Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: Dec. 3, 2019


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PC Review - 'Halo: Reach'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 25, 2020 @ 12:25 a.m. PST

Halo: The Master Chief Collection bundles Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4 on a single disc, featuring remastered graphics and running at 60fps.

Buy Halo: The Master Chief Collection

The Halo series has been on the PC before. RTS fans have seen both entries of Halo Wars on the Windows Store and on Steam. Twin-stick shooter fans have seen the spin-offs, Halo: Spartan Assault and Halo: Spartan Strike, land on both storefronts, and those who invested in Windows Mixed Reality got familiar with Halo: Recruit, a short and free experience via a virtual training session. The first two entries in the mainline series were released on the PC in physical form, and they made for ancient versions of Windows. As a result, the news of Halo: The Master Chief Collection coming to PC via Windows Store and Steam made huge waves, especially since the developers were pledging that this would be more than a simple port. To prove that, the individual games that comprise the collection are coming in piecemeal, and that starts with Halo: Reach.

Although Reach is technically the fifth game in the main series, the story chronologically takes place before the events of the first Halo title. You play the role of Noble Six, a new transfer to the Noble outfit of Spartans on the planet Reach. The minute you set foot on your new base, you and your team are assigned to investigate a rebel attack on one of your communication outposts. You discover that The Covenant, a religious conglomerate of aliens that are waging war on humanity, is responsible for the attack. Thus begins a seemingly impossible fight that leads to bigger things later on.

Unless you're coming into the franchise fresh, Reach's drawback from a narrative perspective is that it is a prequel whose plot is referenced at the beginning of the original Halo. Much like "Rogue One" for the "Star Wars" franchise, you know exactly how this will end, so there's a emphasis on making the adventure exciting and the characters likeable. Luckily, the game comes through on both fronts, and even though each of the members of Noble fit an archetype, by the end, you're going to sympathize with them more than hate them.

As far as gameplay goes, Reach takes things back to the original Halo in a number of ways. You still have the regenerating shield, but your health meter is has returned, so health packs once again play a vital role in keeping you alive. You may have the ability to wield large gravity hammers and plasma swords, but dual-wielding weapons is off the table, so players need to master the skill of balancing the dual-weapon setup and learning to pick up anything you can from the field. The moment-to-moment gameplay remains, however, so lulls in fighting are welcome, as going from one hotspot to another results in a few stragglers who take potshots at you. Enemy behavior is also varied, as some foes will panic if their numbers thin out. Enemies have no trouble trying to dance around your shots instead of running for cover. Once you get used to the fact that you'll be shooting from the hip instead of aiming down sights, you'll feel right at home.

Whether you're trying to rescue civilians in a city under siege or flying around in the rare space dogfight, the base mechanics are complemented by two noticeable changes to the formula. The first is the presence of suit powers. Some are merely extensions of things seen in other Halo titles, so while active camo and bubble shields aren't new, they're no longer separate items to pick up and use. Other powers include the ability to dash to get a better drop on enemies and a jetpack to let you gain higher ground. Their presence makes fights even more strategic — if you can break away from the classic mentality of the older games and actually use the new abilities.

The second change isn't new, but it is noticeable: the constant presence of AI team members. We've had them before in other Halo titles, but those were mostly grunts who served as cannon fodder, provided occasional banter, and infrequently landed a good shot on a smaller foe. Here, each member of the Noble outfit can fight well, often doing a good chunk of the work instead of you having to kill off everyone. They're also rather hardy in a fight, so no babysitting is needed to keep them alive. For those without a buddy to jump into a campaign with, the AI team members are suitable substitutes that you'll like instead of loathe.

All of this combines to provide the classic shooter feel that's missing in most modern offerings. There are a few times when a marker gives you a hint about where to go, but you'll have to rely on your instincts. Firefights feel frantic, even when you're fighting lowly grunts; all it takes is a lucky few shots to send you into a vulnerable state. It also helps that ammo is more scarce than you think, so you'll never really be able to stick with favorites for that long. Finally, the campaign is a good length, but it doesn't feel that long when you're playing, which speaks to the game's smooth flow that disguises any lulls in activity.

