23rd May 2010 - So once again, Bungie has released their Beta, reeled in a couple of hundred kids and then left them flailing on the beach for air, flapping their collective gills on the pros and cons of the latest installment. Those that forgot to take a breath in the last two weeks can re-surface to a bunch of games this month that really, give Halo a run for its money.
Let me preface the rest of the article by saying that I did not coin the term ' Halo Jesus' and that it has in fact been around since Halo 3 in 2008.
Personally, this fish has long since swum free of the mighty net of Bungie; slowly spreading 'over the entire world' and is wise to the tricks they use to lure us in. The obvious choice is to write a review, listing all the pros and cons and added new things from the demo, and in some small part I will, but not before venting a gut-load on exactly why Halo: Reach is not going to be as good as they want it to be, and lament on some missed opportunities in the Beta. Strap in Fan boys-
Long before the mighty John 117 (note: not a bible reference) raised his faceless head, a few key games were king of both the multiplayer scene and also the pseudo futuristic vehicular based land slaughter: Unreal Tournament and Quake dominated the gamers resume for the latter half of the 90s and even into the 21st century Unreal Tournament and Counterstrike were top tier gaming. Not Halo; and it wasn't Halo that knocked these games of their perch, namely time and the rise and rise of consoles. However where these games left off, Halo or at least Halo 2 and 3 multiplayer, picked up- and never ever left.
Halo wants to hearken back to the 'golden age' of multiplayer frag fests, it wants to emulate the best of the best but it neither does nor steps up to the current generation of World War tactical team based classed shooters. Halo, just doesn't know who it is and with every iteration, takes one step forward and two steps back. So when the Beta dropped the first question is; what sort of game is it? Is it a classed based shooter? Not exactly because “classes” are defined by one special ability and all weapons are fair game (still!) Is it a tactical team based shooter with cover mechanics? Not really. Vehicular land grab game of world war proportions? Nope.
Halo: Reach it would seem is obstinately stuck in the past. So much so that the BETA comes off looking like nothing more that a map pack or slight modification or overhauled expansion of Halo 3. Nothing more and nothing less. If this is what we can expect come the end of the year, than all the fanboys who lucked out when Microsoft switched off the Halo 2 server room lights, many apologies.
What made Unreal and Quake so great and timeless was excess. The weapons were over the top and even the simplest flak cannon was uber sized and turned the biggest player into fried chump. The floaty vehicles didn't matter because they had massive cannons and every where, everywhere there were drops of ammo, amour and jump platforms. It was a time before tea-bag became a dirty word where rocket jumping was encouraged and quad damage was the ultimate prize. Unreal built on the success of Quake by introducing vehicles but at least had the courage to include all terrain maps, large vehicle only mode types and quick travel for units across said land. The fact that Halo is only, only just testing this mode with its Invasion game type is so far backwards that it makes me want to shove a sticky where the suns don’t shine.
Halo treads a fine line. It insists on 'realistic' weapons in a completely unreal situation. It trades small multi tier maps for jump platforms and over shields for armor lock. The nearest example of such wanton tweaking to their own product over and over, is World of Warcraft which is constantly and continually tweaked and revised and changed and added to, while still being rather ‘old’ and still charging players for ‘slightly newer’ expansions and upgrades. The thing is, Halo very nearly get’s it right and each time it does; they take it all away and start again. Point in case: All the ‘equipments’ from Halo 3 have been removed in lieu of these ‘class’ abilities. No more Bubble shield, no more portable jump platform, no more EMP; and I for one don’t understand it.
Amour lock is not a replacement for the Bubble Shield or the EMP. One is an ability per person and the others a tool freely up for grabs for anyone on the map. Why not keep the tools and also the abilities. Considering the ‘classes’ are not exactly defined would it not add more mixes to the grab bag to allow a combination of Amour lock inside a bubble shield, or invisibility with an EMP? New weapons include the likes of the map-raping laser gun, its yellow beam frying anything in its path. That’s excellent but the trade off is no more Spartan Laser. Sounds fair except that the Spartan laser was the knife to this new weapons bludgeon. It was highly accurate and well balanced against vehicles; the sheer excess of this new laser is at odds with the accuracy of guns like the DRM.
A lot of complaints arose during Beta testing that ‘grenades were too powerful’ (to counter bunny hopping) and the pistol is too overpowered, the fast running ability is useless… and so forth. This typifies that Bungie hasn’t quite figured out where Halo sits- If it is an excessive blood bath of gibs and shooting then it shouldn’t matter about ‘over powered’ weapons and if it’s not then why have them there in the first place.
Again, if this version of Halo included all the tools from Halo 3, the game modes and team co-op from ODST and the Class abilities from Reach then, then it might be the best Halo ever. Bioshock 2s’ new multiplayer is perhaps the last vestige of the old style of gaming excess. Using the older Unreal 2.5 engine it has at least understood how ‘classes’ work. Before each map, equip a load out of Primary and secondary weapon, a grenade and one or two class abilities. For that match you are stuck to what you picked and through that can level up.
Speaking of leveling up, this is one of the redeeming features of what is sure to be a competition of ‘size’ for the online community. Halo: Reach finally introduces proper customization for your elite Spartan and generally gets it spot on, offering different armor parts and helmets and lights. Sure the prices are ridiculous; charging 20,000 for a small head modification, which would take any average gamer too many games to win to be bothered with, but the incentive is there.
That said, once on the field in the respective team, for the most part all the soldiers look the same anyway with very little difference, except of course bragging rights. It is a necessary touch, to keep people investing into these faceless warriors, but once more highlights that Halo is at the mercy of their own success: so well established are the Spartans that it would be wrong to break from tradition and actually offer different faces, hair pieces or dare I say it, female body modifications. Remembering Quake and Unreal, it was always fun to pick your ‘favorite’ character of a clan and then completely dominate.
From the information gathered these multiplayer Beta levels are also taken directly (in part) from the single player campaign which also brings with it a bunch of apprehensions. Is the story going to be nothing more than a bunch of maps strung together? Or are the screen shots better than expected. The splash screens and loads of Reach seem to point to a muted darker, ‘more realistic’ campaign with a muted color pallet and a more serious approach to lighting and shadow. The Beta takes that information and simply says: no. As much as I might bitch about the graphics, plenty of friends are quick to remind me “it’s just the Beta”. I am just as quick to counter “That means it’s not the Alpha” or more to the point, the Halo 3 Beta was as the Halo 3 game is. Not a whole lot changed between 3’s Beta and the final release and so it is with Reach. Levels are lacking proper lighting and shadows, any sort of interaction and are chunky and empty with large smooth corridors and not much else. The outside environments are nice, well lit, but overly bright un-serious and lacking some finer details expected in today’s games.
The conclusion is perhaps as obvious as it is sad; I am, at the end of the day probably just too old for Halo. Nothing about it appeals to me and everything reminds me of a better time before sticky plasmas and backstabs. The younger generation are reveling in their new found freedom of smack talking and tea-bagging and having grown up post Halo have no nostalgia to taint Bungie’s Opus. It frustrates me and part of me wants to school them in how exactly to walk backwards off a jump pad while simultaneously gibing someone with a rail gun in mid air at high velocity- but those halogen days are long gone.
Come the end of the year Bungie's halo might be slightly tainted but they can still wear it with pride knowing that it will shine just as bright for fans of the series and those that have never experienced a face full of frags.
Article By Ian Crane