Anger, Sadness and Envy Ep. 21: The Winter of our Discontingency
This time on Anger, Sadness and Envy, Narcogen, Blackstar and Cody Miller take a look at the first level of Halo: Reach, Winter Contingency.
Show highlights include:
ODST was the only Halo game that started with a text crawl. Reach is the only one that starts with a flashback, showing your customized helmet on the post-invasion, burning surface, then transitioning to Noble Six putting the helmet on in the Warthog, on his (or her) way to meet the rest of Noble Team. Does this work?
Hungry Like The (Lone) Wolf. Does the foreshadowing-- the lone wolf stuff stays behind-- work as well when part of the game's marketing campaign was "from the end, you know the beginning"?
So Much So Fast, It's Glorious. Are we introduced to too many characters, too quickly? Halo 1 gave us the Chief, Cortana, and Keyes, with a cameo by "sniper sergeant", and then there is no one of consequence until 343 Guilty Spark enters the game several levels later. Here within a few minutes we have to absorb our own identity, Carter, Kat, Jun and Emile, as well as an exposition dump about the Insurrection that is familiar with those who know the novels, and probably nobody else-- and makes little sense within the context of the human-Covenant war, to say nothing of the expanding conflict of the three main sequence games. Did Bungie overthink this?
Less Is Moa, Part I. ODST gave us character archetypes, the Buck-Dare backstory, and hints of a secret mission, all in about the same time that Reach's cutscene takes to show us some mountains, Emile's knife, and the Falcons. Is this a case of less is more, or less is less?
Relay Race. So we're repairmen? Delivery team for a repairman? Isn't HQ right-- deploying a Spartan team is a misallocation of resources? How could Insurrectionists even make it to a planet that is the nerve center of the UNSC military? Isn't it crawling with Spartans? And if not, why is Noble Team here at all?
Super Trooper. Where are the troopers... can't help be reminded of what became of the bodies at Crow's Bridge in Myth, or the missing bodies in level 2 of Halo 1... except there are no Flood in this game. If the Covenant wanted to attack the Visigrad relay, why did they attack the troopers so far away from the relay, and then carry them towards, but not all the way to, the relay itself?
Less is Moa, Part II. Bungie has gradually added back many of the features that have been on the Halo drawing board since the very beginning, but for one reason or another ended up being cut. Covenant Engineers made it into ODST. The flamethrower made it into Halo 2. Dinosaurs we first saw in 2000 finally make their way into Reach in 2010, but before that we get ostriches. Sure, whacking them is fun, but does this add to or detract from Halo: Reach's sense of planetary tragedy?
Invincible Farmers. We've gone from a sometimes frustrating escort mission in Halo 1, trying to protect an all-too fragile, all-too vulnerable Captain Keyes, to having invincible NPCs, to having invincible sidekicks, to having invincible farmers that are immune to bullets but can be killed by melee strikes that instantly kill YOU for killing civilians. When does gently guiding the player away from counterproductive, antisocial play break verisimilitude? Why the instakill instead of the more Halo traditional method of having your own teammates turn on you?
The Scourge of Skirmishers: Walking buggers, or gentle Jackals? Are these Jackal Snipers made bearable, or just buggers in smaller groups?
P.S. Mini-Skirmisher: Clever trick or cheap gimmick? Is seeing behind the curtain like this worth havine Bungie strew the planet with kill zones, or should players be free to see whatever is there-- textured or not?
I Don't See Any Training Wheels. Despite ten years of Halo games and a total of five FPS titles, Halo still eases the player into the game with basic tutorial elements, including a structured introduction to grenades, as we get early in Sierra 117 during Halo 3, and here in the first combat encounter as we head down the stairs. Is this an example of Bungie being sensitive and approachable for new fans, or catering to casuals?
Free Fire Zone. The Master Chief had a wit that was dry at times, but ever gloried in the violence that was his particular specialty. Does it deepen or cheapen the Spartan mystique for Noble Team to have the range of character archetypes it does?
The Golden Compass. Halo has long had waypoints to point out objectives, and some levels even had arrows on the floor. Once past the first encounter, there are a few basic choices of where to go and what to do first. None of them are "wrong" and often you're only given a direction, like "east" or "northeast" to suggest where you need to go next. Are navigation and exploration part of the Halo experience for you, or do you just want a clear path to follow to blow more shit up?
Keep On Truckin'. Reach adds a civilian vehicle without armament that you can drive while Jorge guns with his LAAG turret, essentially making it a Warthog equivalent. Is there any point in making what is only cosmetically distinct from a well-known gameplay element?
Illusion of Choice. A bit like Silent Cartographer, where you can go around either way and not hit barriers, or like Halo, where you can rescue groups of Marines in any order, there's a little bit of nonlinearity here-- some encounters you can skip, and two you can do in any order. Are the choices here real, or fake? If fake, are they worth putting in? If real, do they have real consequences? How hard would it be to have them have real consequences?
The Covenant Is On Reach. Is this actually more or less believable than Insurrectionists, 40+ years into the war? Isn't Reach the last human colony left, besides Earth?
Three fights, two dead troopers and some frightened farmers later, and we're still just looking for the source of a distress call that every Halo player knows is the first sign of an invasion, while Noble Team is still paddling up a river in Egypt. Is Bungie trying to inject some dramatic tension into a situation that can't possibly have any?
The Flesh Is Willing. In what can be interpreted as a nod to some of the continuity inconsistencies inherent with trying to change a game's armory over time, Reach, as a prequel to Halo 1, brings back the tuning-fork shaped "Spirit" dropships. They're iconic, to be sure, but they don't really fit the "organic" look that most other Covenant, especially Sangheili, tech seems to have, and the design never really made much sense anyway. Is this unifying the final installment with the first, or just runaway nostalgia?
A Farewell to Arms. Our second Falcon flight gives us another taste of the rail shooter goodness that is to come, but for now we're just along for the ride: not only don't you have a turret, but you can't shoot what weapons you do have-- not at the Covenant, and certainly not at your Spartan seatmates. Is sensibility spoiling the fun of Halo? Doesn't everyone spend a few missions chucking plasma grenades at Pelicans?
Casual Investment or Hardcore Divestment?
Reach's system replaces "Experience" with "Credits" redeemable for purely cosmetic player customization features, and rewards you with them for all kinds of play, solo or multiplayer, regardless of skill level or performance. Is this a good way to draw in less skilled players, or is it ruining the game by rewarding idlers, griefers, and those without the talent to play well or the sense to practice to improve their skills?