One of the benefits that the port gets as being part of the Master Chief Collection is that it also inherits the perks that longtime fans received. All of the Skulls are unlocked from the beginning, so you can immediately start modifying the game as you see fit, from making it more difficult or getting a burst of confetti with a successful headshot. Each campaign level has leaderboards, so you can immediately compare your performance in terms of completion and arbitrary scores. The more interesting addition is with the play lists, which put specific campaign chapters in a certain order to mix things up for those who aren't keen on adversarial gameplay. The campaign chapters still have to be played through instead of snippets, but it provides some fresh scenarios.

For many, the Halo series is synonymous with multiplayer, and your perspective will influence how you feel about this aspect of Reach. The good news is that the modes from the original console iteration are almost all here. Four-player co-op through the campaign is here, and while it may seem thematically off to have four iterations of Noble Six on-screen during cut scenes, it's a ton of fun on a platform that now has more than a few cooperative shooters. All of the adversarial modes are also here, from deathmatch to Grifball, and with the ability to play casual matches, competitive matches, and modded matches, the variety on display is vast. Firefight is also here as the title's horde mode, and while it can be conquered solo, it remains a perfect four-player mode for those who have finished the campaign and want more in a less focused setting. The only thing missing is Forge mode, and while that will come later, it means that the inventive stuff from the community is hidden away for now.

The bad news is that the multiplayer for Reach isn't exactly a fan favorite. What many fans loved was how the game was a mix of classic and modern shooting mechanics, so everyone started off on the same foot. Here, the game places a bigger emphasis on loadout, so while you might start off with the same guns as everyone else, the powers you get from jetpacks, instant bubble shields, and active camo play a bigger role. The change may be fine for newcomers, but series vets have bristled at the idea. This results in a title where you can still find a multiplayer match but not as quickly as in the first three titles of the series.

For recent console transplants, one aspect that is a big disappointment is the lack of split-screen play. There's none for the campaign, none for firefight, and none for any multiplayer. There is LAN play, which is something of a rarity nowadays, but the lack of split-screen is an oddity since most PCs have the horsepower to run it without any penalty, and since the base Xbox One can also handle it without much issue.

When the game originally appeared on the Xbox 360, it was a showcase title that pushed what the system could do at the time. On the PC now, Reach still looks good, but the graphics don't punch as hard. Part of that has to do with the environments, which look fine, but getting close to certain objects reveals how the low-resolution textures don't hold up anymore. It doesn't help that most of the environments you fight in have a muted color scheme, but that makes a few of the other locales stand out more due to their expansive vistas or drastic color changes. The animations look nice when in battle, as enemies dodge and shoot and react rather well, but seeing anyone speak looks quite primitive. What helps the game is the fact that it runs at a silky-smooth 60fps almost all of the time, and loading times from various levels is very quick on an SSD. It does, however, suffer from tiny hitches when the game autosaves; the Xbox 360 also suffered from this, but it's more pronounced here due to the increased frame rate.

Audio fares quite well for the most part. Marty O'Donnell's score remains as captivating now as it did when it premiered almost nine years ago, and it's a real highlight when you get into a firefight or when you're simply driving around in a beat-up truck. The voice acting is excellent, with both major and minor characters getting some great performances. The sound effects lack any punch, which ends up messing with the audio mix as a whole. There are times when voices come out softer than they should and other times when the music overpowers things. You can try to change the settings to fix this, but a patch should address this.

For PC players, the features specific to the platform are hit-and-miss. On the plus side, the keyboard/mouse controls are on point, with none of the lag or other control oddities that are usually associated with shooters developed for console and ported to the PC several years later by teams who were unfamiliar with the platform. It feels natural here, from the shooting to the flying to the point where the only reason to go back to a controller is because of the associated muscle memory. The same can't be said for the graphical options, which are rather bare-bones. The presets are better than some other ported titles, which feature no options at all, but after seeing Microsoft's options for other marquee titles like Forza Horizon 4 and Gears 5, this was quite a letdown.

Although this isn't the definitive version of the game due to the lack of split-screen play, Halo: Reach on the PC is a solid experience. The campaign retains the magic that Bungie prided itself on during its time with the franchise and the multiplayer. While the multiplayer in Reach is not as populous as the older entries, it often has more options to satisfy anyone's tastes. This is a good indication of how the rest of the package will turn out, which means that there's going to be some positive buzz surrounding each release. Whether you're buying this on Steam or taking advantage of the Xbox Game Pass on PC, Reach is well worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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