Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Journey into Halo: Reach

Saturday, a full 11 days after its release to the world, I loaded Halo: Reach into my 360. I read The Fall of Reach years ago, not to mention actually playing the original Combat Evolved, which means I know how this future Alamo allegory should end. There is something very depressing about that. Will the missions I'm handed make any difference? I'm not that guy who becomes the savior of the human race. I'm Noble Six and I'm on Reach, and so are the Covenant. A lot of them.

Parts of the planet glow from orbit. The superheated crust rippling the air with heat. A helmet, loose on the ground, attached to no one, a hole blown through the faceplate, presents a symbol of a lost battle. This could be the moment just prior to The Pillar of Autumn's arrival at The Halo, lightyears away.

Noble Six's time is numbered. He can't feel it but I can. Maybe he knows it as I do. It's just inevitable. He isn't easily welcomed into the Noble Team. But a mission is getting underway as he arrives. A comms tower is down and rebels in the population may be responsible. A recon team is sent to investigate, but a distress signal is later received. The Spartans of Noble Team are chosen to investigate. A bit of overkill, some think.

I have never been to Reach so an aerial tour on the new transport VTOLs of the frontier farming region is helpful. I know its not rebels and I feel like I'm seeing this beautiful landscape for the last time. Suddenly I'm on the ground and running through some terraced farmland into a courtyard with a burning Warthog. Nothing on radar but us. Exploring the farm house reveals plasma burns, not consistent with rebels. I knew it. Heat signatures in another farm draw us to terrified farmers, speaking a language I've never heard, describing some kind of creatures.

Moving to another part of the farm we find the missing recon team and some locals, all tortured. Something red on the radar. It ran off. Tense, waiting for enemy contact, but nothing. Securing the area we move out and engage a group of Grunts and Jackals in a courtyard, waiting for us. I faced them before, not as Noble Six though. They don't go down easy and my shields aren't as strong as I'd like. Suddenly I realize my scoped pistol is my best friend for ranges longer than about six feet.

The fighting ramps up more and more as we bring the fight to these Covenant. Checkpoint by checkpoint we push them back. Dropships bringing reinforcements but all along using every bullet I have to end them. I don't remember the last time I really worried about ammo while fighting the Covenant. The Jackals, sometimes solo and sometimes found in small packs, move fast, wasting your ammo, making you chase them. A difficult task even with the "Speed" armor ability. I have never been worried facing a Jackal before. But, if ammo is low, I can still hurt them with a weapon strike.

The weapons sound more real, the impact shock is more palpable. After rescuing a stranded unit, we were dropped into a courtyard and defended it, while Kat hacked a protective blast door. After a few minutes, and almost all my rounds, Kat shut the blast door, the silence from battle palpable. For the darkness I have NVGs, a far site better than Master Chief's flashlight. Reach isn't a bright place at the best of times, as the sky always seems dense with clouds. A ringed planet peeking through at times. The darkness doesn't seem so bad, but the Covenant are here, too. And they can see better than I.

We are in some kind of research station and the scientists have been killed. The daughter of the chief scientist is found hiding, but an Elite surprises our party and makes off with her. We pursue but she isn't our mission. We get the comms up and running enough to warn the outside world the Covenant is on Reach. They almost don't believe us, but they lost contact with an arctic station run by the Office of Naval Intelligence. We leave immediately but not before finding a data recorder of some sort on a scientist.

Flying in hot to ONI base we help them clear out the base. A few tries later and I start getting a feel for fighting these Covenant that don't die quickly, and don't run away either. All of this with the specter of an enemy ship high above the arctic base. They have tanks and air superiority. Just keep fighting on the ground to each checkpoint. Push them back or run past when I run out of ammo.

All in all a beautiful looking game/planet which I never have time to appreciate since we're being overrun. No victory feels like a victory. It feels like survival. We're not going to make it but at least some of them won't either. I wish I could just walk the world and see it. Explore it and interact with it in someway other than a bullet/needle/plasma/grenade. Even the space ostriches seem to beg you to slow down and take in the environment. I felt bad for the one that got between me a Grunt.

The game looks great but I wish the NVGs didn't look so grainy. I know it's meant to look real, but I've used them enough in the first set of missions I feel like I'm missing some details. I haven't really wrapped my head around the armor skill thing, which is to say I haven't begun to use it heavily during gameplay. I need to think about it to use it, so it hasn't become important to me yet. Another first for me has been whenever I'm up close to one of the Covenant, getting a good look at it, I'm usually in a lot of trouble. Best to kill them from a distance.

I'm uneasy about continuing this suicide mission, but I'm Heroic all the way.