Review: Halo: Reach

Honestly, what else can I say? You're about to read a review of the swan song, the one and only finale, Halo: Reach. Click the link, and see exactly what you came here to see.

Halo: Reach
Developer: Bungie Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Type: First Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Platform: X-box 360 (Reviewed)
Price on Amazon: $59.99 (Standard Edition), $79.99 (Heroic Edition), $149.99 (Legendary Edition)
Similar Games: Halo 3: ODST, Halo: CE
Demo Available: No

The year is 2552 A.D. and mankind is facing its darkest hour yet. Twenty years earlier, an alien conglomerate known as the Covenant stumbled across one of humanities outer colony worlds, an agricultural planet known as Harvest. Despite humanities peaceful attempts to initiate contact, the Covenant invaded, butchering the planet and burning it from orbit as they declared humanity an affront to their gods. Humanity fought back, mobilizing their fleets and enacting special protocols to hide and defend the locations of any human world, but the Covenant were too strong, and over the next twenty years, world after world was invaded, burned, and silenced. What few victories humanity claimed were too few, too tenuous. Now Reach, the central military shipyard of Humanity, has been found. Unfortunately for the Covenant, you're not going down without a fight. It's time to pick up a controller and take your place in a Spartan squad.

You read that correctly, I said your place. From the very beginning of the game Reach is designed to be personal. You don't play a nameless soldier or Sergeant Kicks Mo'but. The moment you load the game you're presented with a screen asking you to select your own gender, and then from there pick from a wide array of armor enhancements, helmets, shoulder pads and more (all cosmetic) to build your Spartan. You choose your tagsign, your armor color, and just about anything else you want to customize. You are Noble Six.

Gameplay throughout Reach is a very solid experience, instantly familiar to any fans of the prior series, while at the same time introducing new wrinkles and gameplay elements that change the way the series is played. Two of the largest changes are the armor abilities (Reach's superior variation on Halo 3's equipment) and the way weapons fire is handled.

Armor abilities are nifty little addons that the player can attach to their Mjolnir armor and bestow unique abilities upon the player. These range from classic Halo standby's like active camo or the health regenerating bubble sheild to new ones such as a jetpack or an immobilizing invincibility. The amount of strategy and clever tactics these abilities grant you are wide ranging, and there is a lot of room to experiment and become quite proficient with just one particular ability. Armor abilities are especially effective in team based play. Lockdown players can serve as great distractions for teams, drawing large amounts of fire while active camo assassins sneak up behind the other team. Bubble shield "Medics" can cover wounded teammates, offering supporting fire and health regeneration. Jetpack players bound over terrain obstacles like harbingers of doom, raining down sniper fire from above or getting to hard to reach power weapons. Whether your playing single player, the new Firefight (which is wonderful...and far far harder then it used to be) or multiplayer, odds are you'll find armor abilities to be an entirely new experience.

As a matter of fact, the only quibble I had with the armor abilities was their underwhelming use in the games campaign. While a few sections seemed clearly designed to show off neat uses of armor abilities (the defining segment with jumpjets comes to mind) other areas of the game seemed to throw armor abilities out like afterthoughts. It would have been nice to see segments geared towards using active camo or armor lock in order to give the player a good idea of what to look for. As is, armor lock is only useful in Co-op, as the AI (which, although better, is still Halo AI and can be mercilessly cheap even on lower difficulties) will immediately kill you the moment it disengages. All armor lock does in single player is keep you in one place for convenient stick purposes. Co-op however...lets just say that Reach's one track mind AI is the perfect sitting duck with an armor lock distraction.

The other major new wrinkle is how weapons firing is handled. Reach makes great strides in being the first Halo title to bring a bit of balance to the often overpowered sniper weapons. In previous Halo titles any weapon could pretty much be fired as fast as one pulled the trigger. Bullets always were spot on, every single time. Reach makes a very large change to the genre by introducing the concept of reticule bloom. Every time you fire, that little crosshair that shows the area in which the bullet will strike will jump to a larger size, and then move back in over a short period (very short, think quarter second or so but it varies from weapon to weapon). Keep rapid firing during that period of bloom, and the bloom will grow larger until it reaches its maximum. What this means is that the bullet is no longer hitting dead center, but is hitting somewhere inside the now much larger reticule.

The ultimate effect on the game is that while you may get lucky firing blindly, you're much better off carefully spacing your shots. While its not a large enough change that ranged weapons are useless (trust me, they're very useful) the change is enough that being cut down by a sniping weapon no longer feels as cheap as it did in prior Halo titles. The downside? Well, if you can consider it one, you're probably going to see a lot of whining fans moaning about how much harder sniping is now. Personally I find the reticule bloom a key component, next to the armor abilities, in making Reach a much more tactical shooter then the run and gun of its predecessors. Oh, and Dual wielding is gone...and the game seems much the better for it.

Gameplay-wise, you're going to get a lot of bang for your buck, and I do mean a lot. Reach is massive. Single player (6-9 hours with a punishing Legendary difficulty for real die-hards), firefight, and a huge slew of multiplayer options, including several new gametypes (such as the hilariously fun Headhunter) and a huge assortment of tools to make your own gametypes. Not only that, but the Forge from Halo 3 has been rebuilt to give players an even greater amount of control over the maps they build. Several of the maps included in the game Bungie actually built themselves using Forge, just to show players what they can do with it.

