Monday, November 8, 2010

Halo Reach Is No Halo 3

Halo Reach couldn’t have picked a better time to come out. After the Summer doldrums, where the only big games included StarCraft 2, Mafia II, and maybe even NHL 11, Halo Reach hits at the peak of summer/fall boredom just before the Christmas season storm.

But will it sell more than Halo 3? I initially said no… Am I wrong? Read on.

Halo 3 was a monster, selling over 11 million units through today’s date. It did most of its damage during the first four weeks out, selling more than 5.5 million units. It was a phenomenon.

Do Do, DoDoDo. Do, DoDoDo…


At the time of Halo 3′s launch, gamers were clamoring for the first new Halo on the next-gen system. There were Mountain Dew promotions, Master Chief was everywhere. I don’t feel that same vibe this time around. Sure, there’s a lot of Halo Reach commercials, but where are the Burger King tie ins? The Mountain Dew flavors? (the current promotion is very understated.) The prime time news stories?

It seems that this time around, things are different. Halo Reach seems much less marketable. There’s no Master Chief. Without the titular character from three of the previous games, people may not immediately identify with the new “Halo Game”. Furthermore, it’s a prequel to one of the most convoluted universes in gaming.

Reach is more Empire Strikes Back than Return of the Jedi. Kind of a downer in tone… Plus, it has to fight the brand fatigue of three Halo games in almost 4 years.

These are the reasons why I don’t think it will sell as well as Halo 3. On the other hand, Halo Reach couldn’t have come out at a better time. There’s really nothing to play right now. Mafia II didn’t live up to the hype and StarCraft 2 is for PC gamers… Sure Civ 5 comes out soon, but it’s more likely to cannibalize the SC2 players than the Halo Reach players. So, in the midst of essentially a quiet period of gaming, Halo Reach came out and BAM! Everybody is on it.

Another factor, in favor of Halo Reach selling more than Halo 3, is the simple fact that there’s a much larger install base of Xbox 360 owners. Plain and simple, there’s just more people to buy the product. Maybe because of that you don’t need the huge media blitz to sell consoles. I dunno, but it’s a powerful fact on the side of those that think Reach will sell more copies.

Of course what I’m saying is based on generalities. Anecdotal evidence. I’m not really basing it on anything real, other than a gut feelings…But…

First day Reach sales reported by Microsoft appear to be less than the sales for Halo 3. Read all about it.

My gut tells me that Reach won’t sell more than Halo 3. My head tells me that my heart is wrong. I just don’t see that Reach is as easily marketable, compelling or as well known of a story to drive 11 million people to purchase the game.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Halo Reach Preluding Lower Sales For Black Ops

So now it’s official: Microsoft's first-person behemoth Halo: Reach is the year’s biggest entertainment event, generating $200 million in sales in just 24 hours in the United States alone.

That’s two-thirds of what Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 took in from the North American and U.K. markets in its first day last year, but it’s still a number that’s nothing to sneeze at. The one-day take already eclipses the three-day opening weekends of “Iron Man 2,” “Toy Story 3” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

While Microsoft is doing cartwheels, though, the rest of the gaming industry is nervously shuffling its feet. Despite a number of high profile releases, it hasn’t exactly been a banner year for game sales -- and the success of Reach might not help things.

The slump is due, in part, to the ongoing recession. But also deserving some of the credit is the lingering effect of Modern Warfare 2 – a game whose multiplayer component was so deep and so rich that it kept players hooked, reducing their need and desire to buy other titles.

Fatigue is finally starting to gradually set in for that game, but Halo: Reach may well pick up that mantle.

As much praise as the game’s single-player campaign is getting, it’s the rich multi-player mode that really has players excited. New armor abilities, new game modes and an impressive suite of creation tools have overwhelmed the Xbox Live user base with joy. And the game’s matchmaking service is working like a charm so far.

That’s a lot of reasons to play -- and could give buyers plenty of excuses to put off other purchases in the coming months.

“There’s always a worry that a game like that can take share and cannibalize other games,” says Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.

To add to worries, Call of Duty: Black Ops will be hitting shelves in less than two months – a one-two punch to other game developers. That could put a number of seemingly big titles on the bubble, their sales in jeopardy.

