A perfectly suitable swan song for Bungie's history with Halo.
With Halo: Reach finishing the long, rich development history of the franchise from Bungie, its prequel nature never feels like a beginning of a long journey; rather, it feels like the end of a long-lasting, glorious adventure. An adventure that Bungie themselves know that must be hard to say goodbye to, but luckily Halo: Reach is such a strong overall product that topping it is not going to be very easy. When all is said and done, it’s definitely still Halo, for sure. It looks like Halo, it sounds like Halo, and it definitely plays like Halo. But this is the highest quality Halo game thus far, and because of this Halo: Reach is Bungie’s swan song that people will remember—and play—for years to come.
Chronologically Halo: Reach is a prequel to the events of the original Halo: Combat Evolved on the Xbox (and eventually ported to the PC). Even if the gameplay and overall production feels like a sequel in may respects, the narrative retells the story of the planet Reach, before Master Chief is even a known combatant. It’s definitely a cool twist on the entire series, and the retelling of the fall of Reach is actually really well done. The characters are very interesting and you eventually feel emotionally attached to them. Sure, we all may know what happens at the end but it’s the events that occur during the campaign that makes the entire journey so interesting and ultimately enjoyable.
You play as a Spartan named Noble 6. Noble 6 is part of the “Noble Team” that consists of the most elite warriors on Reach. While departed on a mission the team unexpectedly runs into a force of Elites trying to take over a small settlement. After dealing with the encounter you are surprised to find out that the entire planet is falling apart and the Elites are slowly taking over. The game’s narrative is told through very well done cutscenes that consist of awesome action -packed moments and tremendous voice acting.
Newcomers to the Halo franchise will definitely feel as if the campaign is absolutely incredible, but Halo veterans may feel like it’s more of the same—which, in fact, it’s definitely the same old Halo. Levels aren’t broken up, rather they’re put continuous flow like Halo 2 or 3, plus the scenarios are usually “checkpoint, shoot grunts, checkpoint.” The friendly AI, disappointedly enough, is still the crappy old “never shoots anything” that still can’t drive vehicles worth beans, and oh yes, there’s still your fair share of driving sequences, too.
But that doesn’t mean that Bungie didn’t try something new and exciting as the campaign is definitely more dark and gritty compared to earlier games. Plus every aspect of what makes a Halo campaign strive is here and booming. You may get sick of fighting the same Grunts and Jackals over and over again, but the scenarios the game throws your way are very enjoyable throughout.
Halo: Reach’s campaign is one of the strongest aspects of the game, which sometimes wasn’t the case with past games in the series. The 9 missions in total are all pretty lengthy and the entirety of the campaign took me around 10 hours to beat on Heroic difficulty. But Halo: Reach is chalk-full of features that makes other shooters on the market feel empty (I’m looking at you, Modern Warfare 2). The campaign is really awesome and lengthy but so too are the upgraded matchmaking, the improved Firefight, and the still awesome Forge and Theatre modes that round out an incredibly deep package.
Fans of Halo 3’s matchmaking options are going to feel right at home with Reach; every aspect of the past games are still here, plus finding opponents to play against is just as fast & easy. You again have your main modes such as Slayer, Team Slayer, Capture the Flag and so on, but Reach also includes some new, exciting modes like the multi-leveled “Invasion.” Reach also includes a new matchmaking option to let you choose your preferred players to match-up with. If you’d rather play with team players that “always go for the goal,” you can choose to only play with them, and so on.
The Firefight mode from Halo 3: ODST is also back in Reach but feels like a full-on game mode rather than dipping their feet into the waters. What I mean is, Reach’s Firefight mode is far superior to ODST’s. Matchmaking has been included and a plethora of options have been added to suit your mood. This means you could potentially create a firefight mode where you can never die and kill all enemies in one shot, but the matchmaking Firefights are still great fun. Forge mode has also been improved significantly to better help the player create levels and share with their friends. Sadly there still isn’t a great way to show off your custom levels with the masses.
It’s not a surprise, but the multiplayer still feels as tight as ever and this is especially evident with the inclusion of the new armor abilities. These abilities sort of work like perks in Modern Warfare where pressing the left bumper will trigger whichever ability you have equipped. The sprint, for example, seems to be the most useful as your Spartan runs at full speed, quickening the pace of the usually slow gameplay. There’s also jet-packs—yes, jet-packs—plus some other abilities that seem to be better suited for specific situations or game modes.
While someone could potentially make the case that the new armor abilities are a significant change to how the multiplayer will feel, I didn’t seem to make that assumption while playing. All in all, Halo: Reach’s multiplayer definitely felt familiar. You still have the (usually) useless assault rifle, and you’re probably going to melee your opponents after you unload an entire clip on them to try and kill them. Still, Bungie has included a very cool experience system that earns you credits after every mode you play, including the campaign and firefight modes. Most of the credits you earn are spent on cosmetic changes to your Spartan. Credits also level you up , and leveling up eventually unlocks more armor pieces to purchase.
The overall presentation of Halo: Reach is a significant improvement over the dating Halo 3 engine that was also used in Halo 3: ODST. The environments and character models look more impressive while the effects and just as awesome looking. Just be aware that if you’re looking for a boundary-pushing technical marvel, look elsewhere. The frame rate can hitch from time to time and almost falls apart during the game’s in-engine cutscenes. The audio too is very good though, featuring many Halo-sounding music and sound effects. Hey—remember that multiplayer announcer that would blab stuff like, “Slayer,” or “First Strike!”? Yeah, he’s back, but again sounds perfectly suitable.
Going into Halo: Reach without much expectations, I was totally surprised by Halo: Reach’s overall quality. Don’t get me wrong—it’s definitely a Halo game through and through—but Halo: Reach is the one Halo game that gets everything right while keeping you entertained through the surplus of game modes. As Bungie swan song of everything Halo, I bid them adieu.