A Warm Return: Greetings From a New Location, First Impressions of Halo: Reach, and a Clear Milestone

I'm back!

It's been just over a month since my last post, but I am finally settled in (mostly) in my new home of the foreseeable future, which means that until I move again, The Game Critic is back online! It couldn't of happened better either, because this is a milestone of a post for this site. Today marks the 100th post placed on this site since its humble beginnings back in 2008. Working out the math, I've kept fairly closely to my goal of posting one article per week for each year. Inconsistent at times yes, but overall I've kept to my goal. The site has grown in readers since it's humble beginnings as well. Were once I had one or two regular readers, from comments and other information my site seems to have a regular 15-20 readers now. I can only hope that when The Game Critic hits the next milestone, it's grown in even greater ways.

Which leads me to another topic. For a while now I've talked about redesigning the site. For all the writing I've done here the rest of the site is very bland. It uses an edited default template, has no recognizable logo or banner, and as time has gone on I've realized that the title of the site itself doesn't even match what a lot of the articles have become. There are critical moments yes, but there are just as many discussions, ideas and even a growing number of reviews. So, in honor of the 100th post, I'm finally going to stop putting it off. The Game Critic is getting a new name, it's own e-mail address, it's own art, and maybe even a new writer or two. I'll agree with all you readers when I say "It's about time."

Speaking of you readers, if any of you are interested in perhaps writing for the "presently called" Game Critic, keep your eyes on this space in the coming days and start thinking of what you may want to write. I intend for this site to grow past my original expectations, in many ways it already has. So if you'd be interested in becoming a part of the crew, keep your eyes on this space.

 For now however, it's going to be business as usual, starting with a First Impressions piece on the finale for the Halo series, the epic Halo: Reach.

Where to even begin first of all. Halo: Reach is one of those titles that likely everyone who knew what it was and wanted it already bought it. So by this point, most of you have probably already played Reach or at least spoken with someone who has. Here's the thing though, this is not a title you want to miss if you are a fan of FPS games on a console at all. As a swan song for the Halo series, Reach serves its purpose in an incredible fashion, immersing itself in the universe of Halo one last time. However, at the same time this is not the Halo you've played before.

If anything, Reach is the logical evolution of what Bungie has been striving to achieve with Halo since the very beginning. Playing Reach made me recall the early days of news announcements for the original Halo. Everything I remember reading about the original Halo game that the developers wished they could do is done in Reach. As a matter of fact, one particular cutscene almost seems a shout out to a preview I read a long time ago. In other words, if you were one of those players who wished Halo had never been stripped when it went to the console, Reach may satisfy that itch once and for all to play with everything Halo wanted to be.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Halo mythology, Reach's single player takes place just before the first game in the series and tells the story of mankinds ferocious last stand on the planet Reach. And when they say last stand, they mean it, every Halo game since has mentioned Reach in some form or another. The most powerful military base and colonized world alongside Earth, Reach is ultimately wiped out and glassed from orbit. Casualties in the millions. In Reach's single player, you're taking part in that fight from the very beginning as one of the epic Spartan soldiers (a Spartan III to be specific), and until the very end. And as such, the storyline in Reach is a lot darker and more melancholy then any previous titles, but uses that to great effect in it's final triumphant ending. Story-wise, its a powerful game, with much focus on loss and sacrifice as the all consuming Covenant juggernaut overcomes the planet. Note to the wise, if you want to take the story in full while co-oping, play it with someone who is also serious about it. You don't want a sad moment ruined by immature comments.

Gameplay is solid and I would say the most refined in the Halo series. Much of the combat has been changed up by numerous small tweaks to the design that while at first seem trivial, but added together make the game substantially different. Well, not just different, but evolved. While numerous other shooters are copying Halo's style or simply producing more of the same content (cough CoD cough), Reach truly feels like it's evolved past its predecessors. Weapon accuracy has taken a huge step with a reticule bloom feature that increases the size of your cross-hairs as you fire rapidly, reducing your accuracy the faster you pull the trigger. The end result finally brings a bit of balance to the insanely overwhelming advantage sniper weapons had in previous Halo titles, as each shot throws your accuracy wide. No more instant double-taps from snipers unless they get lucky.

The game also includes a vastly expanded multiplayer segment, with Firefight making its return with 10 variations as well as the ability to create your own custom firefight games. Matchmaking has also been expanded, with player tracking not only watching your stats, but your play style (everything from how motivated you seem to how talkative) so that it can more closely match you based on your requested specs. While Reach only includes "eight maps", the new Forge editor is powerful to the extreme, so powerful that one of the eight has six variations (extreme variations) created by Bungie with the Forge tools, some of which are maps from prior Halo games.

Look for my full review of Halo: Reach in a week. But until then, rest assured that unless at this point you're just hating to hate or you really can't be pleased by a shooter ever, at this point you should already be counting out the dollars, not just for Reach, but for a 360 should the need arise. It's not a perfect shooter, but it cleanly shows why Bungie is at the top of the heap.

No comments: