The thrall of Reach

I finished up Halo: Reach over the weekend. It was a pretty good game! I didn’t like it nearly as much as ODST, though, which is sort of funny given that ODST was the random side project and Reach was the grand farewell to the series. But I also like Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) more than Super Mario Bros. 3, so maybe I’m just damaged goods or something.

Reach had some really great moments, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the ones which stuck with me weren’t the ones Bungie intended to stand out. The big sweeping moments of fighting side-by-side with your Spartan pals generally pulled me out of the game; so much action tended to be going on, and so much of it was handled by the A.I. before I could even get my bearings, that it felt like I was just gliding along as the game played itself. It was the quieter moments that I found more intense: The sneaking mission early in the game where I crept about with a precision weapon and active cloaking camouflage, trying to take down as many foes as possible without being seen. The eerie streets of New Alexandria, littered with the bodies of civilians in the wake of the Brutes’ ruthless urban extermination. Those were the moments that grabbed my guts and squeezed.

Oh, and the epilogue, of course.

Now that I’m through with Reach, it’s time to clean off my plate of all the half-finished games I’ve in progress. I’ve decided to start by digging back into Etrian Odyssey II. I currently have a level 55 party and no clue what my next objective was. Promising!

16 thoughts on “The thrall of Reach

  1. Whoa, Mario Bros. 2 over 3? Lunacy.

    Also, you pretty much summed up my complaints about modern FPSs. Large action sequences are so cookie cutter. I’m struggling to play through Killzone 3 right now because I’m tired of getting yelled at and having to redo the same canned sequence every time I die.

    And if you like stealth gameplay, I don’t think any FPSs do it better than Goldeneye (Wii) and Riddick.

  2. “I currently have a level 55 party and no clue what my next objective was. Promising!”

    Um… get to the top?

  3. My personal favorite ‘small moment,’ and probably favorite sequence in the game actually, was deactivating the jammer in the hospital. It’s in the level where you fly around in the helicopter thing between skyscrapers.

    It’s brief, maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Nothing spectacular happens, you just wind your way down to the jammer shooting dudes, then shoot your way back out again.

    But they nailed the ambiance of this part, the echoes of alien gibberish from the Brutes on the floors below you as you make your way down to them, the radical purple and orange colors, the sight and sound of the thunderstorm. It’s just great. A standout title in not just an overblown, overcrowded genre, but an overblown, overcrowded series.

    • I actually found the flying portions of the game to be the worst parts of the entire thing. Too drawn-out and repetitive.

  4. “I currently have a level 55 party and no clue what my next objective was. Promising!”

    Sounds like the problems I keep on having with all sorts of games – I get distracted by life/other games and then spend ages working out where to go next time I turn on the console/handheld. I have a save file part-way through Metroid Zero Mission on the GBA and I’m stumped where to go next, but don’t want to start over :P Same with the first Castlevania game on the DS.

    Good luck with Etrian Odyssey II!

  5. My friends and I had the same experience with Reach. Many of the cutscenes were absurd to the point of laughter. I can’t believe they got so cliche as to have the soldier get shot in the head by the one sniper who decided to stick around in the city while a nuclear armageddon was about to go down.

    Still, the game doesn’t lack for mis en scene, which has always been one of Bungie’s strongest points. Just like with the sad, silent city in ODST, I found a lot to latch onto in the background here and, of course, the post-credits sequence blew me away. That was the only time where I actually felt like I was playing against the odds. The rest of the game I had to sit through people telling me how hopeless our situation was while we fought six grunts. When my co-op partner died, and my helmet cracked, and I holed up in a shack with no way out, I finally felt like I wasn’t going to make it. The HUD, which to this point was pretty much exclusively used to say “objective: push the next button you see” flashing “survive” was a pretty powerful moment. Watching my girlfriend die and knowing I was alone was scary in a way that watching all the characters die was not. If they had died during the course of battle instead of in cutscenes with sweeping camera angles and dramatic music, maybe it would’ve stuck with me a little more.

  6. I liked SMB2 more than 3, too, as a kid, before I had any idea that it wasn’t the “real” 2 and I always wondered why – though they were certainly innovative enough – why 3 and World had abandoned 2’s innovations so completely. Now, I dunno, it might be a toss-up until I get a chance to revisit 2, but it was hands-down back then.

    • It’s totally a real Mario game, and anyone who says otherwise is a poop-head. Not to mention ignorant of simple facts!

      • Honestly, I think I’d have been disappointed to go out and buy Super Mario Brothers 2 (for the shiny new Disk System, no less) and just get the exact same game as the first but with added sadism. I can’t help but take the “Super Mario All-Stars” view of the series, where US2 is the real 2 and Lost Levels is essentially an expansion pack.

  7. I would never had played Reach (more than likely) were it not for that disc format beta program.

    I really, really disliked it at first. It seemed to exude the kind of bro-iness that makes me hate just about every FPS game published by a major American developer or worse, the God of War series. Which isn’t to say I won’t possibly play them, but I’ll often want to hang my head in shame during the cutscenes.

    It grew on me eventually, something which I probably wouldn’t have ever allowed were I not playing for testing purposes. Roughly about halfway through.

    What did annoy the living crap out of me, though, was how quickly you could die. I played on the third-highest difficulty level, since my previous Halo experience was that Normal was usually a cakewalk. I knew Legendary wasn’t even close to, so I certainly wasn’t going to go there. I figured it would be like Doom on Ultra-Violence. Kind of hard in places, but definitely still enjoyable even during those times.

    Chiefly, no pun intended, I found it bizarre how many times I would just die instantly even at full or near full shield power because of an out-of-nowhere grenade or other instant-death kind of thing. Usually, game logic dictates that, at worst, a grenade hitting a fully-healthed character will only take away 50-75% of said health. At least, in single player. But in Reach, there were a few sections where I felt like I was beating Battle Kid all over again. Not as implausible as IWTBTG, but still a bit irritating as you find yourself finding ways to break the game or relying on pure luck over and over again just to make progress. And yes, I realize I could have knocked the difficulty down, but that would have likely made the less irritating sections a bit boring. I love challenge and overcoming it, but i hate cheapness.

    Maybe this is par for the course these days. I really wouldn’t know, considering the only modern FPS I’ve spent much time with is Team Fortress 2. But the Doom and Duke 3D fan in me is more than a little annoyed at that particular development.

    • The balance between guns, grenades, and melee is kind of the defining feature of the Halo series. I like the double-edge power that grenades represent — you can take down anything short of a Hunter if you stick them with a plasma grenade, but that means you also have to be able to backpedal away from your enemies’ grenades or you’ll go down in equally short order.

  8. Ah, Etrian Odyssey. Playing through the original Wizardry has made me realize how friendly (i.e. “properly influenced by modern design”) that the EO games are… although I must admit that I kind of miss the idea of sending out a search party to find your dead characters. Hmm.

    • If you have a PS3 and $15, try Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. It’s a very definite call back to the first game in the series, but with nice graphics and some updated sensibilities. I have only played a couple of hours, but I am really enjoying it.

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