Bungie has improved Halo in almost every way
So like I do with every game I started with the campaign for Reach. One awesome thing you'll find about the campaign from the get go is that your customized Spartan will be the guy you play as in campaign which will appear in the cinematics. For this though you pay the price by having a less interesting character as the rest of the cast whom are perfectly comfortable taking of their helmets and expressing their opinions. Clearly this was done so the player could more easily project themselves onto Noble Six... Still it's nice this guy isn't a mute like last year's "Rookie" of ODST.
Reach has an interesting and diverse set of characters in Noble team but personally I found it hard to care for most of them. Jorge and Kat probably get the most screen time, you'll likely become more attached to them. Jun and Emile feel like they're hardly in the game. Carter's alright I guess. In the end I actually found last year's cast of over the top ODSTs to be more memorable.
The plot is more about heroism, sacrifice and thrills here. Reach makes no effort of making characters out of the Covenant like Halo 2 and Halo Wars did. You see this from one side and the game really tries to make the covenant more alien and menacing than before.
How the game ties this story into the trilogy is great... So long as you aren't a hardcore fan such as me who has read the novels and take note of the large plot holes it creates. Thats probably my biggest complaint about the game as a whole. How some of these plot holes slid past Bungie and 343(who's job is to make sure crap like this does not happen) is beyond me. I've heard that Halsey's journal which is included with the Limited and Legendary editions of Reach cover up some of these inconsistencies, but thats bull. I shouldn't have to pay extra for a plot hole free story.
I'm not being too specific here with the plot so that I don't spoil it for you guys but it's actually enjoyable, especially if you leave your Halo knowledge absorbing mind at the door. You don't get to learn too much about these characters, and while it would have been nice to it's not really all that bad. Like I said, this is a story of heroism and sacrifice. This is about Reach and how the Spartans fought to try and protect it and that much the game gets with flying colors.
In terms of how it plays though it's great, theres a ton of variety in the tasks the player is given. As you've probably seen by the e3 trailers theres one level where you storm a beach fighting the covenant on foot, you then move onto a space battle and then fight on a covenant space craft in low gravity. Halo: Reach has a wealth of set pieces that really mix things up.
At the same time, however, alot of these set pieces feel recycled from previous games. The beach storming scene I just referenced is very reminiscent of the opening to the Halo: Combat Evolved's level "The Silent Cartographer" and Halo 3's "The Covenant". The game's entire third level is practically a throwback to Halo: Combat Evolved's "Truth and Reconciliation". Reach is still great fun but at times you'll get a sense of "been there, done that" that really takes away from what would other wise be very impressive scenes.
The enemy ai has been significantly improved over Halo 3. My main complaint about Halo 3's ai was answered in Reach. In Halo 3 Brutes spent too much time with animations to challenge the player like they did in Halo 2 or the Elites did in Halo 1. After you took a Brute's shields out in Halo 3 by the time it took for him finish throwing a fit about it you'd have already had the chance to finish him off with a head shot like three times. This is not the case in Reach.
In Reach enemies will frequently fall back to another group of their allies if they find themselves out matched, elites will run to cover if their shields go out, enemies frequently jump out of the way when they find a rocket or grenade coming their way. Reach has the most variety the series has seen in enemies as well. The entire covenant and then some join the fight. We have Hunters, Elites, Brutes, Grunts, Jackals, Engineers, Drones and Skirmishers. Each of these species aside from the Engineers come with a variety of ranks and come equipped with different weapons. This is easily the richest combat experience in the Halo series when it comes to fighting the ai.
Despite the game taking place on one planet unlike the other Halo games the scenery has plenty of variety. You'll be fighting on beaches, in the sterile white facility of ONI, In a Shiny purple Covenant ship and even the stary skies above and then some.
All the campaign options remain, you can do 4-player co-op over live and system link, 2-players per box. You can do scoring, team or free for all like Halo 3 and ODST. Like ODST skulls are available for use from the outset. While you wont be hunting them down in campaign like you did in Halo 3 Reach still has it's collectathon fix in the data pads. You wont be getting any rewards for them this time around though so check out the side stories they provide at your on discretion. Campaign matchmaking will be coming to Reach later this month to round out the feature set.
I didn't encounter the problem often at all, but players can continue to play campaign even if one player drops out this time around, although players still can't join mid game. The same applies to fire fight.
I had a fun time playing Reach's campaign. I wasn't completely blown away, although I was caught off gaurd by some scenes and set pieces and was impressed over all.
