Halo: Reach

Halo: Reach group

I’ve been meaning to write about Halo: Reach for about two weeks now. At every point, I sit down and resist the urge to talk about the epic nature of the thing. Soonafter, my train of thought derails as I relive vignettes associated with the game – standing in line outside of a Best Buy, listening as one of the too-young linebots complains about all the homework he’ll have to make up and the weed he should have brought; tackling two chapters a day in order to keep from burning out; waiting for a friend of mine to receive his pre-order, which shipped Monday afternoon but arrived Saturday morning; feeling a comforting sense of serenity after failing the last mission. There is a jumble of imagery and feeling that resists every attempt I've thrown at it to come undone.

It's come to make me realize that what I have to say about the game is paltry at best and a complete tedium of repetition at worst. I could quibble on changes to the Halo UI feeling like they were gearing towards a 3D future, pontificate on the use of unlockables and pseudo-microtransactions as yet another layer added to the multiplayer meta-game, bemoan the graphical upgrades that leave the last game in the series out of chronological step with the visual canon of the franchise, celebrate the Tragedia del Macho that being on the losing side of history requires. All this is well worn and, truly, not what I call to mind when thinking about Reach.

As much as I hate to acknowledge it, as much as it pains me to commit to electronic paper, my takeaway from Reach is a sense of epic grandeur. But it’s something that has little to do with anything pressed onto the silicon disc that faithfully sits in my living room: it’s a sense of epic camaraderie.

The first few weeks that I had ownership of my Xbox flew away in a tizzy of game demos. As an early Christmas present goes, it was quite the double-edged sword. I knew the thing hooked into my entertainment center was promising, but I had no way of extracting any tangible, long-lasting fun from it. Had it not been for one gift, I likely would have lost interest in the machine.

On Christmas eve, my coworker presented me with an uncharacteristic act of charity: one freshly used copy of Halo 3, as purchased from the local Blockbuster Video. What followed was a night fueled by turkey leftovers, juice, and Theraflu. Beginning at 9:00 that evening, and lasting well past 6:45 a.m., my friend and I tackled the entirety of the Halo 3 campaign on its hardest difficulty. All in one sitting.

As I think back on it, it wasn’t really the game, or the promise of seeing the close of one of the generation’s most hyped plots, that held my interest. It was really the feeling of friendship – the cursing and strategizing and cooperation – that left me with such a glowing impression. Months later, when I replayed bits of the campaign on my own, there was a nagging sense of plainness stalking the session.

I felt echoes of that as I ran through Reach unaided. Playing with the folks on my friends list, certain GWJers included, lends a vibrancy to the whole thing that is impossible to replicate on my own. There’s no joy to accidentally blowing up a carrier helicopter full of bots. There’s much greater shame (and quiet fun) to doing so with a troop of humans. The puzzled cries following the explosion are especially tantalizing.

There’s certainly a lot to enjoy about Reach, and there’s an equally lengthy discussion to be had about what Bungie’s swan song to the series signifies. But playing through Reach has made me realize that my fundamental view on the Halo Universe is a departure from the experience of a lone superhuman plowing through wave after wave of enemies. For me, the story of Reach is told only through a pack of friends, some mildly insulting (and always comical) headset chatter, and memorable slices of being.


Good article, and I can relate. When I think back on why I loved Counter-Strike so much, it wasn't the maps, the (very good) gameplay, or the weapons... it was the sense of camaraderie, shared experiences, and friendships that kept me coming back over and over. I don't remember very many details from the many, many matches I played, but I do remember some funny things happening with my friends.

I think for a game to facilitate those sort of interactions makes it good in itself, though. I have a very hard time sitting and playing match after match of MAG by myself, but when I'm grouped with the GWJers who play, or some of my other friends on PSN, it turns it into a completely different experience, and it was designed that way.

Great article. That's always been one of my favorite things I've realized since getting my Xbox in July. There are some fantastic games, but the games are made even greater by friends and memories.

My brother and I played the first Halo to death, and even after getting Halo 2 we'd occasionally sit down and just jam on Combat Evolved on Legendary. But for the past few years he's been in South Korea, and it would seem that his landlords have the firewall jacked up because they don't trust what a foreigner will be using the Internet for, so he can't play online. For all the similarities Reach has with the first game, the one thing missing is my brother.

A great article. I'm glad that someone on staff here appreciates Halo; too often, it seems to be dismissed.

I rented Reach just to have LAN parties at a friend's apartment. We had parties for the first two weekends after release and they were a blast. The promise of food and alcohol was also another reason to get together for some Halo.

None of the people at the parties thought too highly of the Halo series, however, being there playing with your friends all sharing the experience of a good game of Infection is a great way to spend a night.

One of my shining moments came when a friend and I held off 13 other infected players by choosing a good choke point. Just as we were beginning to run out of ammo the infected started to organize and with each assault they came closer to killing us. In the last 30 seconds we both used our cloaks in hopes that we would survive. There was one infected who saw my friend cloak and with the last three shots of my pistol I saved him as the infected was about to strike. When the timer hit zero with us surviving we cheered in victory as the infected showed their disaproval.

When I played with some of the same people online the experience ends up being stale and not very fun.

Epic, you say?

Yeah, I can relate, too. Especially about the fact, that it is just not so much fun without the propper (online-)friends on your side. For me, it is still all about the Uncharted 2 Mulitplayer experience. I used to play "alone", just being matchmaker'd with 9 (or 2) other randoms. Not owning a headset, I heard the mostly senseless chatter, and learned to ignore it. But sometimes I noticed, that there were people on my team, which really had fun, and obviously were somehow "connected". That caught my attention, and so I bought a headset.

Bottomline: It took me only a few sessions, to get hooked up with a cool crew of people. Now I only play the game, when I see some of them are online. It's just not even half as good without them.

Friends do make the experience that much more enjoyable. I'm noticing that now with Reach; unfortunately, my main trio of gaming friends has, over the years, migrated to PC and left behind the days of console gaming. Now I wish dearly MS/Bungie had found a way to do a same-day release of Reach for PC and somehow enabled cross-platform play so I could team up with them.

At my advanced age, jumping into multiplayer in a game like this after a couple years lay-off from Halo-style controls and play is daunting. If I knew my equally geriatric cohort were also in the party, it would at least alleviate some of the frustration as we could commiserate.

Great article.

Halo has always been a co-op experience for me. Its level designs, mechanics, and sandbox nature have always seemed like they were built for more then one person so it just felt right. The funny thing about it is I played through the first one multiple times with friends but could tell you very few plot points. Instead, I could go on and on about what are the best strats when facing the two hunters on such and such level.

Good article Alex! Friends always make gaming so much more injoyable for sure.