From Visegrad With Love
Best for Last
As the saying goes, from the beginning we knew the end of Reach, and any doubt was removed by the opening moments of the first cinematic. What we didn’t know is how we’d get to experience the end of Noble Six. Lone Wolf is less a mission than a vignette, a coda to the story of Reach’s fall, and Noble Team’s along with it. While the desolate, increasingly desperate scene lasts but a few moments, the impact it has on the game is oversized.
Its impact echoes out to repeat playthroughs of the Reach Campaign, when we see that helmet — our helmet, hard earned and hand selected from the Armory — shattered on the scorched earth. It creates a sense of foreboding and dread that hangs over all the subsequent missions, and it personalizes the impending doom that is settling over Reach that no simple cinematic could have pulled off.
In placing us in an impossible situation and letting us slug it out to the bitter, inevitable end, Bungie brings a closure to Noble Six’s story as satisfying as it is unsettling. It is an effect built from the fusion of a game feature (customizable armor), cinematic narrative and gameplay design, and it’s the bravest story telling moment in the Halo series. Reach’s story takes many missteps along the way, but it ends on a powerful demonstration of gaming’s potential as a narrative medium.
The team at Bungie that created Reach deserves great praise for the balance it struck in its final Halo Campaign, for refusing to make Reach purely a greatest hits of Halo encounter and gameplay design. Risk taking with successful franchises is difficult and should be encouraged. Reach’s high points are quite high (often literally so) and are the result of great ambition. Perhaps it was the resources poured into those ambitious set pieces themselves that caused key aspects of the gamplay such as NPC AI and vehicle design to atrophy. At the same time, Reach also demonstrates that the quality of the combat sandbox and the way it is doled out must mesh with the mission designs in order to facilitate Halo’s signature open-ended combat. The excellent mid-range encounters that punctuate the campaign serve as contrasts to the rest of the infantry combat and showcase where the Campaign goes awry.
Despite these flaws, the game remains incredibly fun to play throughout, even with the odd frustration or the rough edge present. Reach’s satisfying feedback loop and superbly crafted enemies keep combat engaging and rewarding, and it’s all set within a gorgeous and meticulously detailed, slowly dying world. In many ways, Reach’s setting feels like a fully realized artistic vision, with a richness to the visual design that has made the gulf between its concept art and final game all but nonexistent. But in allowing the gameplay to so often lose sight of Halo’s defining fundamentals, Bungie’s final Halo Campaign has left true greatness just out of reach.