On Reach’s Absence From The Master Chief Collection

halo-reach-review-topHalo remaster extravaganza, The Master Chief Collection, has been very well received despite an absurdly proportioned day one update and some initial teething problems with online matchmaking. Indeed, there’s a lot to love, and few would deny that the package offers incredible value for money.

But it’s more of an abridged vertical slice than an all encompassing chronicle of everything bearing the series’ hallowed name, and as such there are some omissions.  The most glaring of these is Bungie’s parting gift, Reach.

A prequel to the original Halo, the game’s campaign details the fall of the eponymous human colony to arch-protagonists, The Covenant. Reach’s fate was preordained long before a game about it was greenlit, having been committed to canon in the back story for Halo, hence the campaign had a sombre, pessimistic tone owing to the fact that no matter how hard you tried, humanity’s second most important world after Earth simply could not be saved. The Covenant were redesigned to look altogether more alien and menacing; Bungie even overturned their decision taken from Halo 2 onwards to have Elites, Grunts et al speak English, reverting  their battle-speak back to a hostile, unintelligible alien tongue.   Barring armour abilities, (read: interchangeable perks) and a few additions to the usual roster of weapons, there were precious few attempts to force real change on the long-established paradigm in terms of single-player gameplay, but everything somehow gelled together wonderfully, and in a way that it hadn’t since 2001.

Multiplayer also featured the aforementioned armour abilities,  in addition to pre-set loadouts and execution moves. As you might expect, the fanbase cried wolf somewhat at Bungie’s apparent willingness to tarnish the object of their affection with tired shooter clichés. Such concerns were allayed by the public Beta, however, as the series’ online proposition was given a new lease of life through these changes, not least because the Assault Rifle/melee fests that games of Halo 3 would often degenerate into became a thing of the past.

Graphically, Reach also was an excellent showcase for a console that even back in 2010 was beginning to show its age. Halo 3 and ODST, the only other  first-person Halo titles released on the Xbox 360 up until that point, had been rendered in an odd resolution and then upscaled, making them look, for lack of a better phrase, just a little off. Reach featured a slight bump in terms of onscreen pixel count, but the real stars of the show were the vastly more detailed models and complex lighting effects. In fact, if you were feeling  disingenuous, you could even argue that the enormous visual gulf between Halo 3 and Reach betrays the former as something of a rush-job from a technical standpoint.

So, why wasn’t Reach included? Well, since Bungie and Microsoft parted ways, 343 Industries has taken the Halo reins and as such assumes full responsibility for the contents of the Master Chief Collection. Franchise Director, Frank O’Connor told Official Xbox Magazine at this year’s E3 that: “ODST is a side-story, Reach is a prequel, they didn’t need to be there. So if you’re going to cut things, you should be trimming the fat. I wish we could have done it all, but it would have been impossible in the timeframe we had”, referencing the also absent but not as sorely missed ODST. You can’t argue with that logic – since the Master Chief Collection is not just fan service, but also a catch-me-up for those dipping their toes into the franchise for the first time in preparation for the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians, the focus was quite rightly placed on John-117’s personal journey.

But it’s a real shame that Reach has been left out in the cold, as it’s a fantastic addition to the narrative, even if not exactly ‘required reading’ in terms of understanding what’s to come in Halo 5 and beyond, and a genuinely great game. Also, it serves as a poignant exercise in ‘what iffery’; the direction 343 took Halo 4 in, adding yet more Call of Duty-isms and having the Master Chief square up to a rogue Forerunner and Covenant stragglers, contrasts starkly with what we might suppose Bungie would have done.

Maybe in the future we’ll get some kind of secondary collection containing deeper cuts such as Reach, the aforementioned ODST, quietly forgotten real-time strategy experiment, Halo Wars, or the more recent Spartan Assault twin stick shooters. For now, though, 1-4 is all Xbox One owners get.

When all’s said and done, that’s still a whole lot of Halo.

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