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A Week With Reach

December 8, 2010

via noobscorpian.deviantart.com

Yes, I’m a pretty poor Halo player. If any of you ran into me playing Halo: Reach for a couple of extended sessions last week, you found someone who is getting the hang of navigating some of the larger maps and finding the places where people tend to go and get shot up, but who also has a hard time winning one-on-one battles with skilled players. I tend to run right at people so that I can maintain my aim rather than maneuvering to get out of the way of a coming onslaught of bullets, which tends to result in me going down before they do. I’m finally getting to the point where I place in the top half of the standings in a Slayer session more often than not, but I’m still laid to waste by the “GD teenage cyborgs” with ranks that I don’t even recognize. The time investment they’ve put into this gaming experience has clearly paid off with skills beyond those of typical mortals.

Still, despite not always being able to hang with the “big boys”, I did generally enjoy my time with the game this week. As such, here are a few observations — three positive, and one not so much — about the Reach multiplayer experience that I didn’t already express in my review of the game for PopMatters. First, the good stuff:

1. Taking down a mouthy preteen never gets old.

I’ll be honest, it seems that this crowd has diminished on Xbox Live of late; despite the reputation Xbox Live has for harboring legions of loudmouth middle-school homophobes, most of the voices I heard while playing sounded more like laid-back college students looking for a fairly casual good time blowing up a few buddies and a pile of random strangers. Still, one of the former crowd does occasionally pop up, and usually, they’re at the top of the leaderboard when all is said and done, reinforcing their overblown sense of self-importance.

These kids hate being taken down by a purple and orange space marine whose four-character callsign is “POPS”. Listening to their cries of “BULLSHIT!” when it happens is like music.

2. “YOINK.”

Five minutes remaining!

See that guy on the right? That’s Jeff Steitzer. That’s the guy who’s energetically and dramatically announcing things like “KILLTACULAR!” and “OVERKILL!” and “KILLING SPREE!” when you’re at your best, and things like “DESINATION…MOVED!” at the most inopportune times possible.

It wasn’t until my multiplayer binge last week, though, that I heard him say my favorite line of all. “YOINK.” Apparently, this is a medal you get when you steal a kill while the player that you steal the kill from is in the middle of an “assassination” animation. Not only do you get a kill and a medal, but you also get to hear Jeff Steitzer say “YOINK.” in the same deadly-serious voice that he says everything else in the Halo: Reach multiplayer universe. This is hilarious and awesome.

3. Rocketfight is the best.

Three words: UNLIMITED ROCKET LAUNCHERS. Couldn’t have failed if it tried.

* * *

Finally, here’s what annoyed me about the multiplayer experience:

The Noble Map Pack is being utterly mishandled.

An aerial shot of Tempest...which I have never seen from the ground.

When you start Halo: Reach for the first time since the release of the Noble Map Pack, a giant splash screen comes up telling you to buy the new maps, complete with two button-push options — one of which sends you to the marketplace, and the other of which is worded “ALREADY GOT ‘EM!”. This is stupid and manipulative, basically allowing the player no choice other than to “lie” if that player has no interest in spending ten dollars on a few maps and 250 points worth of achievements.

Of course, I bought them anyway, wanting my multiplayer Halo binge to be as full-featured as possible.

In playing over 100 games of multiplayer in the Rumble Pit and Team Slayer playlists since then, a new map was used two times. TWO TIMES. In the vast majority of games, the Noble maps weren’t even offered as a suggestion, this even as we are advised that people with the map pack will be placed in multiplayer lobbies with other players who have downloaded it. TWO TIMES. Anchor 9 showed up for a round of Crazy King Pro and a round of Slayer DMRs. It was tough to play because it was new, but hey, how nifty to be able to look at some environments that I hadn’t memorized yet!

On the bright side, I did pull 50 bonus GamerScore points from the “Totally Worth It” achievement when one of my grenades took out two guys after I died. So there’s that.

* * *

Many of my old complaints hold — I didn’t get to play nearly enough of my favorite mode, Oddball, while in the rumble pit, and Race and Rally modes are sorely missed as palate cleansers. Still, despite the complaints, it was a blast entering a world that I don’t visit very often.

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