A huge package!
After a decade of shooter dominance, Bungie finally releases their swan song for the Halo franchise. Halo: Reach is a product of everything Bungie has done thus far, and the result is an encapsulation of everything that is great about the franchise. This game contains a plethora of content that surpasses any Halo game to date, and arguably any console First Person Shooter. Players will be hard-pressed to become bored anytime soon.
Halo: Reach draws from the strengths of previous Halo games and crafts them into a single, high quality experience. Aside from the last third of the game dragging things out, Reach’s campaign is the best of the five traditional Halo games, hands down. Bungie manages to keep the fall of Reach, however inevitable, an enjoyable experience along the way. From helping civilians escape a city, to engaging in space combat, you’ll find yourself in circumstances new to the distinctive halo formula. Despite these fresh additions, it’s an undeniably familiar experience; Reach hardly throws Halo veterans into unknown territory.
The campaign tells the tale of Nobel Team. Since their important role in the conflict has yet to be told, those who have read the novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach, will be in for various surprises. The plot centers on Nobel 6, the newest addition to the team. This story is the most streamlined and easy to understand of the series since the first Halo, but manages to be the most memorable. Finding yourself fighting against a Covenant invasion, you truly feel like you are part of a massive conflict. Most of the game is set against air battles over your head and large-scale vehicle battles in the distance. Reach's plot also perfectly places itself right before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved.
The voice work and music is fantastic. Nobel Team is brought to life by a cast of convincing voice actors, however there isn't a large volume of voice work overall. Reach’s musical score is at its best, providing the epic pieces you would expect from a Halo game. The Halo franchise continues to showcase some of the most striking music in gaming. I only wish that there was more of the score featured throughout typical playtime.
Halo has a very unique formula. Its gameplay remains largely the same in terms of pacing and tactics aside from the new abilities you saw in the beta. The abilities don't really add a lot to the experience. I mainly utilized Sprint throughout the entire campaign, and continue to do so in competitive multiplayer. The other abilities such as Armor Lock and Jetpack provide utilitarian uses in certain situations, but won't be anyone's “go-to” abilities.
The combat in Halo: Reach is very unpredictable in the best possible way. Video Games have become trapped in the wash, rinse, repeat structure seen in modern shooters. I have grown tired of entering a room full of dudes behind three foot high concrete barriers, flushing them out, shooting them in the head, only to repeat it all over again. Halo enemies have a way of outsmarting you in a lot of scenarios. I have often found myself on the move due to my foes flanking me and performing “fire and maneuver” tactics. Every time I enter an area full of enemies, they are almost always systematically placed, providing top and long range cover for a ground team to come mess me up.
Halo: Reach blends single-player and multiplayer in smart ways. Throughout the campaign, you can turn on scoring and earn medals while gaining credits towards the addictive cosmetic armor unlocks. This game is great to play with friends. Unlike other Halo games, it doesn't get easier with more people. In fact, the difficulty scales to the amount of players in the game. A four-person Legendary run will stand as a great challenge. Cooperative Campaign matchmaking is due to release soon, so in the meantime you’ll have to find some friends. Unfortunately you cannot play Campaign co-op, or utilize the game's Theater mode without a hard drive.
Multiplayer is the real star of the show. You have the standard Halo modes and about a dozen maps out of the box. Compared to most consoles games, Halo: Reach is arguably the most customizable game, ever. You have the ability to craft your own rule sets. Feel free to change the map to your heart’s content in Forge Mode. You can give everyone infinite ammo with three second respawns, increase the speed to 300%, and decrease the gravity. I named my game variant "Quake". If you are a jerk like me, you’ll have your man-cannons shoot people outside of the map. Hell, if you really want to have some fun, you can spawn fuel tanks in the sky to have them fall to the ground and litter your map with explosions. Or you can get serious and create a “real” map and post it for other players to experience. I recommend making it rain Tanks.
There are already countless examples of great customization in the mere week that I have spent with the game so far, and it's rare to experience a game that is so feature rich. With a multiplayer that is so robust, I will probably continue to encounter awesome stuff in the weeks to come.
So this is it - after 10 years of record-breaking games, Bungie is finally moving on to something else. Halo will live on through Microsoft, but this is the last hurrah from the house that created the Covenant War, Master Chief, and pieces of gaming history that will live on forever. It's fitting that this game comes full circle, taking us right back to the beginning. Reach isn't a mere prequel, it’s is a collaboration of Halo's best elements, and comes in a high caliber package. If you don't like Halo, this game won't change your mind. But if you have ever enjoyed this franchise's offerings, Halo: Reach is a must buy.
-Steven Beynon (EpicSteve)