On the day the newest entry in the Halo series, Halo: Reach, was released, two sounds were heard: the sound of my mind being blown and the sound of oinking high above your heads, as pigs were surely flying. What caused the pork chops to take flight? I, Anthony, someone who was always “meh” towards the Halo franchise and quite frankly, bewildered by the insane amount of love and devotion gamers bestowed upon the series, had reached gaming nerdvana by way of Reach. Satan shivering in Hell? Check.
My experience with Halo began back in my college days at Florida State, where drunken Halo was a common pasttime at a friend of mine’s apartment. However, owning only a PS2 and a GameCube, I couldn’t play Halo worth a darn and no one was about to give me a second to do something as simple as figure out the reload button, so my early contact with Spartans and Master Chief was filled with cursing and frustration. When that happens, I usually just say, “Meh, that game sucks.”
But I kept hearing about it over and over and as Halo 2 was released, I felt like a lone wolf left behind by the pack as they all raced to stores at midnight to buy the sequel and play it all night. Then, when Halo 3 was released and Microsoft suddenly channeled the immortal merchandising and marketing soul of George Lucas, my feelings went from surprise to complete annoyance. How dare this franchise get so huge without my approval? And seriously, Gaming Fuel? Who authorized this? Clearly, some moron didn’t get the memo.
I was that moron.
So back in 2007, a coworker sold me his Xbox for $50.00. It was one of those modded deals, with tons of NES games on it, so for that alone, it was more than worth the price of admission. But, being a completist, I decided to seek out all those Xbox exclusives I had missed out on in the preceding years, starting with the biggest title of all: Halo: Combat Evolved. And I was impressed, even 6 years after its initial release, it was better than the majority of shooters I had played. The AI literally was good enough that it made you into a better player. The vehicles were a fun change of pace and the story was well-done because it was simple. I really liked the game, but at the time, was not a huge fan of shooters, so it still didn’t take my breath away.
After a week or so rest, I dove directly into Halo 2. I was not unaware of the criticism surrounding the sequel, mainly playing as the Arbiter and supposed lack of an ending, but I chalked it up to typical fanboy whining. Once again, I was the fool, as these complaints were more than valid. Now, personally, I enjoyed playing as the Arbiter. Master Chief does nothing for me as a character, so playing as an alien with a personality is far more preferable than playing as an armored suit with a scoop of vanilla inside it. But the story was no longer simple, but an epic mess that was difficult to follow. The Gravemind? Seriously? I expected it say, “Feed me, Seymour” at any moment. And then of course, as we are all aware, there is the sudden stop to the game with the subliminal message “See you on the 360” with a middle finger flashing on the screen. You may call me crazy, but I saw it.
So with my enthusiasm for the series dampened, I put it out of my mind, resigned to the fact that I would likely never play Halo 3. Until, our fearless leader, Eddy, texted me out of the blue, offering to sell me his 360 for $100 so that he could buy an elite. After about a day of contemplation, I jumped at the offer and bought Halo 3. And was underwhelmed, again. With the exception of a few parts, namely the Scarabs vs. Mongoose section, nothing really felt next-gen to me. The story was told in a very clunky way and while there isolated moments of brilliance, levels like Cortana left me irritated more than anything else. Coming from someone who actually enjoyed playing The Library, that’s saying something.
After experiencing the main trilogy, I decided I would rent the rest of the series in due time. But the more I saw of Reach, the more interested I became. I decided I would take the plunge and buy the game on day 1, just to see what all the fuss was about. So I picked it up after work and played through about 2 levels before Eddy and Nick jumped online and asked me to join them. Usually, I prefer playing something by myself first, but I thought, “Why the hell not?”
A fantastic decision, as my enjoyment of the game jumped by a factor of 1000. Working together against the Covenant, being unselfish and not complaining about people stealing kills, we were a buzz saw through Reach, playing through more than half of the game in one sitting and finishing it off later that week. As for the game itself, the campaign is easily the best of the series, with well-produced and voice-acted cut-scenes, characters that Bungie at least tries to make you care about and a looming dark cloud hanging over the fates of Noble Squad and Reach, which adds a layer of emotion and solemness that was missing from the other games, for me anyway.
Reach was also the first Halo game that I really made an effort to experience the online component. Wow. Reach made me finally appreciate Party Chat on Xbox Live and the hilarity that ensued with the GamerSushi boys was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. It got to the point that I would be racing home from work, undoing my seat belt before the car was stopped in the driveway, so anxious was I to get back to Reach. It literally made me feel like a kid again.
In the aftermath of Reach, I am a changed gamer. I can now recite from memory all the different vehicles and levels in Reach and once during a round of campaign, I shocked Mitch by correcting someone on how to spot the difference between a jackal and a skirmisher. I plan on reading at least one of the novels and once my Reach Fever has subsided, I will go back and play ODST and Halo Wars. But you know what is the most telling sign of all that I am now a fully armed and operation Halo fanboy? I am worried about what 343 Studios is going to do with the franchise. Crazy, huh? Just a month ago, I literally could not have cared less. The power of Halo has converted this writer and I couldn’t be happier. See you on Reach!