approach. Even in Halo 3 we never really cared about the fate of humanity – only Master Chief and Co. Reach lacks such a lead character, so the result is that it lacks charisma of any sort.
The story that draws you through Reach feels, ultimately, a little tedious. It isn’t aided by the fact that some of the big action pieces are so underwhelming either. For example, as the humans start their first big counter-strike against the Covenant you’re treated to a cutscene of hundreds of Warthog jeeps charging hundreds of Banshees. The Spartans are out in full force and the expectation is that you’ll get to fight alongside them in a massive battle. ‘Finally,’ we thought, ‘a really exciting battle!’
In the end, it proved not to be so. Noble 6 is predictably stranded from the rest of the horde and ends up having to take down a Covenant base with minimal support – a contrivance that was more suited to games released at the start of this millennium, when systems couldn’t render massive wars.