Hey there, sweaty nerds! I’ve got some huge news. I got to play Halo: Fireteam Raven at Dave and Buster’s last week! Yes, you heard me right: I was able to experience the biggest and baddest Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix rail shooter just a few weeks after its release. Because this is a brand-new game, I promise to give y’all the entire low-down—every last detail. So without further ado, let’s dive right into the review!
Halo: Fireteam Raven
Developer: Play Mechanix
Publisher: Raw Thrills
Release Date: July 2018
Halo: Fireteam Raven plays almost exactly like any Raw Thrills shooter—which is to say it’s wicked awesome. Since the release of Terminator: Salvation in 2010, Raw Thrills and Play Mechanix have cranked out one solid rail shooter after another, and this game is no exception. That isn’t to say Fireteam Raven is the same game we’ve seen four other times, but rather to say that it updates an already sturdy core.
Fireteam Raven, like pretty much every modern rail shooter, is of the mounted-gun, “spray-and-pray” variety. Luckily, there seems to be a bit more strategy to this title. Like Terminator: Salvation and The Walking Dead, ammo management comes into play with the reload button. You can’t just shoot endlessly like in Jurassic Park Arcade; you have to time reloading so that you don’t take damage during the process. And like all the Raw Thrills classics, you’ve got yourself a grenade button. To mix things up, there are also exciting weapon swaps, including unlimited-ammo turrets.
As I said, the underlying formula is nigh perfect. However, I did have a few problems with the gameplay. For one thing, all weapon swaps are 100 percent scripted. Finding a different weapon isn’t a reward—it’s just a thing that happens. And I mean, I guess it’s okay; that’s just the vibe Raw Thrills was going for. But I dunno…it takes some of the joy out of it, even if all the Halo weapons are so danged cool. Furthermore, I was little disappointed by the lack of hidden bonuses. Scouring levels for ambrosia was super fun in Jurassic Park Arcade, and I’m sure Raw Thrills could have thrown a few Halo-themed bonus in Fireteam Raven. Still, it’s fun stuff.
Perhaps my favorite formula improvements made with Fireteam Raven are the complete elimination of “bullet time” events and the nerfing of swarm enemies. Bullet time slow-motion target-shooting sequences have become a staple of the modern rail shooter. But as far as I remember, those sequences aren’t present in Fireteam Raven. Sure, bullet time can be fun, but when used in overabundance (and when used as a substitution for real boss battles!) it becomes a bit tiring. Additionally, while there may be some flying swarm enemies (another staple) in Fireteam Raven, they aren’t overpoweringly unfair. Swarms are exactly what they’re supposed to be: brief, hair-raising, accuracy-based segments.
Speaking of boss battles, Halo: Fireteam Raven…doesn’t have any. Which is…super disappointing, to say the least. While the core gameplay is plenty of fun and Raw Thrills does plenty to alleviate monotony already, it would have been nice to have a couple bosses to mix things up even more. Because if we’re going to be shooting stuff for 45 minutes, we should have some unique things to shoot at. There are a few “big” enemies like the Flood Juggernaut, but there’s nothing crazy exciting to shake up the action. And that’s a darn shame.
As far as difficulty is concerned, Halo: Fireteam Raven hits a real nice sweet spot. It only took me 11 credits to beat on my first blind playthrough, and I think that’s become the new Raw Thrills standard. Bad players will probably need 15 credits; good players will need 8; and the best players will be most likely be able to 1CC this bad dude. It’s a fair game that you gives you substantial value for your money. Plus, it’s a good one for high score chasing. The scoring system is especially fun, because you really are rewarded for being the best. Kill the most enemies, snag the highest kill streak, and aim for the highest accuracy—Halo: Fireteam Raven encourages competition between friends. (Though I was super mad that, for whatever reason, you only get to enter your three initials in this game, unlike almost every other Raw Thrills game in which you’re given space for an entire name.)
Speaking of squads, this is a game you NEED with friends for the ultimate experience. I only brought one friend along with me, but yelling at the top of my lungs with the two kids that sat down next to us was still boat-loads of fun. You find the right kids, and they will get into this crud. For real. Or just bring your own friends, heh-heh. (It genuinely enhances the experience.)
Now, of course, you can certainly play by yourself, as well. Enemy layouts are designed in such a way that each individual player is responsible for his or her own set of attackers. When you play with three or fewer players, the remaining characters become CPU-controlled. That way, you alone aren’t responsible for the entire 130-inch field of action. It’s a simple thing, but I appreciated it.
Hey, what else can I say? It’s an AWESOME game!
Fireteam Raven, like most Raw Thrills shooters, clocks in at about 45 minutes of total gameplay split into six missions. You can choose to play these missions in Story Mode (unlocking one after another in sequential order), or you can mess about in any order with the Mission Select option. 45 minutes is fairly lengthy for a rail shooter, but it’s not something you’ll get bored with anytime soon. Like I said earlier, the gameplay is varied and exciting. Every second is incredibly engaging.
