Reviews

Halo: Reach

Halo players are disappointingly unimaginative. A Halo multiplayer match is the sort of thing that you enter into knowing an awful lot about what the game is going to give you.


Publisher: Microsoft
Title: Halo: Reach
Price: $59.99
Format: Xbox 360
Players: 1-16
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: 2010-09-14
URL

Halo players are disappointingly unimaginative.

Okay, yes, that's an awfully broad generalization for an awfully large group of people.

A Halo multiplayer match is the sort of thing that you enter into knowing an awful lot about what the game is going to give you. There's a relatively small map with a few nooks and crannies, a few strategically placed weapons, and a pile of opponents spread out fairly evenly between quiet assassins, confused newbies, and adolescent showoffs. It's been this way since Halo 2 turned the franchise into a multiplayer phenomenon (turning Microsoft into a viable console peddler in the process), and it remains this way to this day.

While Halo: Reach has the potential to surpass any Halo multiplayer experience to date, it generally comes off as merely equal to its predecessors. Granted, those predecessors are some of the most celebrated examples of competitive multiplayer in the last ten years and to be merely equal to those experiences is itself something of a success, but it's also a disappointment.

What's disappointing is that Halo: Reach has the potential. It has all of the components necessary to transcend the established Halo competitive baseline, but it doesn't and the failing is largely with its audience. The core Halo audience plays multiplayer not for the fun of gameplay but to exert some measure of superiority over the opponent. The purest measure of Halo skill is and will always be Slayer (Deathmatch) mode, thanks to its simplicity. You're dropped into a map and told to hunt down and kill every other living thing in that map. This purity of play results in extreme popularity, as it is a mode instantly familiar to anyone who has played Halo before, and it rewards pure skill over the mastery of any game-playing technique. Slayer is what the elite (with a small “e”) players play.

Still, having jumped into the "Rumble Pit" (the default every-man-for-himself multiplayer playlist) enough times to have experienced the highs and lows of the multiplayer experience, the new (and old-but-still-kinda-crazy) multiplayer modes turn into bigfoot. You're pretty sure they exist, you even catch a glimpse of them every so often, but never long enough to take a picture.

Once eight players have been matched up for a round of multiplayer, The Rumble Pit presents those players with three game options. Some form of Slayer (vanilla Slayer, Pro Slayer, Elite Slayer, etc.) is always an option. AND IT ALWAYS GETS PICKED. Even when Headhunter -- a new mode that involves delivering headshots to other players, collecting their skulls, and cashing in those skulls at a rotating checkpoint before you get blown away -- is available, Slayer gets three or four votes. Even when oldie-but-goodie Oddball mode is available -- a mode ripe for collecting multi-kills, it should be noted -- Slayer gets three or four votes. Not even Race or Rally modes, included for the first time since the original Halo, can manage to muster up any support. Even if one moves to the new, team-based Invasion multiplayer mode, four times out of five the game reverts to a Slayer-oriented version anyway. Sure, you still get the vehicles and the new maps, but in the end, it's just Team Slayer with fancy dressing.

People just want to play Slayer. That's their right, but it seems a terrible waste of the variety that Bungie has put into the Halo: Reach multiplayer package.

The problem is that it is the same devoted Halo audience responsible for this overwhelming sameness in multiplayer play that is responsible for the near-perfunctory nature of the narrative of Halo: Reach. The campaign of Halo: Reach is quite plainly geared toward the player that has studied and more or less memorized the narrative to this point. To be fair, even if you have no idea what the planet of Reach represents or the eventual importance of, say, Cortana's role in the series, you can sympathize with characters on a mission destined to end in defeat (as the opening quite clearly foreshadows). Despite a finale that is nothing short of spectacular, the narrative exists as merely an excuse to run from one checkpoint to the next. Gamerscore is at least as powerful at least in terms of motivation.

Still, one of the most underrated aspects of Bungie's skill with this franchise is the outside-the-game infrastructure that they've set up. If you log on to Bungie.net and go through a quick sign-up process, you can take a look at every single thing that you've ever achieved in the game, your progress toward Gamerscore enhancing achievements and prestige enhancing "commendations", see how much progress you've made toward managing the next multiplayer rank, and take a look at the daily and weekly challenges. The navigation is smooth, and in this outside-the-game interface, what you notice is that you are almost always thiiiiiis close to doing something. Maybe you've racked up 237 kills on the day and there's an open challenge to rack up 250. Maybe you've assassinated 94 players in multiplayer, and you realize that it's only six more until you manage the silver level commendation for that (which, hey, also happens to be an achievement). There's always low hanging fruit. There's always something to work for, something you'll be able to achieve with only a little bit of playtime in terms of investment.

(Although, now that I think about it, would it have been so hard to toss a few commendations in there for hitting rally checkpoints or cashing in skulls?)

Given that Halo: Reach is Bungie's last go at the franchise, it makes sense that they would want it to be devoted to the devoted, that they wouldn't turn the franchise upside down for the sake of some sort of attempt at artist cred. Reach feels like the limits of iteration on a franchise. Now, at least, we can watch with some intrigue as we see where Bungie heads next, not to mention where the Halo series might head without its longtime developer.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.