Reach: Continued Thoughts

I’ve had a few days with “Halo: Reach,” during which I’ve put some pretty good hours into it. I’ve conquered the campaign (co-operatively), I’ve played around in Forge, gotten ranked in the Arena, duked it out in Firefight, and hit up every permutation of Matchmaking I can imagine. Let me go through and tell you what I think so far:

1. The New Ranking System is Amazing. I’ve long felt that “Halo 3″ was over-punishing in its ranking system, effectively turning Matchmaking into a relentless, palm-sweat inducing report card. The game felt more like work than fun as you inched your way up a ratings ladder, then lost it all after a few bad rounds. Things got no better when Bungie needlessly complicated the system, giving you an individual rank for every game mode that ended up just confusing and annoying everyone; how can I be a Sergeant, a Captain, and a Private at the same time?

Meanwhile, the gold standard for ranking systems was sitting out there, waiting for Bungie to accept it: “Modern Warfare 2.” Like it or not, their player-positive attitude kept players sucked into the game for longer. In MW2, you’re winning points for everything you do, and the game is constantly thinking up new reasons to give you a boost: get 50 kills with that pistol, survive five explosions, knife 25 opponents, use night vision, etc. I’m sure Bungie cries foul, they have a fetisthistic need to rank their community (they must be really competitive in real life), but at the end of the day positive reinforcement is just better. MW2 understood this, and it siphoned out the good players from the mediocre by advancing some faster than others, rather than advancing some and inhibiting the rest.

Bungie has finally changed pace, and now their ranking systems follow a similar mold. It’s just better, I don’t think anyone can contest that. We don’t play games to get lectured, we play them to have fun. And besides, a positive reinforcement system still accomplishes the goal of ranking players, it just does so in a gentler, less antagonistic fashion. Plus which, Bungie’s new “Arena” Mode still lets them assign everyone numbers if they really want to.

2. Firefight Finally Works. Introduced in “ODST,” Firefight was always more potential than payoff. The problem was, those stupid modifiers that would turn on without your permission as you progressed. I’m sure Bungie thought it was an interesting experiment, but in reality it was just irritating. It made you feel as if the deck was stacked against you; you wanted concetrate on the challenge of overcoming these bad guys, and instead you were forced to go melee a grunt to get your health back. Boo.

Now, Firefight has been unchained, and the player has total control of it. The result is a dizzying, exhausting, fantastic experience that finally stands rival to “Gears of War 2′s” Horde Mode. Horde may remain the king, but Firefight is now a worthy contender. Bungie also adapted the personality of Firefight to be a little different from GOW2, and the results are right-on. Horde is a marathon, but Firefight is more like a really hard sprint: the enemies drop quickly, get harder immediately, and overwhelm you the first chance they get. This suits “Halo’s” unique flavor perfectly because there’s no cover system here, so the player can’t really turtle and hold out like they could in GOW2. Winning is an improvisational feat of luck and fearlessness, you just have to jump out into the fray and keep your wits about you. It’s more akin to Survival mode in L4D2 than anything, really, excpet minus the gut-wrenching sense of hopelessness that experience provides.

3. Space Combat Was Great. And damn you Bungie for not PUTTING IT IN MULTIPLAYER. Dropping that crap in the campaign and then not letting us blow our friends to bits is the ultimate cock-tease, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. I DEMAND a freaking PATCH!!!

4. Reworked Maps. Some people have complained about the lower number of new maps, and the high percentage of re-dos. I disagree. Hemorrhage (Blood Gulch), Pinnacle (Ascenscion), and others are more than welcome returns in my book. I wish they’d done more, I’d still like to have Blackout from “Halo 3″ return. Bungie are whip-smart map makers, their catalogue is a long list of knockout victories, some of which have gone down in the history books as definitive multiplayer experiences. It would be shameful of them not to give us back some of our most precious memories on their last outing. More, please.

5. New Weapons. I would like. To have sex. With the Needler Rifle.