I do like the six-mission structure. With three missions (like Terminator: Salvation), each mission feels a bit too long. With 9 missions (like Jurassic Park Arcade), each mission feels a bit too short. Six is a very happy medium. On top of that, each level has plenty of content on its own. There are eight total enemy types: Mgalekgolo, Unggoy, Sanghelli, Kig-Yar, Ruutian, Yanme’e, Flood, Flood Juggernauts. That’s not a shabby number. And when you take into account the many environments you’ll traverse and weapons you’ll pick up, it’s a pretty expansive rail shooter. Not mind-blowing or anything, but really good just the same.
One tidbit I was particularly intrigued by when Halo: Fireteam Raven was first announced was the ability to unlock exclusive stats and rewards by linking an Xbox Live Gamertag/account. Since I don’t have an Xbox Live account, I wasn’t able to reap these benefits. It's more a stat tracker than tangible benefits, though. Still, I’m overjoyed to see that Raw Thrills is embracing online connectivity in their games and providing content-based incentives for linking up. Extra goodies are always nice! It's like looking at my e-AMUSEMENT stats on Konami's website!
The controls are what we’ve come to expect from any given Raw Thrills rail shooter: easy to pick up and incredibly precise. And like most rail shooters in general these days, Halo: Fireteam Raven utilizes a mounted gun setup. But don’t worry! Raw Thrills and Play Mechanix have this stuff down to a science. The in-game reticle always feels perfectly connected to your real-life movements. Plus, the button placement is plenty intuitive. You’ve got a fire trigger and grenade button on either side of the barrel, and one reload button in the center. (Y’all lefties are plenty accommodated for.) It’s incredibly simple stuff, but it works. The mounted gun just feels nice. What more can Raw Thrills really do?
Halo: Fireteam Raven is a breathtakingly beautiful game. This is by far the crispest, cleanest Raw Thrills title to date, and I could not be happier. While Jurassic Park Arcade and The Walking Dead both looked a generation behind upon release, Fireteam Raven is absolutely modern in its presentation. Every character, vehicle, and environment—every single model in the game—is packed with polygons. You’d be hard-pressed to find an awkward-looking model, because everything is smooth. Everything is well-crafted, stunning. Textures are crisp and clear; lighting effects are realistic and eye-popping; and shading behaves naturally. Remember the sort of grainy, low-poly models from The Walking Dead? Yeah, those are a thing of the past. Raw Thrills stepped up their game—hard.
It’s not hard to marvel at the graphics when they’re displayed magnificently, as well. This is the second arcade game and first ever Raw Thrills game to utilize a 4K Ultra HD monitor—two of ‘em side-by-side, in fact! I never realized how truly gorgeous 4K could be until I actually saw it in person. Now, knowing what I’ve been missing out on this whole time, I doubt I’ll be able to look at 1080p the same way ever again. In my preview of Raw Thrills’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game back in April, I stated that 1080p graphics on 55-inch monitor were super did not work well. 4K, however, does not have this problem, and I’m thankful that Raw Thrills finally made the leap forward. There was truly no better way to render Halo: Fireteam Raven than on a two 65-inch 4K monitors at 60 frames-per-second. It is stunning. It packs a HUGE punch.
As far as presentation is concerned, Fireteam Raven hits the mark pretty well. I will admit that, like many rail shooters, the character animations are a tad weak. Most character movements are fun and ooze with classic Halo charm, but some feel the slightest bit undercooked. Explosions and actions sequences are totally rad, though. Halo: Fireteam has this interesting presentation that merges the first-person perspective of the console games with the first-person perspective of an arcade rail shooter. It’s a mixture of seeing the game from your character’s eyes and seeing the game from a fixed camera. (Your character “bends down” to grab guns, but you also stand still for “shooting gallery” sequences.) This hybrid presentation works solidly and creates a very immersive experience.
Admittedly, cutscenes are a bit short, but I’m glad Raw Thrills put more effort into the cinematics than they have with some of their older games. It’s not a story that’ll blow your mind, but it’s straightforward and cohesive. You squad up as the titular Fireteam Raven (Ethan Graves, Marcus Hudson, Victor Ramos, and Ava Lang) and assist Master Chief during the timeframe of Halo: Combat Evolved. A holographic Wellsley will guide you throughout your adventure. It’s simple, but it works.
As someone who has only dabbled in the Halo series (mostly local multiplayer at friends’ houses), I can’t confirm that Fireteam Raven is a perfect representation of the series. But take what I can say as near-fact: Everything “feels” as it should. Iconic weapons, locations, and characters are all in tact. And when Master Chief makes his brief cameos? Ooh boy, I just SCREAMED. Raw Thrills rendered that man as an absolute beast, and I loved it to death. Don’t be too concerned about any “misrepresentation” of the Halo franchise. Raw Thrills and Microsoft worked very closely to craft a truly canonical entry, and it works great.
