While I am by no means a Halo expert*, I do consider myself a Halo fan. I had been looking forward to Reach since it was announced and it was the only game I’ve bought on launch day all year.
I’m also quite partial to the Call Of Duty games. As shooters go, Call Of Duty is perhaps the Beatles to Halo’s Rolling Stones. Or maybe it’s the other way around... fodder for another blog post. While I certainly respect and enjoy both games, no one can love them both equally, and if I had to choose between the two, I’d pick Halo.
Aesthetically, Reach is one of the most awe-inspiring pieces of visual media I’ve ever consumed. The rich detail of the environments and the artful, mature cutscenes are Avatar-ishly mind-blowing. Likewise, the sound design on Reach is jaw-dropping, from the beauty of its musical score to the marvelously-crafted foley cues. Overall, Reach is a splendidly integrated piece of entertainment, consistent, immersive, emotionally engaging, impeccably detailed, well balanced and paced (although not without a few Halo-esque difficulty spikes / missing checkpoints), and generally a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Hats off, Bungie. There need never be another Halo.
All that being said... the Modern Warfare influence is undeniable. On paper, we all knew this was coming: the loadouts (Sprinting!? In Halo!?), the multiplayer leveling and upgrades system, the emphasis on teamwork over Rambo-style lone wolf Master Chief tanking, etc.
At least we still get to keep our overshields, plasma grenades and gravity hammers, right? ** Perhaps it’s just fanboy resistance to progress, but I like my Halos to be Halos and my Modern Warfares to be Modern Warfares. I understand the insecurity that pressures publishers and developers into catering to popular taste, especially on a project with the scope and box office potential of Reach’s magnitude, but... well, a guy can dream.
Personally, the most disappointing should’ve-seen-that-coming Modern Warfare-ism in Halo: Reach is the shift in the game’s overall tone. Even at its most earnest, previous Halos never forgot who they were: escapist jaunts into a hyper-realistic (physics-wise) sci-fi world that felt limitlessly fantastic. The tongue never completely left the cheek. I’ve always seen Halo as the video game equivalent of Starship Troopers. The spirit of the Halo franchise was one of derivative subject matter, delivered in a self-aware way, drawing upon familiar modern-day conventions for maximum storytelling economy.
While the storylines in Modern Warfare are arguably just as fantastic, the mood is different. More like the most recent James Bond films. Modern Warfare is badass in a serious way; Halo was always badass in an over-the-top way. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but anyone who has played through the Reach campaign must surely agree that the sense of humor is gone. Your fellow soldiers are now courageous and respectable where they were once pathetic cowards. The aliens are a legitimate threat to your home and way of life (see Modern Warfare) and no longer scream “Run away!!” in ridiculous cartoonish voices. Gone is Cortana’s endless string of witty remarks. Gone are the absurd rhyming couplets of the Gravemind. In fact, [SPOILER ALERT!] gone are the wacky, loveable zombies altogether. (Remember when "Halo" meant "half-aliens, half-zombies game"?)
What remains, for better or worse, is a straightforward story of nobility, courage and sacrifice in the face of certain defeat. Reach might even make you cry. It’s a repeat of the Star Wars prequel formula -- and the lack of public outcry might just indicate that mainstream audiences are marginally more open to tragic space operas than they were a few years ago when Lucas unveiled his misunderstood prequel triptych masterpiece.
Anyways... only 2.5 more weeks to Black Ops!!!!!!!
* Although I am one of the best in the world at getting pWn’d by 12-year-olds in any given Halo multiplayer.
** Nerd-out: I love that they brought back the Combat Evolved pistol, and the new Needle Rifle is a splendid all-around with delightful long-range accuracy; but, while assassinations are cool and all, the melee is too weak for my tastes, and IMHO, the DMR is such a woefully over-nerfed Battle Rifle that it just depresses me to use it.