trevorh's Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) review

The Halo formula: highly refined

 

This is it. Bungie’s final Halo game. (For now…) Halo: Reach is the prequel to the first game in the series, Halo: Combat Evolved. With the addition of armor abilities, a handful of new weapons, vehicles and enemies, Halo: Reach adds some new strategies to play with and some welcomed freshness to the combat. The new daily and weekly challenges encourage you to play all the different modes by attaching in-game credit bonuses to achieving certain things like killing 100 enemies with automatic weapons in the campaign or earning two double kills in the same matchmaking game. The Armory allows you to earn and spend in-game credits to purchase cosmetic unlocks for your Spartan’s armor, allowing for more customization and showing off to your friends than ever before in a Halo game or damn near any other console shooter, for that matter. If building new maps and modes to play with your friends is your thing, then the improved Forge mode and the epically huge map that is Forgeworld, will suck up all of your free time. But, underneath all the new toys and prettier-than-ever graphics lies the same old Halo. Not necessarily a bad thing! (“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”, right?)

The campaign of Reach tells the story of the Noble Six team, an elite group of Spartans defending mankind’s last planet before the Covenant enemy takes the fight to Earth. You play as the newest recruit to the group, Noble #6. You should play around in the Armory before diving into the campaign, because however you make your Spartan look in the Armory is exactly how Noble #6 will appear in the game, including the cut-scenes. Even though the entire game takes place on the Planet Reach, you fight your way through a wide variety of environments. Some of them are so huge you can actually get lost during a mission and others will have you battling down narrow corridors or clearing a building or spaceship. And at no point during the campaign will you ever think, “This game isn’t colorful enough.” Tried and true Halo vehicles will still help you through some of your missions and keep the pace moving, but one mission stands out as a truly fresh experience, the spaceship flying mission, Long Night of Solace. At the end of that mission, I wanted more. I personally hope Bungie’s next game is their version of Ace Combat or Star Fox, but I digress. On the harder difficulties, your abilities and patience will be put to the test. You will really need to try mixing up different strategies to get to that next checkpoint. On Legendary difficulty, the game can be downright sadistic. Where Reach falls short however is the pacing of the last few missions. It drags in places and a couple of the cut-scenes ask way too much of even hardcore Halo fans and would alienate most newcomers. There are a few moments towards the end where you know that you should be having an emotional moment, but it falls just a bit short of making you really care. Even with that slow-down in pace towards the end, the overall pacing for most of the game is still good enough to make you want to shoot even more dudes in the face or dick and then teabag them. (No judgments if that’s your thing…) At times I felt like Bungie just went through a checklist of things the campaign had to do, but overall, the game is just plain fun. There’s enough diversity between missions and an interesting story to motivate you to keep going. Granted, it’s already known how the game ends, but seeing all the specific dots connected leaves you feeling satisfied. It’s not a radical departure from previous Halo games but, what’s not to love about sticking elites with plasma grenades and getting head shots with awesomely weird sci-fi weapons for the good of the human race?

As for the multiplayer, once again Halo raises the bar for “amount of stuff” you can do in a console First-Person-Shooter. Save and edit films and screen-shots from matches you’ve played? Check. Use Forge and the obscenely huge Forgeworld map to create any possible map or game-type you can imagine? Check. Be given the tools to recreate maps from previous Halo games? If you dive deep enough into Forge, check. Up to four player co-op campaign? Check. This time around Bungie has added matchmaking to Firefight (A mode where you and up to 3 friends fight waves of increasingly difficult Covenant enemies.) so you don’t have to fly solo, unless you want to. Also new to the Firefight mode are game variants such as Rocket Fight and Versus.

What really makes Halo games special for console gamers is the multiplayer, and Reach is no exception. With every mode Halo players love, from Team Slayer to Rumble Pit back in full force Halo veterans won’t be disappointed. If you just want to play Halo 3 style, no armor abilities, straight-up Slayer, you can do that with “Classic Slayer”.  But if you are ready to dive into all the crazy new stuff Bungie has cooked up, jump into some objective based games. (Headhunter and Stockpile are f***ing nuts!) Or jump into some Slayer and choose your weapons and armor ability before you spawn. There’s nothing quite as awesome as baiting a sniper to reveal his position when he’s foolish enough to take shot at a hologram you sent out and then taking him out with a head-shot. Or maybe it’s more your style to equip your spartan with a Call of Duty like “Sprint” ability so you can tear ass all over the battlefield and always be in a hot spot. No matter what your style, Halo: Reach has a multiplayer mode and an armor ability load-out to suit you. The new Psych Profile feature allows to team up with like-minded players who share your play-style. Don’t like lone-wolves who never use a headset or are you tired of being called names by rowdy players? Set up your Psych Profile and the game does a decent job at pairing you with people you’ll enjoy playing with. It’s not perfect, but it’s nice to see this kind of touch to try to give the player the online experience you want.

With all the old stuff back and improved upon, plus all the new additions, this Halo game does indeed feel like that definitive Halo experience Bungie promised. The newly designed title screen makes it easier than ever to track and compare your progress, in insane detail, to your friends or just jump in to a game with them. Reach is full of nice touches like being able to automatically join a friend when they’re done with their match without having to navigate a bunch of cluttered menus and spam “join game” like you did in Halo 3.  It also constantly rewards your efforts with medals, commendations and challenges completed. It encourages you to keep coming back for more. Just trying to get to that next armor unlock or level can make Halo: Reach a potentially addictive game. This game will keep Halo fans happy for years to come. If you don’t like Halo, this game won’t change your mind, but if you like or are even mildly interested in Halo, this game is absolutely worth your money.

Halo: Reach doesn’t reinvent the series, instead it adds sprinkles and crumbled cookies to the already delicious Halo 3 sundae. A “must-buy” for fans of the series and a “strongly-recommend” for new Halo players and fans of the genre.  
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