So, I've already touched on Reach's environments a bit. It's quite diverse. However, I'd say whats seen the biggest improvement, graphics wise, is character models. Specifically faces. They look awesome now. In fact, the game as a whole looks pretty damn good. A nice step up from Halo 3. Much better anti-aliasing, bigger, better environments. Everything is better. I still wouldn't say it looks as good as say Gears of War 2 but it still looks great and the scale is pretty much unmatched among console shooters. Another thing that really helps elevate Reach is that for the first time a Halo game uses mocap, making the characters and how they move more believable.
It's not perfect, however. The few moments the game more heavily relies on more traditional animation, it sorta stands out. Especially the assassinations. They're cool but they look unbelievable, over the top and even goofy some times. They go perfectly with multiplayer but not so much in campaign where the game is constantly trying to be a more serious than past games. Occasionally the frame rate seems to take some dips in the campaign when theses a ton of stuff happening on screen. I haven't had this issue in multiplayer. Also, in cut scenes some times ghosting issues pop up. It's not a big deal, easily ignorable but it's still there and a flaw is a flaw.
Still, this is a big step up for Halo and over all it's a fantastic looking game.
As for the audio, it's just as great as every other Halo games. Great voice acting. The sound remains on par with the rest of the series and Bungie is successful in making recognizable sounds for each of the new weapons while adding more umph to the staples. Halo joins the scores of other shooters that have the ringing noises the player experiences after explosions with Reach. I thought I'd point that out. Another interesting addition is that while a player is invisible they can't hear anything except music that might be playing in the game.
Speaking of which, music in Reach is awesome. But anyone familiar with the Halo series probably isn't surprised that Marty does good again.
Yeah, yeah, campaign is cool and all but most people will agree the heart that keeps the Halo beast alive is the multiplayer and this is just as much the case for Reach as it was for every other Halo game. Reach brings with it every game type ever featured in a Halo game just short of VIP and then brings in some new ones. The signature Halo modes like Slayer, King of the Hill and Oddball return. Race is revived and new comers like Invasion and Head Hunter round out the competitive multiplayer scene. It's safe to say if you value your player vs player shooting theres something here for you and if theres isn't you can always make it so with forge and custom games, but more on that later.
Matchmaking has seen a bit of change in Reach. Right now the selection is more broad. Less playlists but more variety in game types in each. After you've found the players to be matched up with all thats left to do is to vote on a list of game types and maps. Definitely better than Halo 3's veto system. What unfortunately hasn't been improvised is players still can't join up mid game. If you find yourself with half team or more gone then you're screwed or you're guaranteed victory depending on game type.
Ultimately whats most important about the multiplayer experience is the gameplay. Reach really returns to it's root, or picks up where ODST left off. It feature recharging shields over a base health system like the first Halo did. I can't say I feel too strongly about this in any way. I guess I would have prefered a simple shield only system like Halo 2 or 3, but I'm fine with this. It really doesn't make any significant difference unless it's a one on one between two equally skilled players. But in most cases that isn't the case. I do think it's stupid that you have to press the X button to use health packs in Reach though. In Combat Evolved and ODST all you had to do was get next to the health pack and the game would do the rest.
Another thing done that makes Reach similar to the original is there is no dual wielding and personally I fully support this. In Halo 2 in order to fit the feature in the Assault rifle wasn't included. While dual wielding the player can not throw grenades or melee which were two major parts of Halo combat. In Halo 3 the assault rifle was brought back and hardly anyone touched dual wields again. Most dual wielded weapons were really only good in close range and the shotgun beat them there. And the fact that every time you switched to your other weapon you'd drop one one of the weapons you were dual wielding really made it more trouble than it's worth. Personally I felt the feature just didn't add enough to the game to make it worthwhile.
Reach also reduces the amount of grenade types to just two, the standard plasma and fragmentation. I also support this since it makes switching grenade types much more simple and the other grenades featured in Halo 3 really didn't do much the others couldn't.
The major addition to Reach's gameplay here is armor abilities. These abilities range from sprinting, invisibility, jetpacks and more. These really change the flow of battle to the point to where I'd say Halo's three golden rules have turned to four. If any part of Reach really refreshes the Halo experience it's armor abilities.
The second biggest addition would probably be the cross-hair bloom. You have one part of the cross-hair that shows the ideal area of fire you want stay in and a second that expands as you shoot. If you pace your shots and keep the second circle inside the first your shots will hit their mark. The trick here though is that you need to learn the rhythm in which you should shoot your gun in what ranges. You can think of these blooming crosshairs as guideline rather than rules in close range. Feel free to spam the trigger on the pistol at close range just try to slow down for the finishing head shot once the shields are down, for example.
