Knowing that I'm a big fan of the franchise, a buddy asked me if he should buy Halo: Reach. Before my brain could process an answer, my mouth blurted, "No! It's terrible." Having weighed numerous arguments since, my brain now sees eye to eye with my mouth.
I've wanted this game for nine years. I read Eric Nylund's prequel novel, The Fall of Reach, prior to playing Halo: Combat Evolved. I loved it. I still love it, actually, and I periodically return to its Ender's Game-meets-Master-Chief origin story.
The second half of that novel is something I always thought would make a great game. I mean, the Covenant completely obliterate a planet and its population. The huge human loss sent a mission-failed Master Chief fleeing with his tail tucked between his legs, for crying out loud.
Why, then, is something as exciting as the alien apocalypse so damn boring?
Warning: I'm going to spoil some story stuff, so if you really care about Halo's fiction and haven't yet finished Halo: Reach, you should come back later.
It's not that Reach is a "terrible" game as a whole. I love playing its outstanding online multiplayer, which is something I didn't even stick around for during the height of Halo 3's popularity. But I dread living up to my promise of playing co-op again with another friend.
I wasn't just bored the first go-around, but I was having a bad time, too. My co-op pals and I went silent during cinematics, yet we were all equally confused about the story when we started up again. Wait, who the hell is that guy? What does she do again? Where is my squad during gameplay?
We didn't know any of the characters' names, so we assigned them memorable nicknames: Bossy, Bitchy, Fatty…they became the Seven (Spartan) Dwarves to my Snow White.
Why should I care about such unremarkable main characters when they start dying off? Bungie obviously wanted me to like these people. They have personalities, voices, and faces. But none of their defining qualities ever amount to anything.
Worse, half of 'em suddenly disappear altogether during the cooperative game, so I don't see them, never mind learn about them.
I didn't care when What's-His-Name killed himself to save my squad of nobodies, and I exhaled a sigh of relief when What's-Her-Face's head met the business end of the bullet. Oh, good — I'm that much closer to the credits.
I've read the Halo novels and comics, and I was still baffled by this game's events. I know the story of Reach well, and it's told so poorly here as to not have any worthwhile meaning at all. Considering this is well into the End Times, I expected the planet to look like a miserable, burning rock. The Covenant lather Reach's surface in plasma, after all, scorching it until all life disappears.
It's hard for me to feel the sense of overwhelming emotional tragedy when, even during the admittedly effective ending, everything is as scenic as a tropical island tour. The island just happens to be a bit foggy sometimes.
Worst of all, Halo: Reach doesn't have any memorable moments outside of its lead into Halo: CE, and your final moments (as a nameless, numbered nobody). Watching your visor crack as your vision blurs is a sobering wake up call that you will lose this fight — too bad it's literally the last thing you see before a pack of Elites brutally murders you and the credits roll.
Where were these "oh snap!" instances earlier in the story?
Halo 3 has issues, but it still stands out as one of the most exciting single-player games I've played. Launching up and into a Scarab from an ATV? That's awesome. Reach rarely feels like anything more than an exercise in walking up to buttons to trigger the next ho-hum cinematic. Even the slow-paced space battle bored me.
I'd acknowledge its few highlights, but I honestly don't remember anything interesting about my seven hours waiting for the fun to happen during Reach.
Maybe I'm bitter because I feel betrayed by a story I've wanted for so long. Maybe Reach really isn't a great single-player/co-op game. Regardless, I feel that its gameplay, story, and characterization missed their marks by such a wide margin that my brain's wondering if my mouth was on to something.