Last Updated on February 25, 2023
The nature of multiplayer or co-op gaming underwent a shift in its first principals (thanks to the internet) about the time that I was distracted away from gaming by Life Itself.
In the time since, the playability of life may have varied but the graphics and sound were always great. The multiplayer aspects of it became reduced once I stopped working as a stagehand and became a solo gardener but most recently I picked it up again by gunning through Halo: Reach co-operatively with my brother.
Halo: Reach then and now
Nothing could withstand us. Not the Grunts, the Elites, nor even remembering how to reset the infrared controllers, which we did in a less than truncated manner. By the third YouTube video explaining how to do it, we had it down, signed ourselves in and came across that familiar choice of difficulty.
Games have traditionally and meritoriously offered a decent variety of difficulties, but Halo has always become a very different game as you up the challenge and enemies exhibit behaviours and aggressions beyond which you had dealt with. Leave it on the easy side and the game acts as almost as though it were a run and gun, encouraging you to hold the line, hold the trigger and hold that grin, soldier. At the other end of the difficulty, each new area becomes a pitched battle, a moment-to-moment expose of your old and now defunct routines.
You will make progress but it will be trench by trench.
Halo was a thing of machine-wanting stuff and a recapitulation after GoldenEye 007 that first person shooters could work on console. A lot was made over the LAN party capabilities of this game, of the sort of ground-up culture that it created, but I knew it in multiplayer as a co-operative, split-screen game.
A cousin of mine was the first to get an Xbox, and I played it through with him before almost immediately buying one myself, where thereafter my gaming brother and I would go absolutely mental on it. Two sequels followed which we followed and then the third sequel-cum-progenator, Reach, which might have been the best since the first. Enthusiasm all round, and all without a single game ever played through an internet.
That was then though, and then was a way back. Even Halo: Reach is pushing fifteen years old, so when we picked it up again we made sure to leave it set to normal difficulty and went dropship-style into the fray, remembering the controls and the satisfaction of the pistol.
A good start.
Then, when we stumbled upon a monster truck it was the old rules there too. I drive and he holds down the trigger from the back. One of the binaries of life is that some people can drive military vehicles in Halo and some people… well, we’ll leave it at that. A dog’s dinner, but I’ll say no more. I mean, I personally love the driving sections. That spongy suspension and slobber loose feel.
(I actually think the developers were going for the driving style of a John Deere Gator buggy. Probably the 855D, as it has the happiest tail this side of a Labrador.)
The game captured it well and my brother is a merciless gunner. I go for the low speed circles around enemies and he turns them all into the next Mr Swiss Cheese. Amongst its other qualities, Halo: Reach absolutely delivers with co-operative balance and opportunities, even if it is deliberately a little off key.
Playing with the faders
Big vistas, bright colours and an art direction as well set as a table around a handsome meal, Halo delivered, defined and then began to fill in the details with each new game. Then, with Reach they played with the colour faders, dialling back the brights overall but liberally sprinkling neons into the atmosphere. It gave a tremendous sense of place but I preferred the old faders in the same way I preferred to play as Master Chief and not G.I. Spartan.
Otherwise it was and still is a two player shooter of smooth motion and an unbeatable design philosophy that means when you press a button, any of them, something cool happens. A simple design approach that is magnified with the second player; tag-holing Elites in a pincer movement, calling out when you need to retreat and let your shield regenerate, leaving guns for each other and pointing out heath packs.
Reach has the natural ebb and flow of co-op fundamentals, but is by nature an open enough experience that two different players will have two different approaches. And this itself will by degrees be dictated by the difficult. We were still playing it at the rarefied air end of gung-ho, but on that night-time sniper mission that attitude ran into its first test.
I am always happy to sit out at a distance and snipe away at enemies until I hit what I decide are my reserve bullets and then I press on it with the availible automatics. Ours or theirs. Theirs have good colours, but ours have better weight and feel more like they have come out of Aliens, so I generally go for ours. My brother goes for firing a few rounds off at a distance and then deciding that he’s going in with an appetite for melee. That is then my cue to wade in too because pack rules so let’s go pincer an Elite. At some point during that mission there were tons of them though and we hit the wall of our approach.
Then we hit it again, but harder because we were annoyed. Hmm. Lastly, we tried just sneaking through, then offering good evening if we were spotted and carrying on as if suddenly concerned about the whereabouts of our dog.
In the end we just shot everything. Elites, Grunts, cattle and dogs, we shot them all to pieces and lit our cigars from the red hot barrels of our guns. Then some more of the story rolled on up to the nanosecond that the Skip button appeared and we were quickly away and into the next area, replaying old routines around fresh geography.
Halo understands players, especially those early ones made by the team who came up with it in the first place.
Giant buttons of chocolate
If Reach isn’t quite double the experience for two people it does nonetheless extend its joy like big confectionery. I am thinking of the giant buttons. Yes, split-screen Halo is like gigantified chocolate buttons. Superb. It makes the correct concessions for the technical limits of the machine to keep both the action smooth and the players un-aggrieved.
The art direction remains a pearl of design and all put together, the whole experience somehow chills people out whilst playing.
Just keep it on the easier settings for that ice-cool ra-a-tat-tat and it’s like stroking a sedated Elite. Any further difficulty and the elite will wake up, see you both and decide it is hungry. That’s why I keep a rocket launcher in my pocket. My brother too. Swivel on that. Pincer…!
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.