In spite of an earlier statement that I made to the effect of, I don’t want to rank my favorite games in any particular order because it reduces the quality of the game to a trivial numerical standard, the impending release of Skyrim has me constantly thinking about how I would arrange such a list. Look for a list coming to the site soon as I steal moments of free time to rank them when I can. If you would like to post one of your own, please do so in the comment section below.
UPDATE 1: I should clarify that this is to be a list of my favorite games ranked from 1-10 as opposed to what I deem to be the greatest games of all time. That’s a big enough difference to spare me the label of hypocrite, right?
UPDATE 2: Here’s a rough first draft (definitely subject to change):
Parting is such sweet sorrow: Bungie has made the claim that they weren’t working on another Halo title ever since Combat Evolved hit stores in 2001, nine years and one day ago. Before, there was never any real reason to believe them. Bungie was a property of Microsoft and Halo was simply too lucrative a franchise for Microsoft to let them focus on anything else. As long as the Halo games kept selling, fans knew that there was always another Bungie-made Halo title around the corner. On October 1, 2007, six days after Halo 3’s release, that changed when Bungie announced their independence from Microsoft while leaving the Halo intellectual property behind at Microsoft and its newly created 343 Industries industries (Wikipedia). As a final farewell to the franchise that made Bungie a household name, Halo: Reach was developed.
So is Reach any good? In a word, Reach is excellent. Assuming you’re a Halo, FPS, multiplayer, and/or science fiction fan, there’s plenty of reasons to love this game. Virtually everything that you’ve come to expect from Halo is done here better than it’s ever been done before. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, I’d still highly recommend that you give the game a try just to see what it’s all about. This is a console shooter done right.
What did they get right with Reach? Halo: Reach takes a few steps back from Halo 3 towards Halo: Combat Evolved, and that’s largely a good thing. While dual-wielding (a mechanism that Bungie pioneered on consoles) has completely disappeared, health packs and falling damage have returned. That sounds terrible in writing, but it’s exactly the kind of strategic switch up that this latest Halo title needed. As you no doubt have heard, Bungie added another level of strategy to the game in the form of armor abilities. Throughout the game’s single and multiplayer modes, your SPARTAN will be sprinting, jet-packing, and armor locking his or her way to victory. That’s right, your SPARTAN’s gender is entirely up to you this time around, and it’s one of the most welcome additions they’ve made to the game. I hope it’s truly a sign of the times that AAA titles like Reach have started to acknowledge the presence of female gamers.
Reach‘s campaign is the most challenging and one of the most intriguing that Bungie has ever crafted. Halo campaigns have traditionally felt very challenging when played on Legendary, and while Reach is certainly no exception, the pacing of the campaign is better than ever before. While playing solo through the game, I ran into a handful of what I like to call “respawn pits,” points in the game where one simply dies and response dozens of times before finally progressing, but I never felt as if I was stuck in an impossible situation. Bungie’s enemy AI is legendary, and one simply needs to outsmart the computer in order to progress. When played in co-op, the campaign gets even more difficult relative to the number of human players in the game ala Diablo 2. This feature alone makes Reach a more challenging experience than any of its predecessors.
Bungie’s often been criticized for the convoluted storyline of the Halo series, and while I feel like Bungie gets a little better at storytelling with each new game they release, Reach’s story isn’t too radical a departure from Bungie’s traditional fare. That said, if you’re into the Halo mythology, there’s a ton of good content added to the universe with this title. I’ve always felt that Bungie has done a masterful job at building a living and breathing, while not too fantastical science fiction universe. The hidden datapad side objectives make a satisfying reward for the story-craving player exploring the game’s every hidden nook and cranny, and the primary character-driven storyline is every bit as entertaining as past titles in the series, and to those of us who’ve been with Halo since the beginning, rest assured; there’s plenty of fan service in Reach.
What about the multiplayer? That’s where Halo really shines, right? I’ve never met a fan of Halo who exclusively played the single player campaigns, but I have met many who bought the games just for the intense online multiplayer action. Reach has improved upon just about everything that made the multiplayer of the last three titles so intense. At the beginning of most matches, you’ll be picking out one from a list of various equipment load-outs. Your choice will determine the weapons and armor abilities that you respawn with. It’s a subtle change of pace from past games, but a significant enough of one to make the gameplay feel fresh.
The King of the Hill, Slayer, Territories, Oddball, and Capture the Flag game modes that fans have come to love make their glorious return, as does the highly addictive firefight mode first introduced in ODST. New to the ring are Headhunter and Invasion. Headhunter’s a frantic, deathmatch-meets-objective game mode that requires you to collect the skulls of your fallen opponents and hold onto them long enough to reach a dynamic drop-off point. Invasion feels a lot like Halo meets Battlefield and has become a personal favorite. We’re talking objective-based gameplay with 8 man teams of elites versus SPARTANS in some of the biggest maps Halo players have seen to date.
I remember the early days of online gaming. One practically spent more time scouring the game servers looking for a good match than he or she did actually playing the game (see the original Gears of War). Halo 2 changed all that. Reach has further improved on the model that Bungie pioneered by offering you the option to force the matchmaking service to select games based on connection quality, player chattiness, and preferred style of play (i.e. “lone wolf”). The matchmaking service can still take a couple of minutes to find a suitable game, but the matches have never been of such a high quality. And while local games are mostly a thing of the past, it’s worth noting here that Bungie have made it easier than ever to get a LAN party thumping.
