The Definitive Halo Game from the People Who Created Halo
The Halo series has been one of the most successful video game franchises of the past decade and is not only responsible for the popularisation of countless features and gameplay systems in modern shooters, but has also been largely responsible for kick-starting the wave of console-based first-person shooters we’ve seen in the past couple of console generations. With this in mind Bungie had a monumental task in creating the final and definitive Halo game, and yet they still seem to have met all expectations.
At its core the majority of the gameplay in Reach is the same tried and tested Halo formula that has worked so well for the past decade of Halo games; you’ll carry two weapons at a time, you have a recharging shield, and grenades and melee attacks play a big part in combat. The Halo gameplay holds up as well as it ever did and the balance of shooting, moving, using melee attacks and throwing grenades is still a big part of what makes the game so fun.
Don’t think that Halo: Reach doesn’t add anything new to the mix though, in addition to new weapons and vehicles there are a number of rather major changes to the gameplay that you’ll recognise across all modes. Characters have a visible health bar as they did in Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 3: ODST, and when badly injured can be healed by finding health packs. Players can also sneak up behind opponents and execute assassinations to whip out their knife and perform a surprisingly satisfying one-hit-kill attack. Armor abilities are another big addition to the game; they replace the equipment from Halo 3, but unlike equipment you are usually outfitted with it at the start of games and they generally affect you more directly than equipment did. Armor abilities can come in the form of jetpacks, the ability to sprint, quick dodges and other power-ups. All of these new features are enjoyable in their own right and help set Reach apart from its predecessors.
In the Halo: Reach Campaign you play as Noble Six, the newest member of Noble Team, a group of Spartan super-soldiers trying to defend planet Reach from a vicious attack by the misguided alien religious group known as the Covenant. Reach acts as a prequel to Bungie’s previous Halo games and while the ultimate fate of Reach is no secret within the Halo fiction, the personal story of Noble Team is an interesting one to follow, and a late-game twist means that the Reach Campaign is able to wrap up the Halo series in a very pleasing fashion. While none of Noble Team feel as iconic as the characters from the Halo trilogy, they are all unique in their own sense and work as good narrative elements within Reach’s story.
For the large part of the Campaign levels are well-designed and the basic gameplay is not only interwoven well with the Campaign scenarios but the battles in Reach give a greater sense of desperation and grandeur than those in previous Halo games. The AI in Reach also shows a marked improvement from previous instalments, however that still doesn’t mean that ally AI is perfect. It’s been much to the annoyance of some that Spartan AI aren’t actually much more powerful than the marines in previous games but the real problem with the ally AI seems to be its horrendous driving. Towards the end of the game the pacing also falls apart a little; despite the game providing a great deal of lead-up and imparting you with a particular sense of urgency during the last mission or two, it seems on almost all difficulties you’ll repeatedly run into situations where the game slows down to a grind. However, the game does provide an interesting scenario at the very end which helps take the edge off of this a little.
Of course multiplayer has always been a big part of what makes Halo what it is and in the online play department Reach certainly doesn’t disappoint. Old gametypes return, along with some new gametypes such as Stockpile and Headhunter, but the biggest of the additions to the online experience comes in the opportunity to use matchmaking to find random players to play the Campaign and Firefight modes with, making it far easier than before to get together a team of guys to kick some Covenant ass. Reach also introduces a ‘psych profile’ system which lets you choose what kind of players you want to be paired with in multiplayer and actually seems to be somewhat effective in letting you dodge around some of the loud-mouthed idiots and griefers lurking in the murky depths of Xbox LIVE. It’s also simpler than ever to see which of your friends are playing and what they are currently doing in the game. Joining friends has also been made a less painless process as instead of continually checking to see whether they are in a situation where you can join them, a single button-press can now queue you for entry to their party as soon as they are available.
One of my personal favourite systems revamped for Reach is the new experience system. While in Halo 3 matches paid out 1 EXP if you won and 0 if you lost, in Reach the EXP equivalent is called credits and matches pay out in the hundreds or thousands, with how many credits you get being based on time spent in the match, the quality of your performance and other factors, making for a fairer and deeper system. There’s also new ‘commendations’ to unlock for killing a certain number of enemies using specific methods in the Campaign, Matchmaking or Firefight, and there’s a whole slew of new medals to grab for your Bungie.net profile. Another new feature in Reach is the armory where you can buy aesthetic upgrades for your character which carry between all modes. Perhaps the most addictive part of the game though is the challenges. Every day you are given four daily challenges and every week a weekly challenge. Challenges consist of tasks such as killing ‘x’ enemies with headshots or earning ‘x’ multi-kills in a single match and pay out cushy credit bonuses when completed. This smorgasbord of rewards and unlockables adds a great sense of achievement to what you do in Reach.
Theater mode and Forge mode both make returns in Reach. Forge is full of more objects to build maps with than ever, but most importantly comes with a set of tools to make precisely placing and orienting objects in the world a much easier task. As you’d expect custom games and custom Firefight are also available with a ridiculous amount of customisable options. If you thought Halo 3 had a ton of custom game settings you haven’t seen anything yet.
As soon as you jump into the game you’ll notice everything in Reach is easy on the eyes. The skyboxes, character design and environmental design are still great, but menus are now sleeker, environments are larger, textures are richer, models have noticeably more polygons and particle effects are a joy to behold, although it should be noted that during Campaign cutscenes or in situations in which there are a lot of particle effects on screen at once, the frame-rate can take a turn for the worse.
Sounds effects are still well-made and force feedback makes weapons feel exactly as they should. The DMR (or Designated Marksman Rifle) in particular really seems to carry a certain kick. As with all previous Halo titles Martin O’Donnell once again brings a beautiful score to Halo: Reach. Reach’s music is somewhat detached from that of the Halo trilogy and ODST, and doesn’t manage to quite evoke the same epic feel that the soundtracks from the trilogy did, but in its own right it’s still a wonderful piece of work.
All in all, Halo: Reach does have some minor issues but the problems Halo: Reach has never add up to anything that can really overpower the pure enjoyment that the game provides. Reach not only brings back the classic Halo gameplay with a collection of interesting new tweaks but also comes with a brilliant series of new features and some fantastic amendments to features from previous games. This truly is the definitive Halo game from the people who created Halo.