Yes, it has finally happened. Halo has returned to PC and not in a small way. Earlier this year, Microsoft kicked off the initiative to bring almost the entire series over to Windows using the Halo: The Master Chief Collection (MCC). As a product of its staggered release schedule that follows the chronological order of the series' timeline, the final Bungie-developed Halo game, Reach, is now on PC. There is an Xbox One release as well, but in this review, I will be solely looking at the PC version of this venerable shooter that launched over nine years ago, exclusively on the Xbox 360.
I went into this game as blind as can be, as I assume many other PC players will be doing. The only Halo games I've played previously were Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 on PC a long time ago, plus some Halo Wars more recently. Read on below to find out what I thought of this classic Halo entry's re-release, diving into the campaign and multiplayer departments, the port performance, keyboard and mouse handling on the brand new platform, along with anything in between.
Halo: Reach is only a piece of a much larger puzzle that's still being built, but just how much content comes stuffed in this initial package is astounding, even knowing that some of it - like Forge and Theater - isn't even here yet. Straight off the bat, I can tell you this is a marvelous port, as I didn't experience a single crash or instability while playing the game. Even the multiplayer servers held up without so much as a wobble as the combined forces of Steam and Microsoft Store (with Xbox Game Pass' help) barged in during the launch day.
The game is set before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, revolving around a decisive battle between humans and the Covenant alien alliance forces. The entirety of it takes place on and around the planet Reach, presenting a look at the war from another perspective than our favorite walking tank, more widely known as Master Chief. This time you are Noble Six, a Spartan who's part of an elite team deployed on Reach that's suddenly in the middle of a Covenant incursion. I won't go into any specifics about the storyline since it would be a shame for it to be spoiled for someone after waiting almost 10 years for the game to reach PC.
I stopped noticing the straight lines of aged graphics and melted into the rich world Bungie had carved out all those years ago. Just a single mission in, I stopped noticing the straight lines of aged graphics and melted into the rich world Bungie had carved out all those years ago. Fights span across environments that range from high mountains with gorgeous skyboxes to the innards of a massive alien ship. The highly varied levels never overstay their welcome either. The campaign takes you through 10 missions that have all-out assaults alongside regular foot soldiers, open-world sections with vehicular battles, on-rails segments, and also some surprises, all wrapped into a neat package that should take around eight hours to go through.
I can easily see why Reach is regarded by fans as one of the best Halo campaigns to come out of Bungie. The pacing, feel, and atmosphere of it is what I hope Microsoft and 343 Industries are trying to replicate for the next generation of games. I played the campaign with two others in co-op (it supports up to four players) and largely it was a smooth experience, except for a hiccup or two like the audio not being in sync during a cutscene.
A fun little highlight was how the enemy kept throwing new kinds of Covenant forces at you as the campaign progresses, even near the end of the game. Some of them weren't even more powerful units, just different classes. It was as if the aliens were realizing the Spartan team on Reach was an actual threat and decided to call in everything they had. You should also know that punching Grunts has remained a fun activity.
Looking back, however, Reach's campaign might not be the best way to get familiar with the Halo universe for a brand new player. You are abruptly thrust into the boots of a super soldier and told to shoot at aliens without much background information on the setting. If you're completely new to the series, it could be a bit of an odd start.
Reach being a PC game now means modding is a possibility already too, all with 343's blessing. When you launch the game, it asks you if you would like to have the anti-cheat solution disabled to open up tinkering possibilities. For now, using this will lock out matchmaking services, but 343 has said it has plans to introduce official modding support to MCC, which I imagine could change these restrictions.
Multiplayer and PC controls
The multiplayer is as frantic as ever, with grenades being tossed around like candy, teabagging rituals being performed across maps, and me being annoyed about campers who might as well be pitching tents in their infernal corners. And I love it.
Years later, the matchmaking will ensure even a small playerbase could find matches with ease. There aren't any hit markers, drastic kill confirmation notifications, or even a minimap (no, the motion detector doesn't count), aspects I am so used to in modern games' staple modes, making this almost decade-old game feel fresh and intense. Most encounters come down to who can land the quickest Battle Rifle headshots on the other person or how skilled (or lucky) are they with their throwing arm.
Maps and game modes come in plenty of flavors that should delight anyone's tastes, from close quarter indoor brawls to open-ended vistas with vehicles thrown in. The casual playlists also have several weird (but fun) game modes available that give a nice contrast against the main deathmatch and objective-focused modes. Why not find out which team can hold on to a skull the longest without giving it away to the other team? And to make it even more interesting, give everyone grenade launchers.
Another thing I love is the way multiplayer matchmaking is set up. After selecting the modes you like, you can search for matches in all of them at once, ensuring a fast queue time. This impressive system will even expand to searching through multiple games all at once as more Halo titles come to the PC version of MCC. Years later, this matchmaking mechanic will ensure even a small playerbase could find matches with ease.
