Halo Reach Review: Remember Reach
Halo Reach is Bungie’s swansong for the franchise that they have worked on since Combat Evolved. With Bungie off to work on something else, Reach should be their final labour of love to the fans of the franchise. Reach has some mixed results, but what is certain is that its a Bungie made Halo game through and through. It has the pacing, core gameplay and style that people expect from Halo, and unlike ODST, Reach is a fully fledged entry into the venerable franchise.
The story of Reach is a prequel to Combat Evolved. It depicts the events and battle that led to the fall of the Human planet Reach to the Covenant, which sets the events of the other games into motion. You play as Noble 6, an effective mute that you can customise the appearance of. Noble 6 is the newest member of Noble Team, comprising 6 spartans with varying personas and battle skills. The opening level is an interesting stylistic change for a Halo game, as you come across civilians who are terrified of an as yet unidentified force in the locality, and the ambiance feels fantastic. However once the game gets going the story is one of the worst in the series, and the story telling is a bit of a mess. The members of Noble Team are all named characters but they are all boring, we never get familiar with them and the character designers really tried too hard to make them look interesting. Its funny that the reasonably generic Master Chief is a much more interesting character than any of the Spartans in this game, which is really disappointing. Its not that the characters are bad, but they are so poorly explored and we spend so little development time with them that they never become interesting or loveable.
I also feel that like ODST, Bungie again step all over their own lore for the series. Reach was meant to be a massive battle according to the lore of the series, but there are very few Covenant land forces or space forces in the game. There is nothing even close to the Covenant fleet we see in Halo 2, and the scale feels very small for a full blown war. Also Cortana in brought into the game in a manner that suggests she has never met the Master Chief until the start of Halo Combat Evolved, yet when you look back at the script between those 2 characters in Combat Evolved , they are extremely familiar and knowing of each other. I feel that Reach flies in the face of that established stuff, really hurting the story and narrative of Reach in my opinion. The story is a simple one, but its not great and the narrative is extremely weak and well below what this series had in the past.
What Reach does have is an incredibly emotive and powerful soundtrack. The music as you just walk around a level is crafted specifically for the area you are in, and creates an excellent ambiance. There have been real changes, and the game does not just recycle the tracks from the other Halo games. The music fits perfectly with the look and feel of the game. Voice acting is also fine, if not extraordinary. Noble Team are all fine, they do their jobs. The Covenant no longer speak English, which is a good choice as they come across as far more alien and menacing now than before.
Reach is a visually beautiful game, probably one of the best on the 360. Its a sharp and crisp looking game, with more detailed textures than previous games in the series. The environmental effects are also the prettiest in the series. The first level has a rolling mist that looks incredible as it moves across terrain and mountains in the distance. The details on character models are much greater than ever before in the series, and some of the Covenant forces have been visually redesigned to make them look more alien and its a refreshing change for a series in danger of becoming stale. Lighting is incredible in Reach, and the flashes of weapons, explosions and particle effects all look great. Reach is a great looking game.
The gameplay of Halo Reach is exactly what you would expect from the series. If you have never liked Halo, you still won’t like Reach. If you love Halo then you will love this. The weapons are largely the same, with a few new entries that are interesting additions to the roster. ODST’s hub world format is gone, as Reach returns to level by level structure. The useable upgrades of Halo 3 is replaced by equipment that is not limited to one use and allows you to have an ability. You can sprint now with a particular upgrade, and there is also a jet pack among other things. You will often be teamed up with other Spartans, but they act the same as any other AI, which is disappointing. The levels are large and the battles frantic and tactically approachable as you expect for the series. The vehicle sections are excellent, and the difficulties allow for a huge range of player skill and replayability. You can play the whole game in up to 4 player coop, making Reach a great game for playing with friends. The enemy AI is still as solid as ever, though allied AI does, for whatever reason, seem to be the worst in the series. Some of the behaviour that allies have just seem odd, and they have definitely disimproved in their tactics. The campaign ticks all the boxes you expect a Halo game to have, in a very safe manner. Yet the final chapters of the game are a lot weaker than the early ones, to the point where I found myself skipping fights. It really does lose momentum and begin to drag, which is not a good sign.
Reach has a massive multiplayer component. ODST’s firefight mode returns and has been fixed by the addition of matchmaking, making it one of the best parts of Reach. Traditional deathmatches and capture the flag modes have returned with everything you expect from those modes. The new weapons are all well balanced and make great additions to the online. Forge mode is better than ever, with more customisability and access than before, becoming an even larger part of the Halo experience. The campaign has a matchmaking feature now, allowing you to find players online to play the campaign with. The multiplayer would be the best it has ever been except that the online maps that shipped with the game are not as good as those of earlier Halo games. There are 8 maps out of the box, of varying quality, and its clear that maps were held back for DLC releases.
Reach has a space battle in its campaign, which provides a thrilling change in the pace of the game and controls surprisingly well. It was a beautiful moment that really did add something special to the campaign. However, besides this moment, Reach does not have anything that is especially memorable or special about its campaign. Its not especially exciting or explosive, Bungie played it very safe in Halo Reach. The combat mechanics are the best that the Halo series has ever had, and the multiplayer component is addictive and fun. However, a safe campaign that takes no risks, a lack of quality online maps to play on and a mess of a narrative really hurt Reach and hold it back from its potential. Its a gorgeous game with an incredible soundtrack but its misplaced pacing and storytelling problems prevent Reach from being the definitive Halo experience that Bungie should have left the franchise with.
- Great looking game with fantastic lighting and attention to detail
- New weapons are well integrated into the game and balanced
- Vehicle sections are arguably the best vehicles parts in any FPS
- Firefight has been fixed via adding matchmaking
- Campaign is long and has what you expect from a Halo game
- Addition of a space battle was an excellent choice
- Combat remains tactically flexible and unscripted
- Emotive and stunning soundtrack
- The Covenant are more menacing and alien than ever
- Good level design
- The narrative is weak and story clashes with the previous games
- Lack of quality multiplayer maps seems to show maps were held back for DLC
- Ally AI is poor
- Characters are not interesting
- The script should be better
- Game plays it too safe, and lacks scale and memorable moments
- Some minor slow down issues
- No dual wielding
- Campaign loses momentum in its second half
- Reach fell to less than 10 Covenant ships?