Where did they screw up? Bungie fans have rightly come to expect a mirror-sheen polish on the company’s launched titles. Make no mistake, Halo: Reach is as high quality as they come, but it’s obvious that the game is flexing the Xbox 360s aging muscles. Remember how gorgeous Halo 2 looked on the Xbox? Remember the toll the game took on the hardware? Reach doesn’t suffer from the infamous texture popping of its older brother, but you will notice that when the action gets most intense, the frame rate might, I said might, stutter. The frame rate has only cost me my life on one or two occasions, but it was undeniably frustrating. Also, while I considered the story to be every bit as exciting and intriguing as its predecessors, those who aren’t fans of the franchise’s story aren’t likely going to find anything here worth changing their minds. In custom multiplayer games, while Bungie’s done a great job at improving Forge (hello Forgeworld!) and the game’s playback feature, the game type customization seems more limited than before. My friends and I were excited to create some Juggernaut-based game types before learning that we simply couldn’t manipulate the game type the way we were hoping to.
What’s my non-gaming spouse going to think? For many married gamers, I think Halo’s become a lot like poker. It’s darn hard to get my wife to play with me, but she doesn’t mind that I occasionally get together with the guys for some pistol-poppin’ action. What’s great about Reach is that a multiplayer match isn’t likely to go past 10 minutes online. It’s the perfect type of game to play in the margins of your schedule. If you’re wife or husband doesn’t like “killing games” (as my wife describes them), he or she probably isn’t going to like playing Halo: Reach, but even with a married student’s schedule, I was still able to beat the campaign in roughly one month while enjoying the multiplayer thoroughly.
Well Black Ops is out now, which one should I buy?As you know, I still haven’t played Black Ops, but I’d suggest you play them both and see for yourself if you have the time. If you’re a married gamer like me with limited time and money, however, that’s probably not an option. In that case, I say you look at the precedent set by previous games in each franchise. If you’ve traditionally been more of a Halo guy or girl, I’d stick to Reach. It might be your last chance to play a truly phenomenal Halo title from the people who invented the franchise. If you’re prefer Call of Duty’s style, I’d stick to Black Ops.
Halo’s Future: For now, at least, Bungie are done with Halo. They put all doubts to rest when they announced a partnership with Activision to launch an as-of-yet unknown original IP (Kotaku). The fate of the Halo franchise now rests firmly in the hands of 343 Industries who have already begun expanding the Halo universe beyond its native medium. It’s hard to imagine that any mainstream Halo title developed by a group other than Bungie will ever be able to live up to the lofty standards that fans have come to expect of the franchise, and I think that Microsoft is more aware of that fact than anyone. If the software giant treats the property with the care it deserves, there’s no doubt that they’ll find there’s plenty of milk left in this cash cow. I for one would gladly shell out $60 for an opportunity to continue Master Chief’s saga and discover what that mysterious planet was really all about. But I wonder, will it ever feel right booting a game of Halo without first seeing Bungie’s logo?
My very first review written after playing Halo: Reach’s entire single-player campaign on Legendary and investing 24+ hours into the game’s multiplayer, including one massive LAN party. The game (standard edition) was purchased by and for me. This review was in no way influenced by the direction of Bungie, Microsoft, or any other party. Article image courtesy of Bungie.net.
Okay, so it’s only been out for a day now, but as any hardcore gamer knows, waiting even just an hour past a new title’s launch date is a relative eternity. After anxiously anticipating a new major release for months, maybe even years, waiting any additional time past the release date is agony. So what’s keeping me from Black Ops? Priorities, my friends.
For the record, I was among the first of my friends (all of us gamers to the core) to show any interest in the original Modern Warfare. We had all enjoyed COD2, but Gears of War and the impending release of Halo 3 demanded all of our attention. Once MW finally hit stores, however, its popularity quickly rocketed. The Halo vs. MW debates started up and before long, Modern Warfare was the only game we’d play on Live.
I’ve always hated the Halo/COD fanboy division. Both series are truly epic and groundbreaking in their own rights. Call of Duty has always had a knack for phenomenal, realistic cinematic moments (COD4’s bridge scene, for instance), while Halo brought the console FPS to the front of the industry and really set the groundwork for Call of Duty’s tremendous success. What’s more, when one views the games within the context of their respective genre, they’re drastically different. Halo’s gameplay seems more elegant, COD’s rawer and more twitchy, but in a good way.
Regardless of my love for both series, I had to draw a line in the sand eventually. Last fall was my first as a married man. As we all know, the final quarter of the year is generally the biggest in the gaming world. For the first time in my life, I had to set a hard and fast budget for my favorite hobby. I opted for three titles: Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age (gotta love that BioWare!), and I ultimately chose Halo:ODST over MW2. Yes, I realized even then that ODST was more of an expansion to Halo 3 than a true sequel/prequel, but that didn’t deter me. I realized then that the Halo franchise will always hold a high place in this geek’s heart. To this day, I have yet to play MW2, but I’ve never regretted my choice.
This year, Reach sat atop my gaming priority list. I eventually had to tighten my budget even further than I had anticipated to cover tuition fees. Yes, not only am I a married gamer, I’m a married, student gamer – the poorest type of gamer of all. I first downgraded my Legendary edition of Reach to the collector’s edition, and then, with a heavy heart, to the regular edition. The good news, Halo:Reach hasn’t disappointed (expect a full review in the near future). The bad, neither did Black Ops.
Alright, not “bad news,” per se, but seeing how great the game is makes me long to play it. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed for Christmas . . .
Image used courtesy of Call of Duty.com. Again, as I’m still very new to the blog scene, I’m not sure of the legalities and etiquette of borrowing images from tertiary sources. That said, I will always make an effort to cite my sources.