I sprinted through Halo: Reach.
I didn’t do it because I was under the pressures of a deadline, even though I was. I didn’t do it because I wanted to get through the year’s biggest game before anyone else, even though I did. I didn’t do it because I didn’t care about the story and only wanted to play multiplayer, as that would make me the world’s worst game reviewer.
No, I sprinted through Halo: Reach simply because I could.
Much ink (err, do we have a 2010 version of that stuff?) has been spilled over developer Bungie’s decision to fundamentally change the basic Halo first-person shooter experience by adding these so-called armor abilities, and for good reason. People — especially gamers — don’t typically like it when the things they love are changed even a little bit, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of the folks who was worried about what would happen to my beloved Halo franchise. I never truly embraced the equipment that first appeared in Halo 3, so I was worried that these new armor abilities would negatively impact both the single- and multiplayer modes by sending Halo in gimmicky new directions.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Not only do the armor abilities help to make Halo: Reach the best game in the franchise’s history, their inclusion allowed Bungie to add something that the single-player campaign always sorely lacked: strategy. I played through the campaign on Heroic difficulty (that’s “second-hardest” for the uninitiated) in about 10 hours my first time through, and found myself relying heavily on my Sprint ability to dart from one cover object to the next, flanking my Covenant enemies while my A.I.-controlled squad mates supplied cover fire.
On Legendary difficulty (yep, that’d be the hardest one), I leaned far more heavily on the entire range of abilities, particularly the fire-drawing Hologram and oh-thank-god-I-was-just-getting-pummeled Drop Shield. You actually need to use these powers to successfully navigate the game’s tougher sequences, particularly with Reach’s greatly improved enemy A.I., which actually makes the Covenant Elites just as terrifying as they were in the first Halo.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Reach doesn’t even need the faux-gimmicky hook provided by the armor abilities, as the story is strong enough to stand on its own. All of the Covenant’s socio-political side narratives are gone, and the Halo-centric technobabble has been trimmed back significantly, resulting in a story that’s far leaner and meaner than any of its predecessors.
The focus on the human element (well, as human as Halo’s Spartan super-soldiers can be) is a welcome change, even when you know from the start how it all ends. The emotional scenes actually play fairly well, far better than the tepid love story that was Halo 3: ODST. If anything, I would have preferred more character development, as it felt like I didn’t have enough time to get to know my soon-to-be-fallen comrades.