Hands-On with Halo: Reach for PC

Posted on December 4, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Games with 15 Comments

The last time Microsoft published a Halo game for the PC, it was a Games for Windows Live title for Windows Vista. Yeah. It’s been that long.

Microsoft’s strategy for gaming on PC—or, more specifically, for Xbox gaming on PC—can charitably be called “on-again, off-again,” with an emphasis on the “off” bit. But with the failure of Xbox One, Microsoft was forced to do something wonderful for gamers: It rethought its entire approach to gaming, and a major component of that change is a renewed and, I think, permanent emphasis on PC gaming as a key tier of its new strategy.

You can see this in Xbox Game Pass for PC (and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which combines PC and console), in Xbox Play Anywhere, and in Project xCloud too. And you can see it in the growing collection of Microsoft Studio games that are heading not just to console but to PC (and, over time, to xCloud) as well.

And there is no Microsoft Studio IP quite like the Halo franchise.

I was a Halo fan from day one, though I drifted away from the series as Call of Duty emerged as the superior multiplayer experience. But before that happened, I was somewhat obsessed with Halo. I completed the original game, Halo: Combat Evolved several times each on both console and PC. I did likewise with Halo 2, which was re-released belatedly as Halo 2 for Windows Vista, a Games for Windows Live title, back in 2007; plus I spent countless hours in multiplayer. And then Halo 3—and the less-heralded Halo 3: ODST—arrived. These games, to me, were the pinnacle of the Halo series, and I played and replayed the single-player experience and lived in multiplayer for at least a year.

The problem, of course, was that Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST were console-only titles. By which I mean Xbox 360-only titles. They were never ported to PC, nor were subsequent Halo titles like Halo 4, Halo 5, and Halo: Reach. Microsoft was so fixated on the Xbox consoles as its core—OK, only—gaming strategy that it lost sight of everything else. (The appearance of two Halo mobile games on Windows more recently shouldn’t be confused; these were also released on iOS and Android and bear no resemblance to the “real” Halo games.)

As part of the wonderful change that has taken place in the dark years since Windows Vista and the implosion of Xbox One in 2013-2014, Microsoft has announced plans to bring its entire Halo: The Master Chief Collection—which includes almost all of the top-tier Halo titles (Halo 5 is curiously missing)—to the PC. Those who purchased this massive set of games on console will automatically get them on PC, via Microsoft, a nice benefit of the new strategy, which one might summarize as “your games wherever you want them.”

But Microsoft knows that gamers are a prickly lot. And that some, still burned by its mistakes of the past, want nothing to do with yet another way to purchase games, especially if that way is controlled by Microsoft. And so Microsoft has extended yet another olive branch: The Halo: The Master Chief Collection can now be purchased on Steam, though only one title, Halo: Reach, is currently available for PC. It just shipped yesterday. And yes, it can be purchased individually, too. As will be the case with future games in the series, as they’re released throughout 2020 (and maybe beyond).

It’s been a while since I used Steam. In fact, my son took over my original account years ago, and I had created a new account a few years related to Windows Mixed Reality, if I remember correctly. But it’s a familiar environment and doesn’t seem to have changed much since I used it regularly.

Installing Halo: Reach is inexpensive—the game is just $9.99 on every platform, which is kind of a steal—but it took quite a while, like hours, to download it, a situation I’m familiar with from Xbox on both console and PC. But once it was installed, the experience was again familiar: Halo: Reach for PC on Steam looks, sounds, and works just like it does elsewhere, and it even supports Xbox Live sign-in.

Thanks to almost 15 years of mostly console-based gaming, I’m much more comfortable with a controller than I am with a keyboard and mouse, and I am more interested in the single-player campaign anyway. So, I’m using an Xbox Wireless Controller. Here, again, the experience was familiar, meaning that it is similar if not identical to playing on a console. Everything just works.

The graphics look fantastic on the Lenovo gaming laptop I’m using, a Legion Y7000P with an Intel Core i7 H-series CPU, 16 GB of RAM, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, and the gameplay is smooth. So I was curious about the settings. The graphics quality was set to “Original,” with the framerate limited to 60 FPS. But you can choose Performance or Enhanced for the graphics, instead of specific resolutions, which I think is smart. And you can go with Unlimited FPS if you feel your system can take it.

I assume you can pick up this game on console, if installed there, and continuing playing though I’ve not tested that. And while I’m not sure this is the very first time such a thing was possible from Steam, it’s gotta be pretty unusual today. I bet that becomes less so.

More soon, but I may very well finish the game entirely on the PC. I haven’t been able to say that in a while.

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