The Beginning of the End?
Halo: Reach is a Halo game through and through: if you came expecting a significant departure from previous iterations of Halo, you would be sorely disappointed. But what you can expect is a lovingly crafted tribute by game developers Bungie to the Halo series and their devoted fans.
Reach’s single player campaign epitomises the engaging Halo formula: a careful mix of exceptional first-person shooting mechanics, vehicular based missions and grandiose mission objectives. The story is about the Noble team, an elite squad of Spartans, and their attempts at fending off at a full scale invasion by the Covenant. The story was compelling, with sufficient hooks to make me feel personally part of the conflict and invested in the fate of the planet. The ability to customise the appearance of your Spartan added the sense of involvement in the game. The Noble team were not just some A.I. buddies that tagged along on missions, but fleshed-out individuals that you grow to like over the course of the game. The story was self contained, but also eluded to the wider war with the Covenant - for those familiar with the Halo series - which gave the story a deeper resonance. The music aided in setting the appropriate atmosphere with deep and powerful war drums that gave you hope, and melancholic songs that told of the foreboding fate of Reach. The cinematics and the music come together to deliver a compelling story that you will want to see out until the end.
The game play throughout the campaign is intense, from heated space battles to full-scale ground wars. The enemy A.I. contributed heavily to this sense of intensity: as they manoeuvre intelligently around the terrain and evade your attacks, you will soon realise this is not simply a shooting gallery of enemies. A level of finesse and aggression is needed to conquer the impressive enemy A.I. Unfortunately the same praise cannot be laid at the feet of the allied A.I. At the best of times, they stay out of your way, and at the worst, they impede your progress by driving Warthogs erratically. This problem is entirely negated by the option to play the campaign co-operatively over Xbox Live or through split-screen. With the campaign becomes even more enjoyable with company. The standard weapons from the Halo universe are back, most with interesting twists, if only aesthetically, and the new weapons give reason to experiment with my approach to different scenarios. The biggest change to Reach is the inclusion of equipment abilities. Each Spartan has one slot for equipment ranging from a camo-suit to a jetpack and, as you can change your equipment on the fly, levels can be approached in multiple ways. It has more interesting consequences in the competitive multiplayer component, but Covenant still manage to put it to good use throughout the campaign, The inclusion was a clever way to change up the game play, whilst retaining the core of Halo. The music, the story and the game play comes together to form what I would consider to be the best single player Halo experience available.
The multiplayer feature has always formed a big part of the franchise; this game is no exception. The tactics of multiplayer is changed by the use of equipment abilities and the inclusion of new competitive modes such as Invasion slayer. A levelling system similar to Halo 3 is included, but the addition of credits for winning matches leads to a highly personalised appearance for your Spartan. Forge mode makes a welcome return, and maps are now more customisable than ever before. If you would rather just download other people’s map creations, then that option returns as well. However, not all is well with the online play, as you are frequently bombarded by offensive language by immature gamers. Annoying, but somewhat expected from a Halo game.
Bungie made a somewhat feeble attempt to limit this issue with Psyche profiling, a system where you input your personal preferences as to how chatty or how polite you want your fellow gamers to be. For the most part, it failed to make a difference to who I was paired with but it was a nice gesture. But considering how immersive the multiplayer is, it is not a reason to stop playing.
Firefight, where four players battle against increasing waves of Covenant forces, was first included in Halo: ODST, and although fun, it could quickly deteriorate into tedium due to the lack of matchmaking functionality. To the delight of eager fans (myself included) Firefight has returned to Reach with matchmaking. Not only that, but Bungie has allowed you to fully customise your Firefight experience: from choosing what enemies spawn in each wave, to what weapons you can use, to having infinite equipment use. The ability to share the customised firefight modes lead to endless hours of fun and it has made Firefight the mode that fans will keep coming back to over and over again.
As stated before, Halo: Reach is a Halo game through and through- but that’s not a bad thing. Instead of tampering with a tried and tested formula, Bungie instead decided to drive the idea to near-perfection. Bungie didn’t re-invent the wheel. It simply made it smoother.