None seems in a more perilous position than EA’s Medal of Honor. The battle that was shaping up between the rebooted military shooter and Call of Duty was already a tough one, but with Halo: Reach potentially impacting people’s buying decisions, the game could face an even tougher challenge. (The game's controversial decision to allow players to fight as Taliban forces in multiplayer might not help, either.)

Medal of Honor is actually scheduled to hit shelves well before Black Ops, but it has been three years since the last version – and Call of Duty has become the industry’s biggest seller in that time. The hope, in part, was that the Call of Duty fan base would buy Medal of Honor as a placeholder while waiting for the release of Black Ops – but they could be too busy with Reach to do so.

Meanwhile other titles like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Tron: Evolution, which all would normally appeal to the same general demographic, might be overlooked entirely.

“I see Halo: Reach creating a vacuum in multiplayer,” says Billy Pigeon of M2 Research. “I expect it will have an effect similar to ‘Modern Warfare 2’. People will be playing online and may not buy other games.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Remember Halo: Reach

Contrarian Corner is a feature meant to take a critical look at some recently-released games, a place for a more holistic discussion of titles which have been the recipient of either an abundance of single-minded praise, or an undue amount of criticism. Our intent is not to contradict or undercut our own reviews, but rather to expand the spectrum of discussion on some of the most important games of each year. If you're interested in joining that discussion, keep reading.

Make sure to read Erik Brudvig's Halo: Reach review for IGN's official thoughts on the game. And be forewarned -- if you haven't finished the game, massive spoilers will be discussed below.


I didn't play Halo in full until 2006. I'd just come back to Los Angeles after two years in Madagascar. I'd moved into a spare bedroom a friend from college had at his apartment in Hollywood. I'd just quit a job at a small movie company after three days because I realized my boss was full of shit, though well-intentioned shit. I was out of money and totally unsure of what I was supposed to do next. I had slowly depleted my savings with the occasional relief of working as an extra and reading scripts for IFC. I had downloaded the Halo demo on the used iMac I'd bought to send resumes and search for job listings. After playing through the demo three times I finally decided to get a full version to catch up with the game that had so dramatically moved shooters forward.

Halo reminded me of the The Wizard of Oz. I'd shot through the feco-viscera of Quake, DOOM, Hexen, and Heretic in college, but I wasn't expecting to start a first person shooter whose main enemy was a furry midget with a conch on it's head. I thought a musical sequence might be about to come to life the first time I heard one of these grunts put his hands up and wobble away from me screaming, "He's a monster!" It was a lovely compliment to the snortling baritone of the Elites' surprised exclamations, "What, what, whaaaaat?!" With a few coordinated pirouettes the game could just as naturally become The Wiz in Space. The sense of exaggeration extended to the gameplay, requiring a literal hosing of bullets to short an enemy's shield before you could do any bodily damage. Levels were built around arenas in which you'd go from hosing to hosing rather than headshot to headshot.

It's been nine years since Bungie released the first game, and in the interim they've worked on nothing else, refining this absurd world of munchkins, purple armor, and elastic bullet streams. Halo: Reach is the end of all that. The neon theatricality has become a memento mori set against a perpetual sunset lowering itself over hardscrabble mountains. There are still moments of wonder, like the sense of scale in the launch sequence preceding the space combat mission, or the moments of jet pack platforming around the white towers of New Alexandria. But the pleasures are put in the uncomfortably tight spaces between the colony's collapsing architecture. Most of the story missions pivot on a point of failure. The fighting in New Alexandria isn't to turn back the invaders, but stall them long enough to evacuate the innocents. Likewise, the extreme gamble of going into space and docking on a Covenant ship is a strategic hail mary that succeeds but the scale of its success is quickly put into minuscule context when a new armada of Covenant ships subsequently come into orbit.

Reach likewise plays a game of Six Little Spartans with Noble Team, fingering each squad member for death as the story sinks downward. You don't play as Master Chief, but you might as well be. Noble Six isn't quite as dexterous as Johnny Halo, but the differences are marginal. You might be able to absorb one less bullet or not jump quite as high, but you've still basically wearing a super hero armor suit. Six isn't outspoken either, which is a vapid choice for the story being told. Gordon Freeman can get away with not talking because he's surrounded with spastics who react to him in such identifiable ways that you can at least begin to read personality traits into him. When Master Chief played the strong and quiet type it felt like a tactical dodge, not wanting to tempt audience disbelief by giving him the wrong voice.

