Price: £6.99 (£29.99 for Master Chief Collection)
Developer: Bungie/343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
I’ve never been the biggest Halo fan in the world, but I’ve always held a soft spot for Halo: Reach’s tragic fatalism. Given how heavily most shooters place the emphasis on victory, I liked how Reach offered a very different experience of a virtual war, where the best you could hope for is to lose the battle well enough so that someone else can win the war later. There’s a poetry to it that most big-budget shooters don’t possess. I always admired that.
Nine years on, and Reach’s melancholy song has finally been transposed to the PC. To be clear, it’s part of the Master Chief Collection, which will be meting out Halo Reach through four (including the Anniversary versions of Combat Evolved and Halo 2) over the course of the next twelve months. Unlike the much-derided console launch, the PC version of the Master Chief Collection is a stable, if somewhat barebones port. As for Reach itself, it remains an enjoyable shooter, although time has not been especially kind to it.
It still looks nice, especially on a modern PC. Port-wise, Halo Reach offers support for HD and 4K resolutions, as well as unlocked framerates. Running Reach at 4K on a GeForce GTX 2080 Super, framerates even in the most intense battles ranged between 130FPS and 170FPS. As for more specific screen settings, Reach supports ultrawide monitors, and lets you tailor your FOV with a slider. If you want the visual perception of a chameleon on a monitor like a surfboard, Reach lets you configure that.
Keyboard and mouse controls are fully supported as you’d expect. Mouse-look adds significantly to Reach’s liquid-smooth gunplay. It’s nice to be able to pull-off pinpoint sniper shots with east. It does make the single-player very easy, however, so I’d recommend bumping up the difficulty if you’ve played Reach on console. Aside from one crash which occurred while Alt-tabbing out of the game, I didn’t experience any technical issues either in single-player or multi-player.
As I said, it’s a nice, stable port. If you’re wanting to tailor your experience in any detail, however, Reach will leave you disappointed. Actual graphics settings are limited to switching between three settings “Performance”, “Original” and “Enhanced”. There are no specific options for antialiasing, ambient occlusion, and so forth. There’s also no indication of what “Enhanced” actually means. The Master Chief Collection version of Reach isn’t a remaster, so it’s unlikely to have that much in the way of higher-resolution textures or anything like that.
Either way, 343’s port makes the PC version of Halo Reach the best way to experience it. And the game mostly holds up visually. Reach’s austere, russet landscapes and dramatic skyboxes still look splendid, and when battle is in full flow, the Covenant’s colourful weaponry gives Reach’s combat a distinct visual flavour. That said, the game shows in age in certain areas, specifically character models and interiors, with the urban missions in the middle of the game being the least visually compelling. Oh, and the UI looks dreadful, a horribly vivid blue overlay that takes up far too much of the screen.
I was also surprised by how much Reach’s storytelling has dated. As I said, I like Reach’s unique narrative arc, where your team of six Spartan soldiers is gradually whittled down while you attempt to defend Reach from an overwhelming Covenant invasion. But I’d forgotten how dry the Spartans are as characters, stoic to the point of being wooden. One Master Chief is fine. Six Master Chiefs makes for painfully dull dialogue. Speaking of which, the voice acting is also far weaker than I remember, which doesn’t help in selling the story.
That said, Reach’s campaign still offers some fantastically dramatic space opera, with massive ships colliding and exploding in the planet’s higher atmosphere, an exciting mid-game assault on a vast Covenant ship in orbit around the planet, and of course, that heroic last-stand sequence that provides the game’s most iconic imagery. Unlike, say, Call of Duty, Reach still provides plenty of space for combat to flow dynamically, encouraging fire-and-manoeuvre tactics with AI that knows when to advance and retreat and actively tries to avoid gunfire and grenades. I particularly like how much of the spectacle derives from the combat, rather than scripted sequences. During one battle, I lobbed a plasma grenade at a Brute, which just stuck to his foot as he dived out the way, landing beside a Covenant gun turret and blowing them both to smithereens.
Of course, single-player is only half the Halo story. The Master Chief Collection offers full support for Reach multi-player, including all 12 of its competitive game-modes, and the cooperative “Firefight” wave mode. As with the single-player, it’s a slick and largely stable experience, with the only real issue of note being a bit of waiting time for matchmaking. That said, there is one major issue that affects both single-player and multi-player, and that’s the lack of weight to the gunplay. This is primarily an audio issue, with in-game effected sounding very muted, as if you’ve got a woolly-hat wrapped around the end of your gun.
It’s a shame. Reach otherwise feels good. But having your guns essentially shushing enemies to death really undermines the core combat. 343 is apparently aware of the issue and is working to address it, but I’m sure I encountered the same problem with Reach when I played it on Xbox back in, well, prehistoric times. I think it’s something to do with the way Bungie originally designed the sound. Anyway, I’m interested to see how 343 intend to fix this.
I’m glad Halo: Reach has finally made it to PC, but honestly, I wish it had done so earlier. It’s a good, intermittently great shooter that I have enduring respect for. But the reality is there are so many better FPS games available on PC right now, from big-budget blasters like Nu-Doom and Titanfall 2, to retro indie masterpieces like DUSK and AMID EVIL. If like me, you’ve played all of those, then Reach will do enough to keep you entertained. Otherwise, get those stuffed into your eyes first before you consider reaching for Reach.
July 1 2020 | 17:34