Oh, and then there's the persistant amount of credits you earn (for everything), all of which can be used to buy new armor types, voices, visor colors and even strange effects like a confetti shower and cheers when you die. Multiplayer matchmaking has improved features to find the map, gametype and even player type that you want to play with. Overall, Reach is pretty much what most shooters wish they could be. Not even PC shooters come with this much built in content, and that's saying something.

The one thing that saddened me the most however, was the removal of a few favorite weapons and vehicles. Gone are the Mauler and the Brute Choppers, and I can only hope that they'll be soon to come for Forge, I loved the Brute Chopper.

Not much to say here aside from a slight warning that the classic Halo control scheme is changed the most in this iteration of the game. Quite a few buttons have new locations, and you may end up hitting the wrong buttons by habit for quite some time or cycling through the various variations available to you before you find something you like. After a bit of practice though, you'll get used to it, and the addition of the powerful armor abilities makes the new controls a necessity.

Graphics and Sound
Reach pretty much pushes the poor 360 to it's breaking point with it's engine, which while nice, still doesn't look quite as good up close as Gear's Unreal engine or Resident Evil 5, but pulls off much larger distances and vistas. And yes, there are a few scenes where the background drops a few frames, but its not nearly as bad as some detractors have made it out to be. While you may notice it a few times, it's generally restricted to the background, not the action. Besides, Bungie pushes the games engine for all it's worth and gives us cutscenes like this one (early in the game) as well as keeping the combat silky smooth, even on Co-op.

Sound wise the game seems great. Weapons have a much deeper sound to them now and come off sounding much more deadly then before. The music is of course excellent, and runs a large library of styles, a fitting send off to the Halo universe. There's a little bit of everything in there, and surprisingly less of the classic Halo chant then one would expect. Much like ODST was an excuse to jump off in different directions, Reach's music is a great addition to the series without being similar.

Reach's single player campaign is a fairly well put together experience that stars you as one of the main cast. Unlike prior Halo titles which placed you in the role of S-117 Master Chief or the Rookie, the Spartan you build at the onset of the game is your character. You're the sixth member of Noble team, an elite squadron of Spartan-IIIs who happen to be on Reach throughout the month long Covenant invasion of the planet. Of course, Halo veterans know how the game will end from the very beginning, the destruction of Reach plays a key part in the lore of the classic Halo games. Rather then attempt to hide this from the players or wring an ending in which "Surprise! Everyone lives after all!", Bungie opens the game with a single sequence: a lone spartan helmet, it's viewport cracked and dented, laying partially buried in the sand of a desolate plain. But it's not just any Spartan helmet. It's your Spartan helmet, and the effect is incredible. Right from the start you know that it isn't going to end well for anyone, yourself included.

Bungie then winds the clock back several weeks (you may want to pay close attention to the time stamps in the game to figure out the exact sequence of days) to your first mission with Noble team, which of course, winds up being the first contact with the Covenant on the planet. From there, the game follows the team through it's fight against the Covenant juggernaut. At first, things look pretty good. But then the situation begins to turn for the worse, and Bungie plays the overall plot for great effect. Reach does not follow the traditional building, climax, resolution that most media does...rather it builds to a climax, which then swiftly falls into sadness and ruin before...well, I won't spoil anything (and there is a lot of cool stuff to spoil, suffice to say the much published space sequence is just one of the cool moments). I'll just say that quite truthfully, there are very few ways Bungie could have made and ending any more fitting. The story is dark and melancholy with some truly sad moments of loss and sacrifice (especially since the game often uses first person to reinforce the idea that you're the one going through it), but ends on a grand note that while sad is about as triumphant as you can get.

A Note on Editions
Some may wonder what separates the three editions listed at top aside from price. The basic edition comes with just the game, vanilla and no bonuses. The Heroic Edition ($79.99) comes with a copy of Dr. Halsey's journal and some bonus in game armor. The Legendary Edition ($149.99) comes with all that the Heroic does, plus more armor, a flame effect, and a massive statue of Noble team, completely suitable for mystifying your non-gamer friends.

Reach is the finest incarnation of Halo to date and a fitting end to the series long and successful run. If you were ever a fan of the series or were interested in giving it a try, it'd be a shame to miss out on Reach. The gameplay is rock solid, the content and re-playability are sky-high, and it'd be hard to go wrong with this one.

  • Wonderful story is a fitting finish for the series
  • Huge swaths of content, unlocking everything could take hundreds of hours.
  • Lots of customization
  • Tons of gametypes
  • Multiplayer mode heaven
  • Firefight Evolved is everything you loved about the first one x10
  • Changes to gameplay make the game more about tactics and less about run and gun
  • Some weapons and vehicles are missing
  • Some campaign missions feel a bit by the numbers
  • Unlocking everything will take a lot of time
  • Changes to classic Halo gameplay will shock some fans of the series
Verdict: Buy Now

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