Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Halo Reach: Appendum

The following is a list of thoughts I had surrounding Halo: Reach, and its developer. Mostly stuff I felt did not belong in the review proper. Little things. Big things. Most of them are needlessly stupid problems that would have been inexcusably easy to fix or remove, but which for some reason no one working at Bungie could be bothered to.

  • Kat is a great character design. It's too bad her voice actor ruins the character. I was all set to do fan-art for this gal, right up until I heard they got Eeyore to do her voice. When this character dies, I was glad I wouldn't have to hear her anymore. Not even Carter, who's supposed to have the strongest emotional connection to her, seems phased or interested that she's dead. His work and attitude don't suffer for it. Maybe if he were a little more irrational in the levels that followed, I'd be able to think of him as more than just "Captain White Guy".

    Jun's weird too. He and Kat have accents, but that's not what bugs me about them. Kat bugs me because she sounds really bored, but Jun is an asian character with a middle-eastern accent. I found that strange, and that's after I saw the movie "Journey of Vaan Nguyen", about a family of Vietnamese immigrants living in Isreal. Even after that, it sounded out of place to me, so imagine how it must have felt for those less cultured.

  • The balance of weapons between Humans and Covenant is ridiculously one-sided. If the aliens have a gun, the humans have a superior gun with a bigger clip, better accuracy and more stopping-power. In a game where the aliens are supposed to believably conquer the humans at every turn. Half of the time, you can tell if you've won or lost a game of "Invasion" right there are the matchmaking menu, depending on which team you're on.

    I read an article before Reach was released about how they had to desperately fix a 10% favour in the odds of the Elites. Now it's a 100% advantage in favour of the humans. In a game where balance was the goal. I think that's the opposite of balance. What's that called? Oh yeah, a COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE.

  • Nothing exciting or interesting happens. The campaign takes place in probably the most important chapter in the fictional history of the Halo universe. You are a part of a squad of supersoldier badasses that, until recently there was only one. They took part in epic, large-scale warfare the likes of which would utterly ream entire armies of "normal" soldiers. The fall of Reach is supposedly this gargantuan, "million Michael Bay movies playing at once" last stand...

    ...and none of that happens in the game. Not to you, anyway. While all of the cool stuff is happening, you're doing grunt-work to the side. You fight the meager outskirts of enemy forces, tiny squads of infantry while in the distance huge battles take place. You, supposedly a Spartan warrior tasked only with the most important of missions, end up having to fight for largely insignificant specks of land, areas of little-to-no strategic value. Basically, you do all of the stuff the regular Army Guy NPCs should be doing while you, the big baddass cyborg person should be off doing something that isn't boring as hell.

  • Noble Six(who I will refer to as female for the remainder of this article) is actually more boring than the Master Chief. She's more boring than The Rookie from ODST, and he didn't even talk. How is that even possible? The problem is that this character doesn't involve herself into the plot enough. Noble Six talks once or twice, so we come to expect it from her, but she never says anything when she should. When the team finds out she was a part of a super-secret program involving spacecraft which they need to fight the Covenant, she doesn't respond. It doesn't even look like she can hear them. It's like she's thinking about pie, because she has an extra chromosome or something.

And every line she says, regardless of whether or not it's appropriate, she says as if she's just made a really clever observation. You can hear her smiling when she informs her team that Jorge, the oldest and friendliest member of the group has died. What the fuck is wrong with this person?

There are so many wasted opportunities. At the start, you're playing the replacement for a team-member who was killed before the game takes place. Captain White Guy tells you the others aren't happy about seeing this guy, who is not named, replaced. But this never comes up. No one ever talks about how great or interesting Dead Guy was. No issue of trust ever comes up with the new recruit. There's no one person who doesn't get along with her, but then over time begins to accept her into the fold. They just don't give a shit either way.

Speaking of wasted opportunities: There's a mission called "Nightfall" where you're paired up with the "chatty" member of the team. This would have been a great opportunity to learn about the team vicariously of this guy's opinions. Maybe so that when they eventually die, it could have some sort of emotional impact.

