Monday, 4 October 2010

A Height I Cannot Reach

I'll be frank - I cannot play First Person Shooters to save my life. Never have. Way back when, in the days where I went to a friend's house after school every day to play on his N64; our sessions of Perfect Dark consisted of him using me as target practice, and me just running around blindly into walls.

Nine years later, and that's not improved any. Aside from a short stint playing Team Fortress 2, my gaming diet has been pretty much FPS free. But the other day things came to a head when my housemate brought forth a game. A game that I thought I had no right playing.

Halo Reach.

Having literally no experience of the Halo series other than the words of its fanbase (which consists mostly of racial and sexual epithets, or so I'm told), I had no real idea of what to expect. We sat down and started the Campaign Co-Op mode. On Easy. If I'm to have the game bend me over backwards, I'd prefer it do so a bit gently, at least to start with.

I was honestly and pleasantly surprised. Being the fourth game in the series, I could feel the refinement the game offered, the kind of straightforwardness you get from developers having made the same gameplay experience over and over. That didn't stop me from struggling to aim properly, though. Compared to my gaming partner, who coolly landed all the headshots and snagged the best weapons, I got by with haphazard sprays of gunfire and hiding whenever the larger monsters with the laser swords (or worse, laser war axes) entered the fray.
What probably impressed me the most was how every so often there would be a change in gameplay to prevent things from getting too stale. This is a gameplay tactic that's the bread and butter of some game genres (What would a Zelda game be without the new items you gain, and the shifts in puzzles that go with them?), but one that I don't think appears in Shooters too often. What else could you do in a Shooter other than, well... shoot? Or hide behind cover? Turns out I can ride in silly sci-fi vehicles, man the gattling guns in a helicopter, and my favourite - pilot a combat spaceship and discharge lasers and missiles in all directions. I adored the space segments, and was a little disappointed when it only lasted 15 minutes. I was even more crestfallen when I eventually found out that this gameplay style wasn't available in online multiplayer.

On the other hand, a lot of things about the workings of the game didn't gel well with me; the story the Campaign follows being the main point. With Halo Reach being a prequel to the first game, the plot is sets in motion (and what it leads up to) meant very little to me. I can feel the character design actively trying to shy away from the "gruff, bald, space marine" stereotype the genre and setting is often lumped with, but making the player character female seemed like a weak way to solve the issue, especially when they followed it up by giving the occasional close up of her rubber-clad buttocks every few cutscenes. Otherwise, everyone felt somewhat distant and unlikeable. The segregation between what can happen in a cutscene and what can happen in-game is also really jarring. In one scene, a character is flung from space to a planet's surface and survivives. You'd be lucky to survive a drop of 20ft when playing.
The other thing that pushed me away from the game was more or less just how bad I was at it. The Campaign (at least on Co-Op Mode) is very forgiving when it comes to player death. You will respawn next to your team mate (who is consequently an exact clone of you. The plot and the other characters make no reference to this, which I find incredibly amusing); and should you both bite the dust, the game resumes at the last checkpoint reached without fanfare or penalty. This was great in that it actually let me finish the Campaign, but the cycle of Combat, Damage, Death, Repeat started wearing away on my patience around three quarters of the way into the game; once your foes realise that all their forces are being wiped out by just two people, and bring out the big guns.

All in all, the level of polish the game has, both in graphics and gameplay are incredibly impressive - and show off just how skilled of developers Bungie are, but even after exposing myself to The Way of the FPS for hours straight, I still have my inhibitions to the genre. I've not been won over just yet. But there is one notion that Halo Reach has impressed on me -

More games need to have their weakest enemies explode into confetti when defeated in one hit. I cannot think of a single game that this feature would not improve.


  1. I can agree with that last point.

    Such a shame Bungie aren't working on the franchise anymore...

  2. Reach was very much the same flavour as 3, but it's a good flavour, and I -love- grunt birthday party. The guy who survived re-entry was, as far as I know, wearing a re-entry pack designed to slow his descent, but it is still pretty ludicrous. Good article Nathan :-)