Halo: Reach PC impressions: The prodigal son returns to the PC, with some quirks

 pcworld.com  12/04/2019 16:11:00   Hayden Dingman

The original plan, if I recall correctly, was to have the entireHalo: The Master Chief Collectionon PC by the end of 2019. Alas, thats not going to happen. But 343 Industries did manage to getHalo: Reachout before the end of the year, the firstHalogame to hit PC since Microsofts ill-fated attempt to useHalo 2to sell copies of Windows Vista back in 2007.

So how is it? I wont lie, its kind of janky. Given how many rounds of testingReachwent through this year, I expected a more exhaustive PC version. But it works! If thats all you care about, if you simply need to satiate your nostalgia...well, youre probably already playing. After all,Halo: Reachreached the top of the Steam sales charts on release day.

If you want to know what works and what doesnt though, read on.

Illusion of choice

First, let me say: I understand Halo: Reachis a remaster of a decade-old game. Its been given a new coat of paint, but not a very extensive one, and thus is bound to run on basically any machine at maximum settings.

That said, when I got somehands-on time withReachat E3I wrote that I didnt see anything in the way of graphics settings, but I assume those will be in there at release. Come release day...nope. Still no graphics settingsor at least, not to the extent youd expect. You have your choice of three locked-down presets: Performance, Original, and Enhanced. I imagine these are the same options as the Xbox One X, though I havent checked.

Halo: Reach (PC) - Performance Setting IDG / Hayden Dingman

Reach on Performance settings. Notice the blocky trees in the background. (Click to expand)

Halo: Reach (PC) - Original Setting IDG / Hayden Dingman

Reach on Original settings clears up some of the blockiness except at extreme distances.

Halo: Reach (PC) - Enhanced Setting IDG / Hayden Dingman

...And on Enhanced settings, well-defined foliage. Less of a difference between Enhanced and Original.

I did toggle between the three in numerous environments, and mostly noticed differences in draw distanceand even then, mostly between the Performance and Original modes. With Performance enabled, objects in the middle-distance (particularly trees) devolve into abstract polygonal blobs. Moving to Original greatly increases the distance at which this happens, enough so that I really had to hunt for examples to show a difference between it and the Enhanced mode.

Halo: Reach (PC) - Performance Setting IDG / Hayden Dingman

Another example of Performance mode. Notice the flat lighting on the concrete buildings.

Halo: Reach (PC) - Enhanced Setting IDG / Hayden Dingman

On Original and Enhanced settings, the shadows are more clearly defined and the game draws the green and orange lights from the power-ups inside the left bunker. (Enhanced shown.)

As I said, most modern PCs will run Halo: Reachmaxed-out, even at higher resolutions. Its aged well, but its definitely aged, and some slight improvements to textures and terrain arent enough to mask that fact. Logically theres no real reason to include graphics options when most people will just set everything as high as it will go. And yet I find it somehow strangeReachdoesnt even pretendespecially since Id read that theReachbeta testsdidhave more granular settings earlier this year. Whered they disappear?

Field of view has been expanded since my last hands-on, at least. As I said at E3:

[Field of view] is one of the more complicated hurdles 343is been struggling with forHalos PC version. The console versions ofHalowere all designed to run at a specific FOV, and animations were rendered with that in mind. Changes can theoretically lead to some bizarre behavior, like Master Chiefs arm detaching from his shoulder as he throws a grenade.

The E3 demo was capped at an FOV of 90. The release version goes up to 120 degrees (Ive been sticking to 105) which is a relief because Halo: Reachs guns take up an absurd amount of screen real estate.

Thats due in part toanotherchange to the PC version, though this ones optional. Id forgotten thatHalotraditionally offset the crosshair towards the bottom of the screen instead of placing it in the center. Presumably this allowed the player to see more of the world, since the console FOV was so tightly constrained.

Halo: Reach (PC) IDG / Hayden Dingman

Reachon PC defaults to a centered crosshair, which causes the guns (and your arms) to take up a ton of space at the standard 70-degree FOV. Ramp it up to 90 or more though and it starts to feel more normal.

Or you can switch back to the offset crosshair, if youre a sadist.

Keyboard kludge

If youre buying Halo: Reachon PC, I assume its because you want to playHalowith a mouse and keyboard. Good news is, you can. The bad news is its going to take some adjustment.

Im surprised at some of the choices here, some of which I mentioned at E3. Case in point: You switch weapons by tapping the 1 key. Just the 1 key. Tap it once, you switch to your secondary weapon. Tap it again, you switch back to your main. Scrolling the mouse wheel back and forth does nothing at all, and tapping 2 to access your secondary weapon like you would inany other PC shooter everinstead changes your grenade type.

