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Halo Reach 360 proves to be an emotionally effecting journey despite the certainty of the ending - something that I found much more unsettling than an unknown future.
After ten years, Bungie's time with one of the biggest franchises in gaming draws to an close. Offering an accomplished story and refined gameplay, Halo Reach is the best instalment the series has seen to date, but it is the emotions it evokes that really set it apart from the earlier titles.
Making deliberate use of my expectations from previous games in the series alongside the creation of genuinely sympathetic characters, Bungie hits emotional highs and lows throughout the game. Even as they move towards the stories predictable end.
Most fear finds its roots in the unknown and the mystery of what will happen. Simple binary outcomes can prove paralysing to us when outside our control. Asking someone on a date for the first time is a prime example, a yes or no scenario that can bring even the most confident individual to their knees.
Other times however, for whatever reason, the result of an event is fixed and a new fear emerges. Rather than looking at the event as a whole we start to study every moment, trying to see the signs that indicate how the known end point will be reached. Suddenly it's not the destination that's scary - it's the journey.
From the moment Halo Reach begins the mission the outcome is known. With a story taken from the popular Halo novel - The Fall of Reach - the title makes it clear that you have very little chance of making it through in one piece.
I knew from the very beginning that Nobel 6 and the entirety of the Nobel Squad - the characters I will be encouraged to invest myself in emotionally - are destined to die on the ill-fated planet as it's attacked by the Covenant. But none of this knowledge did anything to dampen the impact of the story on me as I fought towards my death.
Nervousness crept into my interactions with each comrade during cut scenes as I began looking for clues of how their stories would unfold.
Strangely, it was not my own fate that had me on edge. Even in the direst of situations I knew that until the climax of the story, Nobel 6 would make it through unscathed (ed: well maybe a little scathed), because the story demanded it. Other members of my squad however were not to be so fortunate.
Reach quickly sets about establishing that the members of Noble Squad are expendable in service of the story. When I lost my first squad member to the script I was actually taken aback at how much it impacted me.
Until this point in the fiction of Halo, the cybernetic Spartan super-soldiers had been near invincible. No longer, suddenly a few acts in I was watching one of my guys die. Considering how little time I had actually spent with the team I couldn't have anticipated the force with which it hit me. The blend of Bungie's story, the character that died and the history of the Spartans gave an unexpected gravitas to the event.
The reality hit me that I was going to have to watch each team member die.
After witnessing the first member's death, the reality hit me that I was going to have to watch each team member die. Nervousness crept into my interactions with each comrade during cut scenes as I began looking for clues of how their stories would unfold. "He's talking a lot, maybe he's next", became a common, often incorrect, assertion.
I began to think that everyone would get to go out in a blaze of glory. Again this was proved wrong by the senseless death of one of the more charismatic characters moments later.
Sat in each of these cut scenes I would watch as everyone in my team came to terms with the situation, the inevitability that they were to meet their end here on Reach. And as they did, so did I.
Their fate became increasingly affecting as the game moved towards its predictable end, and the Halo trilogy's beginning.
My eventual sacrifice, and that of Noble Squad, was justified as the game drew to its conclusion, a culmination of events that served to establish the timeline of the main Halo trilogy. It brought with it a strange mix of emotions. The pointless deaths and the prior hopelessness suddenly had some meaning and purpose, lifting what had been a dour experience into a tale of valour and heroism. That's how those that remained told the story at least.
Halo Reach's made emotional connections with me that I still cherish. They were emotions derived from my own ties to the series over its ten-year history, and those created through the story of Noble's sacrifice. While the story may not be the greatest, the characters and their acceptance of their fate became increasingly affecting as the game moved towards its predictable end, and the Halo trilogy's beginning.
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