Note: I’ve lost the original screenshots I took for this piece, so I republished it with some screenshots inserted from the game’s Steam page in their place.
Halo has always been a weird intellectual property to me, mostly because of my pretty sheltered gaming life growing up. My parents were vehemently against anything they perceived as being violent, which extended to any game (and even some movies) that had guns in it. Basically, if a game featured guns, I wasn’t allowed to play it, regardless of context or the specifics of the subject matter. Additionally, we only had Nintendo consoles growing up, starting with the Gameboy Color and later a Gamecube. What I’m getting at in an unnecessarily longwinded fashion is that my childhood gaming experiences were quite isolated – I was only exposed to games that were available on Nintendo consoles (or very rarely on PC) and only ones that my parents didn’t deem too violent. Consequently, Halo is one of those behemoth gaming franchises that I never had any real exposure to until many years later. It always felt strange to me to hear people raving about it and being so into this thing that I never really got to experience.
A few years ago, shortly after the Master Chief Collection had come out for Xbox One, a friend of mine gave me an extra copy they had acquired due to a rather comical series of errors from the local EB Games. I think I jumped into the campaign of the original Halo and bounced right off of it, intending to come back to it later. Years passed and I never got around to it, but when we heard that the Master Chief Collection was coming to PC and would be available as part of game pass I knew I’d be giving Halo another go.
So is Halo Reach worth playing in 2019, even for somebody who has no previous experience with the franchise? Does it hold up? The answer, I think, really depends on what your expectations are.
In my case, I went into Halo Reach fully expecting to give it up after just an hour or two. I wasn’t particularly hyped about the release and have never been into Halo, so my desire to play the game was mostly rooted in just wanting to give it a try to see what everybody was on about.
The beginning of the game was unimpressive. You kind of just get thrown into a story that feels like it had already started without you. I find it very difficult to get into a story when it’s presented in that way. I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to storytelling, but it seems strange to get into all the goings on before even giving me a chance to understand why I should care about them. In truth, I was seriously considering putting the game down almost as quickly as I had picked it up, for several reasons.
First of all, let’s talk audio. The guns sound pretty bad. I thought it may have just been because the game was a bit on the older side, but then I watched Digital Foundry’s video and was shocked at how much punchier they sound in the original version or in the console remaster. The guns sound way less powerful than they are meant to – like some kind of pea shooters! To be fair, the developers have already acknowledged the issue and are apparently working on it, but there’s no definitive time when it’ll be resolved. Additionally, I found the balance of the various audio channels felt off – the dialogue in missions is way too quiet for my liking, there seems to be no way to adjust it independently, and the subtitle option doesn’t cover most of the chatter during gameplay. I had a really hard time hearing everything that was going on, and it felt like I was missing things, which was frustrating.
On the graphical side of things, I think the game holds up well enough. There has clearly been some work done to make things look better than they were on release, but Halo Reach is still recognizably almost a decade old now. That being said, I don’t think the graphics hold the game back in any significant way. The set pieces are still impressive, and the aesthetic holds up.
Gameplay wise, I’m really not a fan. I don’t like the way the guns feel to use, and not being able to aim down sights was a constant annoyance. There are also way too many things that one shot you, which is incredibly annoying even with how generous the game is with checkpoints and how quickly you respawn. On the upside, there’s a great amount of weapon variety and many of them are satisfying to use in their own way. Vehicles are also lots of fun to mess around in.
Unfortunately, Halo Reach is held back with a myriad of bugs: mobs disappearing in front of my eyes, allied NPCs constantly falling behind or failing to progress, and even an instance of a mission failing to progress because a single grunt and two allied NPCs were aggro’d on each other on the other side of the level but frozen in place!
In truth, what made me stick with Reach wasn’t the sound design, graphics, or gameplay – it was the story, the characters, and the set piece moments. The story isn’t unique and is far from perfect, don’t get me wrong, but the game is so concisely packed and has such great pacing that I didn’t really mind. These are the things that I think make Reach worth playing, even in 2019, and even for those of us that have no previous experience with the series. I’m really happy I decided to give it a proper chance and didn’t just quit out during the boring early bits. You can get Halo Reach (PC) on Steam or the Microsoft Store for just $9.99, or as part of the Master Chief Collection for $39.99. It’s also a part of game pass on both Xbox One and PC, which is how I’d recommend you play it.