Reach is specifically focused on squad personality, and appropriately so. Killing off six main characters is an utter waste if there aren't any personality traits through which their losses can be measured. Lose the funny guy and suddenly the group doesn't laugh so much any more. Lose the fearless leader and everyone squabbles about what to do next. The gang in Noble Team isn't as dramatically fanned out as that, they're more variations on the self-assured alpha gunner. And at their center is another mute. In the real world stoicism is a bad sign. Sociability is a sign of self-confidence and recognition of how vital close friendships can be. The quiet ones are, we fear, the sociopaths. The brooding poops who one day snap and go on a stabbing spree when someone says "margarine" one time too many. I suppose it's apt that you play a silent lurker given the volume of killing you'll have to do, but it still feels unnecessarily dull. Bungie had the courage to introduce lustrous purples and greens into the video game color palate, I don't understand why giving a character a powerful voice both in and out of combat remains such a risk.

It's especially conspicuous after ODST so effectively used its colorful characterizations and coupled with subtle links to gameplay. Gone is the labored wheeze that signaled damage in ODST. I'd think a subtle reinforcement of genuine pain running beneath the gunfights would enhance the power of the story and its myriad sacrifices. After a decade working on the same essential game concept, Bungie might have done more to intensify its themes in gameplay, rather than leaving them marooned to the cutscenes and the smoky orange sadness of the skybox.

There are a lot of fantastically dramatic moments in the story. Scenes of someone realizing hope is lost but deciding to stay behind and die so the group can continue a little further occur again and again. The ending scene after the credits is great as far as it goes, the game finally leaves players in an arena they won't be able to get out of. The Pillar of Autumn has Cortana's AI kernel safely cruising towards Halo and Noble Six is now officially expendable. You get control of her for another few minutes as waves of Covenant come for you. There's only enough ammo and health to prolong death, but not prevent it. Before you're completely overrun the game shows your visor cracked permanently, giving you a literally shattered view of the world as you scramble for just another few minutes.

A few missions earlier, one of your squadmates dies in a nearly identical scenario on a covenant ship. Later another character takes a plane on a suicide run into a Scarab to create a small opening. One teammate is sniped just at the moment where everything seemed like it might have been okay. If you're interested in emotional gameplay these scenarios are over-ripe. And in Reach they're all cutscenes. The lone example of theme and feeling trumping competitive interest happens after the end credits have finished. The only way this could have been a bigger cop out is if they'd reserved that five minute section for DLC. If a game is supposed to be about tragedy and loss, it ought to be about that in the moment to moment gameplay. Reach should have been built around 30 seconds of failure and pain instead of 30 seconds of fun. It's still the same 30 seconds of fun but the art team has been given a huskier color palate, which is somehow intended to transform the system into something it's not.

Reach is the most feature-rich and varied Halo game, but it's hard not to wonder if the difference between it and the original is enough to merit a decade of tinkering. There's Forge, Firefight, 4 person co-op, a leveling system that ties to character customization, and a big array of multiplayer maps and options. It makes the small list of bullet points from the first game seem tragically incomplete. Reach is as much a perpetual environment as it is an individual experience. It's not an escapist story, but an escapist world that aims to be habitable in perpetuity. It's a magical fishbowl that's always rearranging itself, rewarding loyal players with a simultaneous sense of familiarity and newness.

I finished Reach in two sittings, led from one compulsive pleasure-puzzle to the next. There were no easy places to step away, each lull put some suggestive variation of shooting just over the next ridge. When I thought about starting the game again the next day, trying a harder difficulty of dipping into one of the other modes I couldn't imagine what else there would be to get from the game. I've circle-straffed, tossed grenades and rushed enemies for a finishing melee attack, hidden nervously behind boxes waiting for my shields to regenerate. Thinking of doing it all again, in a slightly different order, and with slightly different objectives and rewards didn't seem like much of an escape. It was starting to feel constrictive, discovery was becoming repetition. Experimentation with new ideas was instead becoming confirmation that most of the old ideas still work.

