Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Halo Reach

Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Halo Reach

By Stuart Richardson

January 17th 2011 at 8:00AM

Develop's monthly dissection of a recent hit game

Halo: Reach

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bungie
Format: Xbox 360
Chart Success: At the last count it raked in
$350m in revenue; $200m in the first 24 hours

Develop's index of all games featured in Anatomy of a Blockbuster can be found here.

THE SENSATION

Nine years is a long time in games development, and many Xbox launch titles are blurry memories today.
One, however, did pretty well.

When Halo: Combat Evolved arrived in 2001, many were unsure about a Microsoft console. Today, you would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to own up to that concern.

Halo, along with the culture that grew around it, contributed in no small part to Xbox’s massive success. Even among those with no games experience, the name is evocative of the platform.

It has been nine years since Xbox came blinking into the light of day. Six games and an Xbox 360 later, and the Halo franchise has become part of the console’s legend.

THE GAME

Halo: Reach is a prequel with an outcome fans have known for years.

Riffing off modern science fiction like the remade Battlestar Galactica (unlike Alien and Larry Niven novels in the main series), the plot centres on the defense of the planet Reach against overwhelming alien odds. It is a tale of disaster, and a Spartan supersoldier team entrusted with the fate of humanity.

Singleplayer gameplay is familiar to anyone who has played an FPS Halo title; a deceptively simple selection of ordnance can be deployed against alien hordes in entertaining ways across beautifully designed and expansive sci-fi locales.

The introduction of special abilities like sprinting and jet-packs has polished the classic experience to a shine.
All of which is backed-up by one of the most well-honed multiplayer modes going, developed over the course of the Halo franchise into the deep community experiences it is today.

THE STUDIO

Bungie, through a largescale multimedia engagement with its gamers and a well developed, ‘irreverent’ persona, has redefined the developer/audience relationship and the culture of the triple-A studio.

Seventh Column, the Bungie community of staff and fans that has helped many charities, emptimises that trend, and has become a great boon to the developer’s reputation as a company that cares.

This human interest has seen the studio evolve into a cultural quantity as relevant as the titles it develops. Its increasingly unique position as a secure independent studio with triple-A output also makes it hot property.

People cared when, this April, Bungie announced a 10-year multi-platform publishing deal with Activision.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT
A mutable area over time, the initial draw of Halo was to chance play an FPS of near-PC quality on consoles.

Today, Halo stands in contrast to its rivals by way of its sci-fi plot and character abilities. In a market thick with first-person shooters aiming to present as bleak and realistic a portrayal of war as possible, Halo: Reach is a breath of fresh, otherworldly air.

Why would you want to watch your character get shot by a corrupt US General when you can watch him get eviscerated by an eight-foot alien in purple body armour?

WHY IT WORKS
There is no esoteric undercurrent of meaning to be found in Halo: Reach. It is a dumb joy in the very best sense, and there is something to be celebrated in that.

While the dramatic loading sequence of interstellar long shots building to a zoom onto the eponymous planet – accompanied by a Taiko drums score – implies some kind of higher plot agenda, it’s best not to spend too long looking for one.

There is a fun, albeit a little daft, plot on offer, but Reach’s campaign is about killing stuff.

Reach’s multiplayer is about killing stuff while engaging in matriarchal bad-mouthing.

These pleasures are primal, and occasionally lower than that. They appeal to everybody, regardless of how readily they admit it.

TRY IT YOURSELF
The singular, giddy pleasure that is gleaned from turning a room full of hateful alien bad guys into so much steaming space-gizzards is one unlikely to diminish any time soon.

Try this – in the distant future, an Earth spy known as Tom XX-7 vanishes while investigating reports of alien-collusion on Jupiter. One of his ‘sisters’, May XY-3, is set to find out what happened, and to silence any alien cells discovered in the process.

That took seconds. Now you do it. Make sure you include some very big guns.