Halo: Reach (PC) IDG / Hayden Dingman

You can try and remap it, and you should. Ive settled on Mouse Wheel Up to cycle weapons. Scrolling down still does nothing, but at least itsalmostnormal.

But its a choice so baffling I have to imagine its fundamental to the engine, some deep-down coding issue thats impossible to overcome.Haloalways shipped with multiple control layouts, but like any console game it was always one button per action. My suspicion is that limitation carried over to the PC, so 343 could only work with one key at a time and did the best they could.

Thats a generous read, but its the one Im operating under until I hear otherwise.

Anyway, its still pretty nifty playing Halo: Reachwith a mouses precision. Im trending towards weapons like the DMR, Carbine, and Pistol which have the ability to (sort of) aim down sights like a standard 2019 shooter. Picking off Grunts and Jackals is relatively easy compared to the console version, given both go down with a single headshot. Elites are the only enemy I find frustrating, as theyre still incredibly bullet spongy, especially on Heroic and Legendary difficulties. It feels weird to pump round after round into their mandibled faces with zero feedback.

Halo: Reach (PC) IDG / Hayden Dingman

Feedback is an issue in general, actually. LikeGears of War 4,Reachs weapons lose a bit of theiroomphin the transition to PC. I never really knew how much controller rumble contributed to the feel ofHalountil I lost it. And that goes for hit indicators as well. Ive died more than a few times because I didnt even realize I was being shot until it was too late.

Add it all up, and Im almost tempted to cave and play with a controller. That feels like heresy, but the mouse and keyboard feel like a compromise, not an outright improvement. What you gain in precision, you lose in...well, pretty much every other aspect.

It really makes you appreciate how much work Bungie mustve put into bringingDestiny 2to PC, given it was built with the same console-first mindset but plays as good or better on a mouse and keyboard.

Xbox Live

Should it bother me that I need to sign in to my Microsoft account to playReachon PC? Maybe...but it doesnt. Microsofts come a long way since Games for Windows Live, and quite frankly Halo: Reachis one of the least offensive by modern standards. If you buy the game through Steam, it doesnt first pop the Windows 10 Store open before you can play. Theres an in-game login screen, and thats it.

Given how deeply Microsoft accounts are tied into Windows 10, chances are you already have one. If not, its easy to get one. Hell, Im pretty sure mines tied to a Gmail account, not even a Microsoft service.

Still, its something to be aware of before you buy. As a bonus, if youve playedThe Master Chief Collectionon Xbox One and sign in with the same Xbox Live account, youll automatically pop the equivalent Steam achievements.

Against all odds

Concerns aside, Im excited to have an excuse to dip intoThe Master Chief Collectionagain. Halo: Reachisnt the game Id choose to start with, as by the time it released Id almost completely transitioned to firstCall of Dutyand thenBattlefield. I have way more nostalgia forHaloandHalo 2, and a fondness forODSTs genre-bending weirdness.

ButReachhas its charms. The war movie cinematography, the doomed-from-the-start setup, the colorful comrades-in-arms, its all verydifferentat least.

Halo: Reach (PC) IDG / Hayden Dingman

Ambitious too, and its easy to draw a line between the more sprawling environments ofReachand what Bungie did next withDestiny.Reachis more primitive of course, and suffers from some strange pacing and repetitive objectives as a result, but its still a pretty neat capstone to theHalo-that-Bungie-built.

Plus,that ending. Im excited to see it again.

Get me Thomas the Tank Engine

Im also excited to see what happens with the mod community. Aside from mouse-and-keyboard controls, thats the best reason to play on PC.

343s facilitated mod support by providing two different launch options for The Master Chief Collection. The default includes anti-cheat measures to try and ensure the integrity of the multiplayer experience. You can also launch the game with anti-cheat disabled though, which disables achievements but allows you to do pretty much whatever youd like outside of matchmaking.

Its not quite seamless, as youll need to restore the unmodded file directory to access matchmaking again if you changed anything. 343s said its working on a more elegant solution for the future, and official mod tools as well. Still, this is a good start.

Bottom line

Nostalgia will probably carryHalo: Reachand the rest ofThe Master Chief Collectioneven if the ports arent great. Thats the short of it. Im hoping 343 can fix some of my issues, especially with the controls, but its a faint hope. As I said, 343 ran a multitude of beta tests this year, enough to delay the release by six months or so. The fact that these problems werent ironed out makes me worried theycantbe.

Just keep it in mind, thats all. There are a lot of caveats at the moment. But hey, itsHaloon PC right? The originalHalois reputedly due in early 2020, with the rest ofThe Master Chief Collectionto follow throughout the year. See you in Zanzibar.

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