More Halo: Reach Opinions

Optimism is at the heart of escapism. All great works of escapism are about self-affirmation, which is central to Halo and the idea of Master Chief. It's a big, gaudy, interactive "Yes we can." This was hypnotic when I was broke, out of work, and had no idea what I would do next in my life. It was an irresistible experience, being cut off on a strange planet, with its indifferent sprawl and inscrutable alien architecture, fighting against enemies who seemed genuinely alive and unpredictable. I knew I'd win in the end, but I didn't know how. So I kept coming back, chipping away at the story, learning a new tactic with each arena and its different arrangement of enemies, weapons, and vehicles.

I often think about what I get in return for my time with video games. I've found the most compulsively playable games are also the ones that leave me feeling the most used and hollow afterward. When I think back on what I did in Reach, it's hard to know why I did any of it. Nothing connects, the patterns that emerge from one arena to the next don't build towards a grand confrontation. Nor do they truthfully connect to an emotional idea other than the laughing gas giggle of winning at something for 30 seconds and then repeating it again in a slightly different context. The alien wonder and elastic heroism of the original have become rote, a formula of Greek symbols without a hypothesis to prove.

I hate playing games with other people. Board games, card games, word games--they all seem like a waste of time, an exploitation of our competitive distractibility. It's built into the names we have for them, they're pastimes categorized by their efficiency in distracting us. When this ethos comes in video game form, built as a persistent playroom that continually refreshes itself, it feels uncomfortably like jumping into oblivion. There's something sinister about Reach and its repetition of the now wheezing theme of heroism and self-sacrifice. It's become an elaborate delusion that makes it possible for an excitable and creative group of millions to yoke themselves into a virtual community for the primary purpose of accelerating the passage of time. It's a neon prison so perfectly constructed its prisoners come to their cells with pleasure and don't need to be locked in. And make no mistake, this prison is getting hungrier. It wants you too. One more round. One more mission. One more imperative to play the hero in a fishbowl, so you won't think about how much oxygen is left in the water. They might change the water and add a castle, but you'll eventually notice you're still swimming in circles.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halo Reach Sales Top Out At 358 Million

Sales of console up 38 percent year-over-year, cited as a factor in company's record first fiscal quarter performance; Entertainment and Devices Division sales tally $1.8 billion.

Microsoft has been banking on the motion-sensing Kinect peripheral to boost sales of the Xbox 360 this holiday season, but it turns out the system has had no trouble selling in advance of the camera system's November 4 launch. The company today announced a record performance for its first fiscal quarter (the three months ended September 30), with Xbox 360 sales up 38 percent year-over-year.

Microsoft's revenues Reach-ed for the stars.

The Entertainment and Devices division, which handles Microsoft's gaming business, as well as projects like the Zune and ill-fated Kin phone, posted nearly $1.8 billion in sales. Microsoft claims that number is up 27 percent year-over-year, but only since it has "recast" previous results "to conform to the way [Microsoft] internally managed and monitored segment performance during the current fiscal year." In last year's first fiscal quarter results, Microsoft reported Entertainment and Devices division revenues of nearly $1.9 billion, essentially flat from the prior year.

The Xbox division's operating profits were also affected by the aforementioned recasting. For the recently concluded quarter, Microsoft posted a divisional operating profit of $382 million, claiming that was up from the previous year's $260 million operating profit. The original number Microsoft reported for its first quarter last year was $312 million.

Companywide, Microsoft touted its all-time best first fiscal quarter performance. Every business unit in the company showed sales growth, and revenues for the three months ended September 30 totaled $16.2 billion, up 25 percent from the prior year. Net income surged even more, jumping 51 percent to $5.41 billion.

Microsoft cited strong consumer demand for the Xbox 360 and its games, as well as Office 2010 and Windows 7, as contributing factors to the growth. While Microsoft didn't break down the numbers, it bears noting that the quarter saw the debut of Halo: Reach, which was credited with bringing in $200 million in sales in its first day on sale. According to the industry-tracking NPD Group, Halo: Reach was also the top game for the month of September, selling 3.3 million units at US retailers.

[UPDATE]: In a post-earnings conference call, Microsoft revealed that Halo: Reach had totaled approximately $350 million in revenues to date and helped drive strong growth in the Xbox Live service.

