The greatest common denominator
I’ve had a strange, up and down relationship with the Halo franchise, so let me set the record straight. I’ve always felt that Halo is a well made, great playing game that manages to operate in a “lowest common denominator” type of way, and Bungie’s latest (and last) is no different. Halo: Reach is a solid shooter that checks all the boxes, though it doesn't aspire to do any more than that. Put bluntly, it's a Halo game.
Given that, Halo: Reach is undoubtedly the most complete Halo game made to date. It takes a “kitchen sink” approach to its design, making sure to include any mode you’d want in a modern day FPS. Campaign with co-op support? Check. Robust online multiplayer modes with a persistent leveling system? Check. A pseudo level editor? Check. “Horde” mode? Check. It’s all there, and it’s all done well. In fact, I feel like each piece is at least as good as it has been in any previous Halo game. The campaign has more variety and is better paced, the Forge and Firefight modes are more streamlined, and the online multiplayer has everything you’d expect. The controls have also been rearranged a little to better emphasize the most important functions, and the selection of weapons feels a bit more balanced. Finally, the series has never looked or sounded this good- there are a ton of extra details and effects crammed into the environments, the voice acting is a noticeable step up, and the musical score is once again fantastic. In short, there’s no doubt in my mind that Reach is the best all around Halo game made to date.
That being said, Reach still harbors a lot of the aspects about Halo I’ve never liked. Enemies are still annoying “bullet sponges” on the higher settings, power weapons lying around multiplayer maps still makes online play feel like an arms race more than anything, and the checkpoints are incredibly fickle (and occasionally painful). But those are staples of any Halo game, and are minor gripes at most. What isn’t minor, however, is how aggressively unambitious Reach seems to be. The original Halo was a success because it simplified and streamlined things for a hungry console market. That was fine for a while, but it’s now 2010, and simple, streamlined console shooters are a dime a dozen. What's more is that plenty of them have since shown what can be done by taking some risks and experimenting with new ideas. There are plenty of games out there with broader and deeper campaigns or more unique multiplayer modes than this. Reach performs well at everything, but doesn't stand out at doing anything- especially when it comes to doing anything new. It almost feels as if Bungie knows it can rest on its laurels and bank millions.
It may sound weird, but I can’t help comparing Halo: Reach to a game like Mario Kart Wii. Both are great, well made games that are part of long lasting, hugely successful, and widely accessible franchises. And technically, they may both be the best game in their respective franchises. But they also feel frustratingly “safe”. There is a lot of solid content to be found in Halo: Reach if you generally enjoy a good FPS, but don't expect it to go out of its way to do anything more than that.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.