Nope. You just shoot stuff and then it's over. Except even Left 4 Dead, that gaping hole where a story should have been, had more characterization than that, and that didn't have the courtesy of cutscenes.

Dr. Halsey and Jun's fates are never resolved. The game's writers just completely fucking forgot two of the major characters. The only way I found out if Jun survived was from the developer commentary. More care and attention has been put into writing erotic Sonic the Hedgehog fan-fiction.

I can't be the only one who thinks he looks like a turtle. Is it just me?

While we're on that, this game(and series) underutilizes its most interesting character. Dr. Halsey is the overseer of the Spartan program, and referenced throughout the games as a total bitch who thinks the ends justifies the means(including kidnapping children and making them Spartans, which killed many of them, and replaced them with clones which died from complications of being clones). Here at last, here at last. And her first cutscene is kind of fun.

Here is a woman who has no sight of what's in front of her. She only thinks in the big picture. Everyone. The needs of the many. She will spare no suffering to individuals if she thinks it can benefit everyone else. They tell her that her scientist daughter is okay, but she couldn't care less. She's only concerned with the aliens. Cold. Fascinating.

Then she disappears from the game until the penultimate level. Again, her cutscenes are good, and it builds up to this moment where she places the hope of human civilization in your character's hands.

And once again, Noble Six ruins everything by being a doormat without a thought in her head. She should have rejected it. She should have confronted Dr. Halsey about her daughter, about how she expects Noble Team to believe someone who values individual life so little would care at all about the big picture. The real reason why Noble Six is chosen is because "Hey, the chosen one is YOU, the PLAYER! Good Job! *thumbs up*".

But what if instead, the reason were that Halsey could see Noble Six cares about individual people as well as the big picture? This would set her apart from her team-mates, who have trained themselves not to let emotions get in the way. Imagine if Noble Six were "the right choice" because she could do just as good a job at kicking ass as them, AND be emotionally invested in other human beings as well. Maybe with an exchange like this:

Six: "You don't care about everyone. You don't even care about anyone!"

Dr. Halsey: "...But YOU do."

But no, she just blindly takes it, no questions asked, because she is less a character than a hand-puppet for the player. And this in turn means we don't get to really see what makes Halsey tick, or make her presence in this game lasting. They were so close to having a story here, instead of just a series of meaningless events with no long-term goal.

The ending is pretentiously awful. There were a million awesome ways they could have ended this game. They could have had you fight a Drinol, previously unseen in the Halo series but often mentioned. They could have brought the giant "Kuta" monsters back, but on your side this time. They could have put in one more Space shooter minigame section where you defend the Pillar of Autumn as it escapes by drawing enemy fire. They could have had a bad-ass last-stand with other soldiers and Spartans.

There aren't even production credits. Instead, the game(and entire series) builds up to the moment where you are gang-raped by Elites.

And then THIS happens:
Courtesy of

That's not an accident. That's seriously how Halo: Reach ends. A static screen of Cortana telling you how awesome you are and to buy the sequel. A game that came out in 2010 with a budget in the millions had an ending as cheap and unrewarding as something made in the 1980's(with the exception that those games were actually FUN). As if it weren't obvious that Bungie doesn't give a shit anymore.

Which is fine, because:


Bungie will cease to be a company in 10 years.
Don't believe me? Activision recently ended Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk. Both series, some light DLC aside, are now dead. FOREVER. Those have sold a hell of a lot more than the Halo series ever has. As soon as those geese started laying one or two fewer golden eggs, Bobby Kotick wrung their slender necks. Speaking of killing something prematurely, ask Infinity Ward how they're doing. Oh right, they practically self-destructed because they wouldn't put up with Activision's bullshit anymore.

What, does Bungie think THEY'RE going to be spared? Because Bobby seemed nice at the company barbeque? Because they have a good feeling? Because they think they're talented?

Because they just moved into a big, fancy new studio? John Romero had a nice office too.



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