Welcome back to Reach, Spartan.

If you have not played Reach and care about the story, then I will warn you, there will be spoilers.

My central console growing up was the Xbox 360. I did play PlayStation 1&2 and countless Nintendo consoles, but the 360 was always something special to me. It gave me access to worlds like Assassins CreedThe Elder Scrolls, Gears of War and many more. But the most important to me, the Halo universe.

Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One
Release Date: 2010 (Masterchief collection 2019)

My younger brother, when growing up owned an original Xbox, and we had our first encounter with the Covenant in Halo 2. Fast forward a few years and Halo 3 was probably the most influential game we had ever played. Introducing us to vast amounts of fun in the multiplayer mode and the story just furthered how excellent Master Chief was. Then Halo Reach came along, and I think it was possibly the best Halo to date, sorry Halo 3. Reach presented us with a story in which it wasn’t going to hold our hands, the characters we loved were not going to be safe, and there wasn’t going to be a happy ending. Up until this moment, I don’t think either of us had played a game in which influential characters we cared about died, coldly, without a huge “I’m going out with a bang”. Well, I suppose that would be slightly wrong as the majority of them at least went down with a fight.

To say, as children, we didn’t take the deaths of characters well would be an understatement. I’m looking at you Gears of War 3, you know after that ‘big moment’ in Gears 3, we stopped playing. Yeah, we were that sour when it came to character deaths. We’ve grown out of it. Halo Reach introduced us to the fact that death was an inevitability within these games. I owe so much to the Halo series for the relationship with my brother. Spending hours upon hours playing the campaigns or in the multiplayer mode, we were hitting people with the one-two shotgun-melee combo like it was second nature. Okay, before he mentions it in the comments. Yes. He was better than me. (He will be happy to read that). Much better, but in my defence, he had dumb luck on his side. He could throw a sticky grenade from one side of the map to the other, and stick someone, I still think he would practice them throws all the time. Either that or he was the luckiest person on earth.

Fast forward a few years down the line, close to ten years, I had the opportunity to play through the fantastic campaign again with my wife (Lauren) and a close friend (Lucy). Now, some context, Lauren had never played Halo: Reach, or anywhere past Halo 2. So we decided that a playthrough of all games would be worth it, in chronological order, that meant Reach first.

You join Noble team as the sixth member, sent to get a relay back up and running. Carter, the leader of Noble team abigiously mentions that you are replacing someone that has passed. He states that any “Lone wolf stuff stays behind, we are a team”. This is interesting because before hand, the majority of Halo games were ‘Lone wolf’ style games. The game nods to that and places you in its world, you fight along side and protect Noble team. Upon discovering that the Covenant have attacked Reach, you scramble to defend what you can. We all got instantly stuck into the action, headshots here and there, they never stood a chance against us. But what initially was a defence, turned into a mission to give the galaxy a chance against the Covenant. Reach was, unfortunately, the collateral damage. We had to get Halsey’s secret research onto the Pillar of Autumn quickly, so quickly in fact that we panicked and rushed through as if time were really against us.

“Not going to lie to you lieutenant you’re stepping into some shoes that the rest of the squad would rather leave unfilled.”

Noble One – Carter

What I love about Halo is the ability to have a great story and narrative, while allowing you to have dumb fun with your friends. The hordes of enemies rarely presented much of a challenge, even though we were on heroic (Hard), so we would kill them in stupid ways. The fun became the chemistry between friends, while yes, we were defending a planet and trying to save the world from the Covenant. We were also killing each other, tea-bagging, blowing each other vehicles up and leaving each other to deal with bigger enemies alone. It was fun, okay, no hard feelings, hopefully.

That’s when the first emotional death happens, George. What a hero. Upon boarding a huge Covenant super-carrier, with a device that could destroy it and you in the process. Once you’ve done everything needed on the ship you return to George who has been defending the device, which will not blow on a timer, someone has to stay with it. Instead of fighting and arguing, George picks your character up and throws you into space, helpless. Helplessly falling from the destroyer, you see it detonate a sharp explosion that splits the ship into two, George is gone.

What was devastating as a child, was understandable now. But it still left a sour taste in my mouth, George was an excellent character. We explained to Lauren that ‘Spartans don’t die, they go MIA.’ This phrase did not soften the blow. When more covenant ships appeared over Reach, launching a full-scale invasion. George died, believing he saved Reach, we had to now do our best by him. Our new task is to get a package to a ship fleeing Reach called the Pillar of Autumn. The package, Cortana an AI that will be familiar to all those who have played through the Halo games. Spotting this as a kid was one of the most remarkable moments in gaming for me. We are setting up everything that we had done with Master Chier; without this moment, none of that would have happened.

Once we were able to reach The Pillar of Autumn and deliver our package, we would have to defend the ship as it got away. Emile steps into an anti-aircraft gun and lays protective fire while we attempt to clear a path for the UNSC to get Cortana from us. An offer, come on board spartan and save your life. But, we refuse. Knowing that if we don’t finish what Emile started, they won’t escape. Running and gunning towards the anti-aircraft gun, it felt like everything rested on this moment, one of us jumped into the gun while the other two rallied around to defend them. It was a blissful moment when we saw the Autumn leave the atmosphere; we had potentially saved the universe from the Covenant. Seeing that ship fly off gave such a wonderful feeling, both now and when I was a child. I knew where the package was going and who it was for, Master Chief would find out in a moment. The ending of the game links directly into the start of the first Halo game, providing both nostalgia and satisfaction.

Then the end credits mission started. Six was still alive and fighting. There was a momentary feeling of fight within Lauren, the same battle I felt when I was younger. I wanted to survive, me and Lucy knew we wouldn’t. We gave up early. The fight wasn’t going to end; they would keep coming. We both died, and Lauren shouted “There’s so many! I need to get a new gun I’ve got no ammo. I’m going to die!” End cut scene. She was shocked; we were solemn.

That end mission is something of beauty. Nothing much happens, you die. The inevitability of death is a strange feeling that the game presents the player. You’ve seen these Spartans kill hundreds of aliens, jump off buildings, escape explosions, sneak through an entire army and then watched as they die off one-by-one. They’ve done what they can to save the world, but sometimes that comes at a high cost. 

Are there any childhood games you’ve visited recently? Remastered games are often happening lately. I’ve seen a lot of you play through Final Fantasy VIIR lately and it is beautiful when a remaster lives up to past expectations.

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