I know, I’m late at this game. For the past year or so, I haven’t exactly been living on a pro-gamer budget, so I haven’t been able to play games the second they’re released. Heck, I’ve only had a 360 again since around Christmas, and it’s not even my 360. Screw me. I don’t care. I want to write about this anyway, because it warms me to see a company get things right for a change.
Anyway, Halo Reach. What a game.
I can go on about the single player being a vast improvement, showcasing Bungie knows exactly what they’re doing and having learned from past experiences, but I won’t. Either you like Halo or you think it’s everything that’s wrong with the current gaming generation. For some reason we’re not allowed to have a grey area in this debate.
Personally, I like Halo. I haven’t always liked Halo, but there’s always been potential for improvement, and Bungie is a company willing to listen. Halo ODST took a massive step in the right direction in terms of story-telling and an enjoyable single-player campaign. Playing through that was a blast, if only because it played into my (totally not creepy or sexual) thing for Nathan Fillion. Firefight, while not original was well pulled off and a blast to play. You could sense they were trying something there.
Reach added even more to this mix. They straightened out some of the problems with Firefight, like only being able to play it with people in your friends list. Surprisingly, playing it with random strangers over Xbox Live has been quite a good experience for me so far. I was apprehensive about the ability to play a game type that required heavily on teamwork and skill with a bunch of strangers.
Bad memories of Left4Dead games with strangers resurfaced. Those games had me waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, the horrible memories of survivors torching each other and purposely blocking doorways, hogging health packs for no reason and booting whatever bastard actually killed that tank because they wanted to kill him themselves.
My experiences playing Firefight with strangers in Reach?
Hey, we’ve got jetpacks and rocket launchers. Let’s kill some damned Covenant!
Simple as that. We were having fun. Blasting enemies together, sticking together and watching each other’s backs when things got rough. That’s how this sort of game should be played.
Heck, that’s what I actually like about Halo and Bungie. Sure, on forums they spawn some of the worst fanboys and douchewaffles on this side of the galaxy, but every moment they’re spending bitching on forums about imaginary fuckpwnery, actual people are playing and enjoying themselves. Halo has always had one of the better communities online, at least, on the consoles it has. A large part of that is because of Bungie’s efforts. Reach is no different.
We’ve got our usual online stats stuff that we’ve seen on every Halo game so far. I know this isn’t too impressive these days, but as far as I can remember, Halo at least popularized the idea. The ability to check and compare online stats, while seeming stupid and silly to some, are quite important and useful to some. Imagine clans playing this game online, arranging matches and such. The ability to publicly have the outcome for all to see is great for everyone. Plus it helps fire up a little friendly competition with friends, which is never a bad thing.
It’s ridiculously easy to store previous games, review them, or make screenshots and videos from them.
This is a big one for the community. I mean, let’s put it this way:
See that Blue guy far in the background? Yeah, that’s me. See that sticky grenade that’s going to kill the big bad Red guy? Totally thrown by me. Did I know he was there when I made the throw? No, I did not. Was it awesome? Yes, yes it absolutely was.
Being able to save awesome or stupid moments like these is something every online game should have built in as a standard feature. It’s a simple enough addition, but it adds so much to the experience. It adds to the community as a whole. People get creative with this stuff and make weird screenshots or videos.
Heck, Theater and Forge mode play right into people making Machinima videos, like Red vs Blue (this series started BEFORE Theater was released, showing Bungie realized how much that feature would help) and Arby n the Chief.
Machinima isn’t the only use for this feature either, people love sharing silly failure moments that happened in matchmaking. And trust me, these kind of things happen more often in the game than you’d think.
Wait, this is all stuff people have done in the game. How does Bungie actually tie into this?
They gave people the opportunity and creative space to do all this weird crap in the game. Their very own site promotes stuff people are doing within the community, and they pay attention to developments within it. Often tweaking stuff with updates based on what happened. Heck, if a custom-made game mode becomes popular enough within the community, you can almost bet on it that Bungie will at least add them to the bonus weekend game slot.
Reach went one step forward with this. We’ve already had special gameplay modes for the weekend that give double experience for your online ranking with Halo 3 and have gotten used to that. Now we’ve got special daily and weekly challenges added to this mix. They’re not joking when they say this stuff is updated on a daily basis. It’s just a little bit of extra effort on their part, and it goes a long way in terms of enjoyability derived from it. I love seeing a jetpack related daily challenge and all the players suddenly bringing out their jetpacks in matchmaking to try to nail it.
Then there’s how they handle DLC. The moment a map pack gets dated or a new one gets released, the old ones either drop in price or become free to download. Most other companies don’t fall for this sort of deal, unless it’s a bonus deal of the week thing. I know it’s likely Microsoft has a hand in this, but honestly, I don’t really care. Any reduction in price or piece of free DLC is welcome in my book. Especially if it adds more gameplay time to something I enjoy.
Love or hate Halo, it’s hard to deny Bungie is one of the companies that actually cares for its community. Only other company or game to surprise me as much was Burnout Paradise with its 1GB free update. Improves graphics, tweaked gameplay, added game modes and vehicles. For free.
I’m not saying we should all bow down to our Bungie overlords in this post either. I’d love to see more companies follow up on this kind of stuff. It’s attracting the right kind of crowds, and as much as Halo fanboy forum posts might suggest otherwise, they’re a silent majority happily playing the game.