30 Minutes Of Reach

Posted on December 29, 2014

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I was over at a mate’s flat, and he decided we should play a bit of Halo: Reach. Having seen me physically enact how well I play ego shooters with sticks – by the time I get my screen oriented and the reticle pointed toward something the situation has likely already resolved itself in my death – he chose, I thought wisely, to start us from the beginning. I was up for a go, as I’ve played bits of two other Halo titles before and found them, being designed from the ground up for stick-based play, occasionally tolerable. Besides, Reach is generally lauded as the crown jewel of the series.

The first damned near ten minutes was nothing but a bunch of trite military blah-de-blah. Didn’t establish plot, didn’t establish motivation, and the design of their outfits did a better job of establishing characters. Ten pointless minutes of waiting. Though for the last thirty seconds I was able to turn my camera about 180 degrees. Woo!

Then we hit the ground. Our objective? Go from point A to point B. Is it a maze? No. Is it a race? No. Do I have to keep from falling behind my squadmates? No. Are there puzzles? No. Jumping or timing based obstacles? No. Do I have a certain time limit to scrounge for supplies? No. There is nothing. No challenges. No obstacles. No gameplay. Just move from point A to point B.

Point B “accomplished”. New objective? Go from point B to point C. The only challenge so far has been the fact that the color saturation is so low that discerning the gray-green grass from the gray-brown rocks and the gray-blue sky makes navigation a bit difficult if you don’t have your nose up the screen. This makes the original Halo look like TRON, FFS. 90% of the way to point C I decide to mess about and try to jump up to the roof of a building. Just ’cause I’m like that – I do it in real life, too, when possible. I lose track of my footing and fall off a cliff.

I should note that up to now there had been nothing to shoot at, but I had taken some shots at our drop ships at the start, and some structures and barrels (which, surprisingly, didn’t explode) to blow off some steam and to see how interactive the environment…wasn’t. So, now I’ve fallen to my death partway to an objective. There’s no lives counter, so apparently I can do this infinitely. I don’t even get re-set to the beginning of the objective – though perhaps that is because of two-player co-op? I dunno. What I do know is I’m right where I was with a now full ammo loadout, so death is apparently an advantage in this game.

Round about point C I hear some radio chatter and some shots. I’m stuck inside a house in which I turned left where I was meant to turn right and remained confused by the architecture while my mate and the squad quickly dispatch a few farmers. The first action in the game and I missed it. Not that it could be called a challenge – I don’t think they even had guns. Oh, well, off to point D.

Now we find a few Covenant grunts and the radio chatter starts up again, establishing that we don’t like Covenant and we weren’t expecting to see any here. Despite your guns feeling like they do fuck-all – it takes a good half dozen hits to down the lowliest grunt – there’s only about four of them, so the AI squad would have finished them easily without our assistance. We walk a little way and hit another small group.

A bit of text in a block comes up, indicating a new sub-chapter perhaps? It says “Rebels don’t leave scorch marks” or something like. I’m guessing it’s a Star Wars reference, though I can’t see how it applies. Now we’ve got a Warthog and we drive. As we drive, some Covenant take pot shots at us, but they seem content to stand where they are rather than chase us down as we pass. We take out another small group of Covenant – now with some one-step-up-from-grunt guys who like to run behind things whenever you shoot them. We being us and the squad, who I have no idea how they kept up.

Another Warthog, and this time I refuse to ride and just jump on top, which my mate is quite dubious about. Works fine and gives me a far better viewing angle, plus a quicker response time when we stop. Ace game design all around, then. Another small to medium Covenant group the AI could conceivably handle, then we get interrupted by something and I have absolutely no desire to return to this game.

So, thirty minutes, a third of which was wasted doing nothing. The rest spent mainly trudging from point A to B with occasional challenge-free bits of target practice. Thirty minutes. “But it gets better later on, you’ve just not played it long enough!” is the standard response. No. Just no. I’ve played it for thirty minutes of fuck-all. In thirty minutes of TxK I’ll have played up to a half-dozen full games, depending on how poorly I’m doing. Regardless I’ll have faced 1000% more challenge, killed hundreds of times as many enemies, and had infinitely more fun. The only fun I had in Reach at all was when I was pointedly refusing to play the game it wanted me to.

“Oh, you just don’t appreciate games with depth.” is another common retort. But what the hell was deep about the thirty minutes of game I played? It was about as deep as watching a movie. One with nearly no plot. The only depth in play here is your tolerance to doing fuck-all in order to look at more crisply-rendered gray graphics.

I seriously do not understand the appeal of this game. What did I miss that made people want to continue? I’ve thought of doing thirty minutes with other modern games, but I fear my reports would be so similar as to be pointless to bother. Why do people continue to buy and “play” these lifeless, gameless things?

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