phazon's Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) review

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Reach. For the skies.

There aren't many franchises that can say they've done as much as Halo has.  Without Halo, let's face it, the Xbox wouldn't have done  nearly as well as it did, and the term "console-shooter" would have died with the Nintendo 64.  With this being Bugnie's last Halo game, expectations are sky high, and fortunately for us, delivers on almost all fronts. Each kind of Halo fan will have a varying reaction to Reach. Some will love it, some will say it sucks.  (But, hey, that's how most games work out in the end.)  Long story short, this game is for noobs and try-hards alike.

Reach's campaign doesn't crap out a twenty minute intro of the story so far, the first opening cinematic features a Spartan's helmet with a bullet shot through it.  In Halo: Reach, you are Noble 6, and from the get go, you charge right into planet Reach's tragic downfall.  As Noble 6, you are dispatched to the group of Spartans known as Noble Team that is stationed on Reach.  As the story goes on, you'll go on various missions with each member of Noble Team, and eventually gain their full trust and support.  The big thing about Halo: Reach is that from the beginning you know that Reach will fall, and as with most prequel stories of any medium, the way it happens is what you really want to know.  Fortunately, the campaign isn't the five hour ODST experience, this is your standard ten hour Halo campaign experience.

However, there are some eyebrow raising concerns about Reach's campaign.  Reach expects you to know every little detail about the Halo universe, like, for example, who Dr. Halsey is.  In the game, they offer very little context to who she actually is (when in fact, she's the top official on the Spartan program).  If I hadn't read the books or read some Halo wiki page, I never would have known that, and that really throws off someone who is new to the Halo universe. Another thing that pesters me a bit is that from Reach's conception, you were promised to play as a full fleged Spartan super soldier. And, you'd be backed up by a whole team of Spartans. We pictured a gallery of multi-skilled bad asses kicking the shit out of Elites and Brutes across Reach.  What we get is basically a Halo 3/ODST hybrid, and the other Spartans are basically glorified ODST soldiers.

Despite all these issues, the campaign is still fun.  It's more solid than Halo 3: ODST's campaign, and more diverse than Halo 3's.  However, Halo's reach (get it?) isn't just in it's campaign.  Reach's multiplayer is the strongest the Halo universe has to offer.

The soundtrack, as expected in a Halo game, is top knotch.  Marty O'Donnell returns with some of his strongest work in Halo history.  Every dramatic scene is doubled when coupled with this fantastic music, and I implore everyone to pick up a copy of the soundtrack, as it is one that I, at least, will keep on my iPod for years to come.

In the multiplayer side of things, Bungie didn't simply shit out new maps. With the debut of "Armor Abilities," they added some more of everything. Does Halo move too sluggishly for you? Choose the Sprint ability in your loadout, and your Spartan can run like a CoD soldier, escaping spray-and-prays quickly and easily. Not enough diversity? The Jetpack ability is one of the handiest things to come to Halo since Grav Lifts.  The drop shield, a modification of Halo 3's bubble shield, while being destructible, restores health as well, so if you're in a jam and need to heal up, this will be the thing to perk you back up.  Hate getting splattered by Ghosts and Wraiths?  The Armor Lock ability has you temporarily invincible to all damage for a few seconds, causing bullets accomplish nothing, but most importantly, destroy all charging vehicles, which is a godsend, let me tell you.  These aren't even all the abilities, because when you play as an Elite instead of a Spartan, you'll get a new cache of pre-game classes, optimized for your species.

Among your typical Slayer and Big Team Battle multiplayer modes, new additions to Reach's multiplayer should be taken in with open arms.  Invasion is a standout.  In it, a group of six players tries to either defend their core from the enemy team. Since you are playing as different species, you'll have different abilities at your disposal.  Another standout is Headhunter, where each person has a skull.  Kill that person, you get their skull, but a number will appear over your head that shows you then have two skulls, that everyone can see and will most likely target you as you collect more skulls.  Take your skulls to the safety points that randomize every few minutes.  Whoever (or whatever team) collects the most skulls wins.  These diverse modes, combined with your standard Slayer, Infection Oddball, and other gametypes you've come to know and tolerate, create one of the best multiplayer experiences in years. The maps of Halo: Reach, while fun, aren't the best maps Halo's seen (but they still are great).  With only nine maps, I have a gut feeling Bungie will be selling a few more $10 map packs that they know people will buy.  It doesn't dampen the experience, but it makes me a little wary of what is to come from good ol' Bugnie Studios.

Things like Forge have been completely 2.0'd to make it a Halo gamer's dream.  With the map 'Forge World', you basically could create anything you wanted, from the perfect suicide machine to a recreation of a Left 4 Dead campaign.  It's only as big as the community is.  Upload and download the best maps you can fathom! Firefight, one of the best parts of Halo 3: ODST, returns in Reach, better than ever.  Fight waves upon waves of Covenant foes alone or with friends, even complete strangers on Matchmaking, and it's as fun as ever with the abilities in Reach.

Overall, Reach is an experience that no Halo fan, no matter how hardcore or casual, should miss.  Although the campaign has a bit to be desired, and kinda just feels like renovations and not revolutions, the overall experience, and the fact that Bugnie can fit all this content onto one disc, proves that Bungie's final stab at the Halo universe cuts through to the hearts of gamers everywhere.

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