Review: Halo: Reach
Microsoft Game Studios
Review copy provided by the publisher
Halo: Reach encompasses both the beginning and the end. Bungie’s final entry in the Halo series goes back to where it all started; planet Reach. After the conclusion of the Halo trilogy, fans are now brought to the events that occurred before it all. Bungie has decided to move backwards in the story with a prequel, but that’s not to say what they have accomplished with Halo: Reach doesn’t push the series forward. Since its debut almost a decade ago, it is safe to say that Halo was responsible for making Xbox and Xbox LIVE the gaming staples they are today. It could also be said that since the debut of Halo and the sequels thereafter, developers have been forced to step up their game (literally) when it came to making solid first-person shooter titles. It has made itself one of the standards (if not the standard) in the extremely popular genre. Halo: Reach continues that trend.
The game follows the events of Noble Team before everything that takes place in the original Halo trilogy. Like the games before it, Halo: Reach‘s campaign is linear and not very long. However, there is enough here that separates Reach from previous campaigns that make this a unique and worthwhile experience. Progression is never stalled by branching paths or any puzzle elements. Players are told exactly where to go and what to do at all time. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you are), it’s not. The challenge is not about figuring out what to do, but all about execution. Hoards of enemies stand between you and completing objectives. In the past, even on the hardest difficulty, it was possible to run through portions of the game without shooting at a single enemy. That does not fly in Halo: Reach. The game can be finished fairly easily on normal difficulty, but the enemies on the hardest difficulty (legendary) are another story. You want to blaze past enemies to avoid them? There is no chance of that happening. You want to take on enemies like you were a super hero? Think again. The computer AI is so intelligent, so accurate and their resilience to weapons is so high, they are easily the most challenging enemies the series has ever seen.
The campaign can be completed in less than 10 hours, and can be done alone or with a team of four. It is an experience you really don’t want to end, but you know is going to eventually. Halo games are known to be grand and beautiful, and with Reach, the Halo universe never looked better. The graphical improvements from previous titles are evident, but there are still some bumps along the way that are worth mentioning. While playing split-screen co-op campaign mode, there were times where significant slowdown occurred to compensate for all that was going on on-screen at once. It does get distracting, but thankfully doesn’t happen too often. Another graphical hiccup worth mentioning occurs when enemies are seen from a far distance. Certain enemies are seen perfectly clear when scoped in, but disappear when zoomed out. It looks as if they are not even there, but they actually are (and out for blood).
There is plenty of variety to be seen in the campaign, and it keeps you interested throughout. Cutscenes usually cap off the beginning and end of each mission, and capture some great action and emotion. Along with running and gunning, there is also a new element in campaign mode that stands out. Players are launched into outer space and into a special sequence. This sequence has the player control a space craft, and has them take on enemies in an intense and fast-paced battle. Vehicle use has always been a huge part of the series and campaign, but this was in the middle space! This sequence felt more like a fun bonus stage than anything else.
More often than not, after completing the campaign on legendary, there would be no reason to return for a second playthrough. That is not the case with Halo: Reach, because some of the offerings in its campaign do a good job of giving you more than a few reasons to come back. The character you control is Noble 6 (the sixth member of Noble Team), and Noble 6’s appearance reflects the custom character that you have made. The character that you create with the plethora of customization options is the character you use throughout the campaign and is seen in all the cutscenes, too. It’s a fun little addition that some of you may or may not care about, but the biggest reason to return is for credits. Credits are used to purchase more of the customization options mentioned earlier, and these credits are earned in both single-player and multiplayer modes. You will find yourself playing through the campaign and making note of which stages are good for another go due to the fact that they offer a high potential of credit acquisition.
Co-op play doesn’t end with campaign. Firefight makes its return back to the Halo scene from last year’s Halo 3: ODST. For those who don’t know, Firefight mode has teams of up to four players take on waves of enemies as they continue to try to kill every last one of you. The more waves you clear and survive, the more you and your team obtain points. Team work is very important if you want to make it far, and gets pretty intense the farther along you go. Both campaign and Firefight can only be played with two people on a single console, so four player LAN or online play will probably be your best bet to maximize cooperative fun.
Everyone knows that there are two sides to most FPS titles. There is the campaign and co-op, and then there is the competitive multiplayer. Both are completely different experiences. Competitive multiplayer is overwhelming to say the least. There are so many options in all aspects of multiplayer. Tons of preloaded maps and game modes (slayer, team slayer, capture the flag, assault, etc.) are on the disc, and more can be added through forge and the customization options to create your own game modes. If you’re not creative, you can download game modes and maps from others. Forge is similar to the map editor seen in Halo 3, but expands on it greatly. The only limit is your imagination. Any kind of map you can conceive in your mind, you can build in Reach‘s forge. After seeing all that can be done, it is very exciting to think about some of the creativity we will be seeing in the next few months. It is very easy to see a lot of time being wasted with friends on Xbox LIVE with custom games.
Ranked multiplayer matches will also see a lot of playtime. Ranked matches are recorded into your service record, and they record everything from kills and deaths to percentage of wins. Ranked matches offer something with your friends that custom games just can’t. There is nothing more satisfying than gathering teammates and taking on the world. Halo: Reach‘s matchmaking is similar to what we’ve seen in the past, but does a few new things to make the experience just a little bit better. One example of this is when the game finds your teammates and opponents, a voting session begins. Players can vote from three different combinations of maps and game types, as well as a fourth “none of the above” option. If “none of the above” is chosen, another three combinations are shown. While it’s certainly nothing innovative, it’s nice to see more options than to simply veto.
A big new addition to competitive multiplayer matches is the inclusion of “loadouts.” Before a game begins, players have 5 seconds to choose their loadout. Loadouts include one ability, and the weapons that the player will be starting out with. After making your choice, you’re stuck with that specific ability, which includes jetpacks, sprinting, drop shields, etc. The only time you can change is when you are killed and are in the middle of respawning. It definitely adds a new twist on top of the already complex multiplayer experience. Not only will you consider whether or not a specific weapon takes priority over another, but now you will also have to consider something like if a jetpack would be more useful than sprinting in capture the flag. Decisions, decisions.
Another addition to competitive multiplayer is with Firefight. Previously only available as a co-op experience, Firefight can now be played competitively as well. Players can face each other as one team tries to score points, and the other team tries to prevent them from scoring points. It’s just another mode in Halo: Reach that makes it a game that has so much to do.
Everything you do in Halo: Reach can also be recorded in the game’s theater mode. You can record, edit and replay footage of all the videos you desire. Like the forging options, Theater mode is a returning feature from Halo: 3. It is great to see that everything from previous iterations of Halo is included in Reach. Because of this, you know the developers gave it their all and left nothing out.
Halo: Reach is a game that has somehow crammed all that it has into one disc. From the price to value perspective, even if you spend $150 for the legendary edition, Bungie is still way ahead. There is almost nothing negative to be said about Halo: Reach. It has all the polish and crisp graphics, along with gameplay that feels like the ultimate version of red vs. blue that we have been playing for years. Everything you would want in a first-person shooter is here. Period.
- Title: Halo: Reach
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: Bungie
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Release Date: September 14, 2010
- MSRP: $59.99
- Review Copy Info: A review copy of this title was provided to DualShockers Inc. by the publisher for purposes of this review.