Speaking of weapons, I'd say Reach's set are pretty well balanced. Every weapon is pretty useful. I don't feel like going into detail since theres a long list of weapons here, I'll talk about the most notables. The pistol is back with sweet vengeance. It's just as powerful as the DMR(the primary weapon most players will go by). While it is just as powerful, it has a higher rate of fire, so it has the potential to down enemies faster. The trick here though is that the bloom is bigger. You have to pace the shots wider apart for enemies that are farther out. The pistol is more ideal at mid or close range, but the DMR is more effective at longer rangers than the pistol and is easier to use in mid range.
If theres any weapon I feel is less useful than others, it's maybe the assault rifle. It's not headshot capable so I generally rely more on the pistol in it's place. However it seems to be more accurate than it's previous iterations, there isn't much bloom for it and it seems like a decent weapon for the new comer. If any weapons seems a bit over powered it's the plasma launcher. It launches plasma grenades that will kill a player if just one of them sticks. It takes a bit more for vehicles but one charged shot will launch four grenades which is more than enough to stop any vehicle. Still, the charge time is long and the rounds actually move pretty slowly. I'd say for the most part Bungie has done a fantastic job making sure everything works well here. The game has been out for nearly a month and I have seen no exploits and the weapons are mostly balanced.
A subject I almost forgot to cover are the maps. This Halo technically has the least right from launch, nine for competitive play. A number I wouldn't say is too bad. One of the maps, Forge World, comes with five custom maps built by Bungie, which would increase the total map count beyond that of any other Halo game if you wish. Given how robust Forge is I'd say that it more than makes up for the shorter map count but more on that later.
I'd say that the over all map quality is pretty good. There aren't any duds here if you ask me. If theres any problem I have with the maps is the best ones are remakes. This Halo game comes with more remakes out of the box than any other. Counting the Forge World variants there are four remakes. While the other maps are good fun none of them feel like they'll become fan favorites like Blood Gulch and Lockout.
Your customization options in Reach is a pretty long list. Already mentioned, you can customize your spartan selecting different armor for most of their body, like the helmet, torso, shoulders and even knees, visor color and wrists. However, most of the armor you'll have to purchase with credits you earn in the game. You get credits for just about everything you do in Reach, be it campaign, forge, matchmaking. Everything except watching films. These credits will rank you up(spending them wont rank you down, rest easy). You can earn bonus credits by completing daily and weekly challenges and upgrading commendations(think CoD's challenges).
Then you have the return of Forge, bigger and better than ever. Forge has received a slew of upgrades such as allowing players to phase objects through solid objects and have them hang in the the air. The new expansive Forge World map effortlessly puts it's predecessors Sandbox and Foundry to shame. While forge isn't as robust as a map editor of the likes of Far Cry 2 it's the next best thing, a big step up from Halo 3's Forge and flexible enough to make some really fun maps and remakes of your favorites such as Boarding Action.
You can carry your Forge maps over into custom games where you can tweak the experience further such as effecting player movement, gravity and damage. The only option that felt like it was curiously missing was the ability to force players to play a particular race in regular game types. Assuming you play with your friends though this shouldn't be a big deal.
The Fire Fight co-op survival mode from ODST returns in Reach. Interestingly, it comes with it's own set of maps entirely separate from that of the competitive multiplayer. A shame since some of the multiplayer maps feel like they would work just fine in Fire fight and vice versa. Whats an even bigger shame is that you can't forge fire fight maps. Still, theres a wealthy amount of customizable options for your covie killing experience. You can customize what enemies come in each wave, how they get there, your load out options, what skulls are turned on in each set, the list keeps going.
Also returning to Reach is theater mode where you can view games you've recently played or videos you've saved or downloaded. An awesome addition to theater mode is that you can now rewind campaign and fire fight films and create clips from them. A lame subtraction is that parties can no longer view saved films together. If you want to view a film your going have to split up, which isn't too big of a deal since in Halo 3 if players tried to view film clips in a party it would usually take forever to load and then kick players out of the party...
Custom gametypes, films, screen shots and maps can be shared via file share just like in Halo 3 & ODST. Added are the abilities to tag files and search for files based on tags, so you don't need to go to bungie.net or wait for a bungie's favorite update in order to get files from people outside of your friends list. If you so desire you can also increase the number of file slots in your file share by purchasing a Bungie pro subscription, but this is only a viable option for the hardcore Halo fans who plan to play frequently and really desire to share alot of their custom content.
All things considered I'm pretty satisfied with Reach. Bungie has improved Halo in just about every way. Would people who dislike Halo like it? No, but you'd think people would get the point after ten years. If you enjoy Halo though this is a must. This is easily my favorite game of the year thus far, heres hoping for just as much fun in Reach as I had in Halo 3 and Combat Evolved.