As far as graphics and presentation are concerned, Halo: Fireteam Raven is perfect. It marks a new peak for arcades. (Oh my, it’s such a GORGEOUS game!)
Dave and Buster’s is probably the absolute worst venue for reviewing a game’s sound. Even at 11 AM on half-price Wednesday, with hardly anyone else in the store, I couldn’t pick out every detail—particularly the music. But as the studious reviewer I am, I’ll try to give you my best assessment.
Voice acting is the biggest thing that stuck out to me. Raw Thrills games, at least in my eyes, have always had kinda silly voice acting. In a charming way, ya know? But Halo: Fireteam Raven takes things up a few notches. It’s still not perfect (some lines are a bit hammy), but it works so well. Enemies all sound exactly as they do in their home games, and so do…all sound effects, really. Raw Thrills and This is a proper Halo game.
I could hardly pick up the music while I was playing (that’s one thing Raw Thrills needs to work on), but all the compositions come straight from the home games. (Spoiler alert: That’s means they’re really good.) The few times I did perceive the music, I knew it was solid stuff.
Overall, the sound in Halo: Fireteam Raven works. It’s everything you need for a good Halo time. And of course, the 5.1 surround sound system does a good of elevating the immersion.
We all saw the marketing—Halo: Fireteam Raven is housed in what is apparently the biggest arcade cabinet ever. And boy howdy, is this dude a beast. At 9’9” by 11’4” by 9’9”, this is one jacked experience. There’s a very good chance you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the thing—but that’s the point. This is the biggest, baddest guy around, and he wants to show it. The cabinet is absolutely oozing with Halo charm, from the marquee to the side-art to the themed LED lighting all along the molding. It feels right.
What I enjoyed the most about the cabinet was literally “feeling” it. Play even five minutes of Fireteam Raven and awesomeness will thump through your veins. Each seat and gun is loaded with force feedback. The 5.1 surround sound cradles you in the world of Halo. And of course, a deluxe, theater-style, environmental cabinet of this nature envelops you by its sheer nature. You are sitting inside a huge thing. Feel the power! And as I mentioned earlier, the monitors doing a darn good job of putting you in the action. If you’ve never experienced a 130-inch panoramic display, now is definitely the time. It’s not just a play space—it’s an entire field of crisp vision.
Beyond that, everything in the cabinet makes sense. Long-legged folks might have the slightest bit of trouble fitting in between the seat and control panel, but it’s easy to find a good position to slide into. Plus, the control panel itself (including the card readers and Xbox Live scanners) is arranged in a concise manner. The only real problem I have with Halo: Fireteam Raven’s cabinet is the exact thing I love about it so much: it’s absolutely monstrous.
The enormity of Fireteam Raven is FUN. It’s awesome and kick-butt and wicked and I wouldn’t have wanted to experience it any other way. But while the cabinet is something to behold, the gameplay is just as fascinating. People everywhere should be able to experience this game. Unfortunately, a $25,000, 10-foot by 11-foot by 10-foot cabinet is not something that fits all locations. The only venues you’ll be able to find this game are A) Dave and Buster’s and B) other large family entertainment centers. If a smaller, more cost-effective variant were released alongside the deluxe experience, Fireteam Raven could grace all kinds of locations. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime.
However, enjoy Halo: Fireteam Raven as it is: a massive, exhilarating arcade experience! It’s a beast, and that’s the point. I can push my standard cabinet agenda all I want, but that doesn’t keep this game from being absolutely wicked cool. The cabinet is sweet. Everyone should experience it at least once in his or her lifetimes. Go out and play this bad fella!
There’s nothing more to say. Halo: Fireteam is an absolutely rad game. The gameplay is fine-tuned and exciting; the controls are simplistic yet highly functional; the graphics are just plain beautiful; the sound is immersive and a joy to listen to; and the cabinet is the most over-the-top awesome thing I’ve seen in years. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t go out an play Fireteam Raven right now. (Unless you don’t live near a Dave and Buster’s. But hey, I drove an hour and 20 minutes to play this monster.)
You know, Raw Thrills and Play Mechanix have already proven time and time again that they can craft a master-class shooter—so why not try something new? Why not dabble in other genres? They gave us the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat-em-up back in May, but why not try even more? I want to see more innovation. I love the tried-and-true, sit-down, mounted-gun rail shooter, but I want a little variety. After TMNT, I feel like Raw Thrills is ready to make that shift. But I suppose only time will tell.
Also, I know it’s been a while since my last review. Reviews are definitely the most intensive type of article to write, so I haven’t gotten around to it much lately. But I promise that’ll change soon. Maybe. Either way, I got out a review for Halo: Fireteam Raven. That’s pretty cool, right?
So yeah. See ya ‘round, nerds. I’m out.
And full disclosure: I sacrificed precious Dance Dance Revolution A time to play this game! Agh!
It was totally worth it, though. Thanks, Raw Thrills, for makin’ cool games.
I’m out for real now.