Coming back to the present, multiplayer is also where the mouse and keyboard controls matter the most, and I think 343 has nailed the feeling. Being a console port, I feared there would be major input lag issues with the game, especially following the complaints from players who tested the pre-release builds. But I couldn't detect anything of the sort playing on either the "experimental" unlimited FPS state or capped at 60. On the other hand, I found enabling V-sync and borderless windowed modes do add a noticeable amount of input lag, so going full screen and turning off V-sync is something I recommend for an optimal experience.
Armor customization is deep and detailed, with each individual part of the body having multiple components you can edit as you like, and there are no souring microtransactions or loot boxes in sight. However, you have to unlock these components one by one in order that's part of a long battle pass-esque list using Season Points that you earn while playing regularly. This means if there's something you really like at the end of the unlock list, be prepared for a grind to get there. Although it's not really an issue, as it gives rewards to work towards, I would have preferred to have the system let me select and unlock what I want.
Meanwhile, the four-player cooperative mode, Firefight, serves as a good break from the other modes, presenting a Halo-flavored wave-based combat experience. This isn't much different from horde modes that you should be used to seeing in other games. Most players, I assume, will largely spend their time in the head-to-head multiplayer side of things though, just like I did.
Speaking of co-op, something that needs mentioning is that split-screen play is a missing component across all modes in this PC release. The feature is a rare sight even now on most PC games, and while it's not something I'm particularly interested in, it could be a sore point for some. The omission can't be due to a performance-related issue either, considering how lax the game's impact is on even on a modest PC - more on that below.
Graphics, audio, and performance
Visually, Reach looks great considering its age. 343 and the supporting studios have done an impressive job polishing up the title to make it look and run well even almost a decade later. Keep in mind that this is essentially a very light remaster, you shouldn't jump in expecting a drastically changed graphical experience other than higher FPS counts and sharper visuals thanks to running at higher resolutions.
Sadly, the same praise cannot be given to the audio. Throughout the entire campaign and multiplayer modes, the audio just felt a bit off, like it's been copied one too many times, making everything have less of an impact as a result. After perusing some old videos of the original 360 release, I can say that this seems to be an issue with the Master Chief Collection version of Reach. 343 is aware of the issue and is working on a solution, I just wish it had come with the released build.
The lack of advanced graphics options was also a little surprising. There are only three presets available to switch between for tuning the visual fidelity: Performance, Original, and Enhanced. Unlike the sound issue, I quickly came to terms with this scarcity when I realized the game can run on a certified potato with no issues. My rather modest system - Intel Core i5-4570 quad-core CPU with an AMD RX 580 8GB GPU and 8GB of RAM -, managed to eat this game for breakfast running with the Enhanced preset, staying well above 60FPS across all modes at 1080p. The GPU doesn't even break 40% usage on my end.
Also, there aren't any cumbersome effects like motion blur, chromatic aberration, or any fuzzy anti-aliasing implementations in this release. These are the settings I usually turn off straight away in games, making Reach's lack of deeper options even more tolerable. But still, they would have been nice to have.
At the other end of the spectrum, several critical settings have been made available for the PC audience. Field of view customization has been taken seriously, with sliders touting high ranges coming in for first-person and in-vehicle views. Bumping up the former's counter to 100 made my experience a much better one. There's also resolution options, control rebinds, and even ultrawide display support. I would have liked to tweak the gun model scale as well, but alas, that is not possible, leaving me holding the gigantic weaponry near my face forever.
Forge, the custom map and mode maker, and Theater, the replay viewer and editor, features are not officially here yet for the PC version of Reach, and are currently slated to arrive sometime in 2020. At least softening the lack of Theater, the last 50 rounds of your exploits are automatically saved as replay files, and you can permanently save them if needed. When Theater finally arrives, you will probably be able to use those old files without issue.
Bringing it all together, this is as much of a complete experience as one can get in a gaming package for this price, handing you a beefy and beautifully presented campaign - which can also be played in co-op -, a competitive multiplayer mode featuring diverse maps and modes that can easily draw you in for hundreds of hours, as well as a dedicated horde mode to loosen up in.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection could become the Orange Box of Microsoft if the upcoming five ports hold the standards set by Halo: Reach.This doesn't mean there aren't some rough edges. The delayed arrival of Forge and Theater modes does put a slight damper on things. More importantly, the audio being muffled and weird sounding is my biggest complaint about the port. Could the game have spent some more time in the oven before release? Sure, but in the end, Microsoft is only asking $9.99 for this impossibly packed offering that's made with longevity in mind, and it's a fantastic deal. Most of all, I'm just ecstatic to be playing Halo on PC again, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection could become the Orange Box of Microsoft if the upcoming five ports hold the standards set by Halo: Reach, easily becoming a recommended purchase by the PC community for years to come. The next game in line to release from the collection on PC is Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary edition, with the Master Chief returning to begin his journey from scratch, so hold on to your computers.
Halo: Reach is now available to purchase with a $9.99 price tag on the Microsoft Store and Steam. You can also grab the entire Master Chief Collection for $39.99, delivering you its six components as they launch. As usual for new Microsoft releases, subscribers to Xbox Game Pass also gain access to all of the games at launch, with Reach being made available now.
This review was conducted using a PC copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection provided by Microsoft for Steam.