The company expects to retain its momentum with the help of Kinect. Microsoft is projecting roughly 30 percent year-over-year revenue growth for the current quarter, with a jump of about 20 percent for the full year ending June 30, 2011.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Over 70 Million Halo: Reach Games Played

Bungie's released updated stats for Halo: Reach's launch week, confirming the prequel has already clocked up more than 70 million games played.

Everything about the game is tracked, right down to shots fired.

- On Tuesday, September 14 at approximately 1:30pm PST, just a few hours after launch, Halo: Reach's online unique user count had already completely eclipsed Halo 3's total tally for the entirety of the week (09/13 through 09/20).

- To account for the same number of online players found in Halo: Reach during that same window (just six days), we had to run the numbers for Halo 3 going all the way back to 8/6/2010, encompassing a full 45 days of Halo 3 play!

- Ultimately, Halo: Reach's online population for the first week dwarfed Halo 3's by comparison, snagging four times the number of total unique users and decimating Halo 3's all time high of concurrent users by more than 65 per cent.

And a few more stats:

- 70 Million+ Games have been played

- 235 Million+ Player-Games have been played

- 2 Million+ Files have been uploaded to File Shares

- 5,901 man-years have been spent in online Reach games

- 20 Million Daily challenges have been completed

- 709,840 Weekly challenges have been completed

- 165 Billion Credits have been earned

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Halo Reach Achievements Revealed

Halo Insider  here, writing for Halo Reach Game News to provide you with the latest info and news about Reach, Bungie's progress, trivia, vidocs, speculation, what the fans are up to and 'The tr7th about how The Fight Began!' in Full Halo Glory (TM).

There will be spoilers! If you don't want to know NE thing about Halo: Reach, slowly back away from the internet now - though, from the beginning, you know the end....

Friday, October 29Noble Map Pack Achievements Revealed

Urk tells all in the Bungie update about Noble Maps Pack Achievements:

Dave Candland tells me that some of you were asking about DLC achievements this week. In an act of selfless generosity, he sent the latest artwork my way so you could thoroughly ogle it.

Totally Worth It

50 Points

Earn a Double Kill from the Grave in multiplayer Matchmaking.

Both Barrels

50 Points

Earn a Double Kill with the shotgun in multiplayer Matchmaking.


50 Points

Kill a player at long range with the DMR in a matchmade Slayer game.

You Ate All the Chips

42 Points

Collect all of the flags in a matchmade Stockpile game.

You Blew It Up!

13 Points

Blow up the research facility in a matchmade Invasion game on Breakpoint.

Poppin' & Lockin'

25 Points

Destroy a vehicle using Armor Lock in a matchmade game.

Offensive Driver

20 Points

Earn a kill in a matchmade Rocket Race game.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halo: Reach Noble Map Pack releases November 30

Halo Reach The Best Game of 2010
A new map pack for Halo: Reach deploys November 30. The Halo: Reach Noble Map Pack releases on Xbox Live and at retail outlets nationwide featuring new multiplayer locations for various modes such as Free for All, Team Slayer, Team Objective and Big Team Battle.

The pack contains three new maps: Tempest, Anchor 9, and Breakpoint.

Tempest offers players an abandoned shoreline facility divided between two symmetrical bases and an open sky above. Each base contains a makeshift shelter and access to strategic routes for small and large-scale skirmishes. Tempest supports 8 – 16 players and game modes such as Free for All, Team Slayer, Team Objective, and Big Team Battle. Tempest also contains a Forge palette for creating new custom maps.

Anchor 9 is set in orbital dockyards with mirrored interior hallways and an open central hangar bay. The map features close quarters combat for 2 - 8 players, and supports Free for All, Team Slayer, and Team Objective multiplayer modes.

Breakpoint is set in modular archaeological labs designed for air and ground combat. Breakpoint offers multiplayer for 8-16 players, and supports the Invasion and Big Team Battle game modes.

Developed by Bungie, the Noble Map Pack includes new Achievements worth a total of 250 Gamerscore points. It will be available for purchase for 800 Microsoft Points ($10) directly from Xbox Live or with a Microsoft Points card sold at retail locations worldwide.