Years of teases and waiting have finally ended with this: Halo is back on PC in officially supported fashion.
In particular, this week’s launch of 2011’s Halo Reach on Windows PC is fascinating because of how it compares to the last time Microsoft tried the Halo-on-PC thing. Rewind to 2007, and Microsoft shoved out a Halo 2 port that required both Games For Windows Live and Windows Vista to run—and shipped in mod-unfriendly fashion. It received nary a patch or useful update and left diehard fans scrambling to patch it into decent shape.
Compare that to Halo Reach, which is still a Windows-only game but works on any Microsoft OS from Windows 7 and up and can be purchased either on the Windows Store or Steam. If you pay for Xbox Game Pass on PCs, you get it day-and-date via Windows Store. If you buy it on Steam, meanwhile, you get one heckuva cool option already: total mod support. Simply pick the game’s “cheat detection disabled” option upon boot and you can fiddle with every relevant file (within a “friends-only” online sandbox, which is fair enough).
In spite of some imperfections at launch, Halo Reach‘s PC version is already a testament to a new attitude at Microsoft about PC gaming. (Since Halo Reach is pretty well known, this article focuses squarely on what’s new or different in this PC port.)
There’s a lot of good news, so we’ll start with the bad
For one, Reach has arrived on Windows PCs by itself, which may surprise anyone who sees that it’s part of the Halo: Master Chief Collection—as in the 2014 anthology that landed on Xbox One in 2015 with a crushing, bug-filled thud (but was eventually patched to a pretty shining state, complete with Xbox One X support). Why is this anthology only one game strong on PC, when it’s up to six games on Xbox One consoles?
Xbox Game Studios has made clear that this piecemeal launch on PC is intentional. Instead of dumping multiple games onto Windows PCs simultaneously, the MCC team at 343 Industries is trying to nail one Halo port at a time—and some wonky issues upon Reach‘s launch confirm they’re going the right route. [Update: To clarify, as of press time, fans can either buy Halo Reach by itself for $10 or the complete MCC for $40. The latter will include all other MCC games as they launch, one at a time, over the next year-plus.]
A litany of sound-mixing bugs currently curse every mode in the game, which I was able to replicate by simply playing the campaign, versus, and “Firefight” gauntlet modes. Sometimes, the sound mix goes all over the map, with volume levels surging or plummeting for various elements (speech, music, sound effects) with no rhyme or reason.
There’s also an overly touchy anti-cheat detection system at launch, which punted me from all public matchmaking after only playing one match. A quick perusal of Halo Waypoint, the series’ official forums, suggested I turn off the app that manages my Razer peripherals’ backlit buttons, but this only temporarily fixed my problem. 343i eventually posted an official suggestion that affected players pick the “verify files” option in Steam, which forced a 2GB download (the whole package is roughly 20GB) and got me back online safe and sound ever since. But that suggestion only came via Halo Waypoint, not as an in-game “news feed” update, which could leave less vigilant players wholly offline and annoyed.
And for a customization-hungry crowd like PC players, Halo Reach is currently slight in the options department. Most glaring of all is a lack of discrete visual toggles. You can’t go into the game and pick out levels of anti-aliasing, texture size, ambient occlusion, or even a toggle for bloom lighting effects. The only toggle is “original” or “enhanced” for graphics, and A/B testing of screens in various campaign moments implies that there’s only one change to the “enhanced” half: a more generous level-of-detail (LOD) setting so that distant objects like foliage and certain buildings appear more detailed. And it’s incredibly subtle stuff.
As a personal nitpick: though Halo Reach on Xbox One consoles includes support for split-screen modes, its PC counterpart does not. It’s a glaring omission for a series whose chief Bonnie Ross previously announced that, going forward, all Halo shooters would come with split-screen options by default. I prefer to connect my PC to my living room TV for split-screen gaming whenever possible. In an official statement, a 343i representative told Ars that the team is “investigating possibilities” for split-screen play on PC but wouldn’t confirm anything further than that.