When I woke up two days ago, I had never experienced a Halo game. That’s not entirely true; over a decade ago I had played the original with Matthew Fisher, one of my best friends at the time, who had an XBOX (I didn’t), but I didn’t accomplish much besides adding my own plasma to that which was already embedded in Blood Gulch, and accidentally shooting my marine allies aboard The Autumn before dying repeatedly on my first escapade on the surface of the Halo that slowly rotated ominously below. But after an entire 22-year lifetime away from the series, I finally caved when my brother Brandon egged me into playing through the campaign alongside him as Noble Six in Halo: Reach.
Holy shit. I figured that Reach would be an enjoyable experience; Brandon, who has conquered every Halo game that’s ever been created cites it as one of the high points of a series that he loves dearly. Though I suggested that if we were to play a Halo game that it should be the original, Brandon refused, responding that it had to be Reach. I think he was right. Never before have I played a game that was so cinematic, with an original score so sweeping, that I often forgot I was playing a videogame. There’s a pretty good chance that if I wasn’t in the company of my younger brother, I would’ve been moved to tears at some of the narrative’s most emotional moments, not because they were more effective than others that I’ve experienced in gaming, but because they were accompanied by a score and a cinematography that enhanced them in a way that I’d never experienced. If this is what the Halo series is all about, it’s abundantly clear that I’ve been missing out on quite a bit.
Though the aforementioned cinematic appeal of the game is what hit me the hardest, there is no doubt that at it’s core, Halo: Reach is one of the most technically sound games I’ve ever played. After playing through Shadow the Hedgehog, which features gunplay about as reliable as a college crush, crushing the life out of countless aliens of varying colors with Brandon and the rest of my dwindling Noble Team at my side was an absolute dream. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that I often forgot I was playing through one of the most depressing stories in gaming, a tale that all previous Halo fans knew wouldn’t have a happy ending. Although I was not counted among those millions of individuals, I, too, could sense that things weren’t going to end well right from that first haunting shot of the bodyless Spartan helmet. Over the course of the next eight hours, I lost many things, but never my sense of pride as a member of a hell of a team of soldiers and as a newfound fan of an excellent series.
I’m sure Brandon and I will embark on other Halo adventures in the weeks ahead, though I really can’t imagine going through a similar experience that could possibly top this one. I’m told that the incredibly varied mission structure (props to Bungie for absolutely nailing the space dog-fighting scene) is missing in the series’ other titles, and moving on to Master Chief after spending time growing attached to Noble 6 will be a tough transition, but a true soldier carries on, even in the face of adversity. I just hope that damn Cortana was really worth it.