Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Halo: (Climb Every Mountain High and) Reach

Hello. We stand right now at the very brink of the Halo: Reach beta, just about to end and, though, this was conceived originally as a lament, let's shake off those funerary greys and paint our Mk. V armour celebratory pink!

For Halo: Reach has been a success. A mixture of tweaks to the Halo formula and those big, bold additions make this the most worthwhile successor to Halo: Combat Evolved since ... the elitist* in me wants to say Combat Evolved but as usual with elitism, that's pure snobbery. The most worthwhile successor since Halo 2.
.
And, though those exciting tech-porn power-ups, the Armour Abilities have been grabbing the headlines, and for good reason (okay, quickly: the shield is my favourite because it turns the game, for moments, into slowed-down strategy; the jetpack is second because it turns the game into a big old playground), I'm here today to talk about Halo: Reach's quiet revolution: Invasion.

It's barely tangible, being a game-mode rather than a new weapon or a shiny jetpack, but it fundamentally changes Halo and is the component, the one small cog, that absolutely makes the game. It combines everything great about Halo - both multiplayer and singleplayer - and has been destroying for productivity for a week now. And how does it do all this?

By getting rid of the numbers. At its lowest ebb, Halo can feel a bit... pointless. It's easy to lose hours into a few rounds of deathmatch, but sometimes, just watching those figures tick up, there's no sense of achievement**, drama or tension to the game: all the stuff that marks Halo as a notch above all the other shooters it's exactly like, for me.

(It's probably worth stopping here to note that, in games as in life, I basically consider numbers to be the enemy. They're the gateway drug by which people are hooked onto lifeless MMOs, or Farmville. The levelling-up system so prevalent in Halo: Reach's multiplayer does nothing for me. It repulses me. It is Rorscharch's dog-brains-splatter to my psyche. But ... I'm a Grade I Sergeant, what are you?)
.
Instead of those horrid, horrid numbers, there's a simple narrative arc set up for you. The aliens are trying to get our McGuffin, stop them! (Or, alternatively, the humans took our McGuffin! Get it back!) What this means, though, is that every kill, or death, or whatever, has some worth in a tangible way: it either helps or hinders getting to your goal against a ticking timer.

This encourages small, perfectly-formed moments: the last-second rush being the most obvious, both sides gritting their teeth. But the one that comes to mind is my team of four (two allies having quit. Boo them) defending against six aliens just desperate for our lucky charms. Not expecting much, we hole up in the bunker that holds the McGuffin and wait...

Plasma-sword-wielding Elites crash against us in waves but (to get nerdy) with a vertical formation of snipers and close-ranger shotgunners, we hold off until, in the dying seconds, one gets up in the rafters, takes our last sniper out. We're chipped down to one man, me, standing over the McGuffin with a rapidly-emptying shotgun as the final second is counted. VICTORY.

And so Invasion is. It's simple, it's hardly the first time it's been done, but it gives all those plasma grenades and assault rifles a purpose. We kept the McGuffin!
Reach1
*Note: small 'e', as opposed to Elitist, the group of people who will choose, at all costs, the hulking alien monsters over our brave boys in red and blue.

**Again, small 'a'. As opposed to Achievement, those - depending on who you ask - absolutely necessary cornerstones of modern gaming or disease-spreading arbiters*** of gaming's end-time.

***And that's small 'a' as ... ehhh, I think this joke might be done.

1 comment:

Jon Stone said...

Nowerdays I always end up playing everything a couple of generations late, so no Halo: Reach for me yet. But reading this, it occurs to me - this 'Invasion' mode - isn't it just UT's 'Assault' mode, first introduced in 1999?

Although, as I recall, in 'Assault' you have a number of goals that have to be achieved by the invaders - gaining access to certain places, turning off certain machines etc. So as the defenders, you have the added tension of knowing exactly how close the enemy is getting to achieving its ultimate goal, and as one area falls, you have to keep falling back until you're defending the very last power core or locked room.

Man, that was good fun. My favourite level was on top of a high-speed train, having to work your way down the carriages to the engine. You can try to bypass the enemy by going over the top, or down the side, but if they spot you you're a sitting duck.

About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.