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Halo: Reach Review

by on September 12, 2010
 

Game: Halo: Reach

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Microsoft

Available on: Xbox 360 only

Release Date: September 14th 2010 (Pre-order now)

Halo: Reach, Bungie’s last hurrah to the franchise which has made the developer so famous. Much is expected from what is being called their masterpiece; the developer has mustered every ounce of strength, creativity and experience to try and deliver the best Halo experience yet. To say Halo fans are expecting the world from Bungie on this one is an understatement, they are expecting the universe and beyond. So, does Reach manage to deliver? Read on for the full review.

[singlepic id=152 w=320 h=240 float=left]STORY: Whilst Reach is quite possibly the last Halo chapter to hit the Xbox it is certainly not the last in the Halo story, quite the opposite infact. The story of Halo: Reach takes place just before the events of the original Xbox game. The two games are so close in terms of their timelines, they are almost seamlessly “woven” into one another.

First of, let’s acknowledge the massive pink elephant in the room. The story of Halo: Reach is partly based on the Halo novel “The Fall of Reach” written by Eric Nylund and guess what? Reach falls. Deal with it. It’s no spoiler, even the trailers acknowledge the fact that Reach goes down. Halo: Reach is not about the destination, it’s about the journey and Bungie have prepared one hell of a ride.

The Master Chief is out…or is he?! In his place for this adventure is the Spartan known only as Noble Six, the character you play as. He is the the sixth member of Noble team, a group of elite Spartans who all have their own unique combat specialities.

According to an UNSC AI, Noble Six is “hyper lethal” and able to make entire militia groups disappear. This is Bungie’s way of rationalising the players ability to take on multiple Covenant enemies. It’s a little cliche, but it works quite well in the end.

The story in Halo: Reach is told in a number of classic Halo ways including the group dynamic introduced in ODST, cut scenes (both in game and pre-rendered), in-game chatter and radio communications. It is hard to say if the importance and emotional level of each story moment is amplified by the tragic, impending demise of Reach or the fact that Bungie have notched it up a level in terms of delivering compelling and engaging moments that will not be soon forgotten. It’s hard to say exactly, but whatever it is, it’s good and worth the price of admission on its own.

[singlepic id=153 w=320 h=240 float=right]SOUND: Halo games are known for their epic soundtracks and great voice work, Reach is no different. The soundtrack is new and a little different this time around taking on a slightly more exotic tone of which is normally associated with games such as Prince of Persia. It can take some getting used to, but the quality should win fans over in no time.

Voice work plays a slightly bigger role in Reach, each member of Noble team has been given a distinct and unique voice. Ranging from a cut and dry American accent to an exotic eastern European tone. It is a little strange that the voices are so varied considering that each Spartan was plucked away from normal life at the age of six and trained as a super soldier. You would think a common accent/dialect would be shared amongst the Noble team, but it seems that distinction between members is more important than lore.

Overall the sound is solid and there are some nice touches along the way which include a good use of proximity sound. If you are standing near a squad mate then you will hear them as clear as day. However, if you move away, a radio crackle kicks in. It might not sound like much (no pun intended), but it’s the little things that make a big difference.

GRAPHICS: Bungie have used an all new engine for Reach in the hope that they can push the Xbox 360 further than they have before. The result is undeniably improved graphics and a slightly different graphical style, but fans looking for a complete overhaul may be disappointed. Spartans still look like Spartans, Elites look like Elites and so on. The Covenant have had some armour tweaks with the most notable change coming from the Jackals. The wiley old sharp shooters of the Covenant force come in a few varieties with some sporting a shaggy new hairstyle.

[singlepic id=154 w=320 h=240 float=left]The lore is once again broken with Noble team sporting various colours of the rainbow rather than the military olive green they should be accustomed to. You can’t blame Bungie too much here as the variety of bright, vibrant colours match their suitors rather well.

Bungie say that  Halo is all about large scale combat, sweeping across open environments. That statement is true of Reach, the sky-box has been improved to give a real sense of scale with wide vistas to stare at in-between the violent combat. Whilst the improvements are notable so are the downfalls. The night vision mechanic from ODST is back, but is somewhat ineffective in conjunction with the almost non-existent lighting engine.

GAMEPLAY: If I could describe Reach’s gameplay in one word it would be…Halo. Every Halo game has always had the same core mechanics with added features such as dual-wielding and night vision. Reach is no different from its predecessors, providing classic Halo gameplay with a few added twists. The campaign starts out rather slow with a good 10 minutes passing by before any action hits, but this is just the start, Bungie have paced the game well, starting out slow for a change, drawing players in and pushing them through a rollercoaster of a ride. Every mission takes on a different tone mixing things up well, one mission you will be flying a jet-pack between sky scrapers, whilst in others you will be flying Ace Combat style through space.

The aforementioned jet-pack is one of the many armour modifications or “perks” introduced in Reach. Through out the campaign players will be able to swap armour abilities at certain key points, whilst online play allows players to use pre-set and customisable load-outs to choose armour and weapons. Most of the perks are available through out most of the campaign, but the jet-pack is reserved for a select few levels. The jet-pack is incredibly fun, ultimately giving  the player a great sense of freedom. Whilst the new armour abilities are very cool they are also very restrictive as players can only equip one ability at a time. The default ability or perk on most levels is sprint which brings up a great question, why has it taken so long for Spartans to gain a sprint ability? Why is sprint a perk rather than a core ability like shooting? It just means that the majority of players will end ignoring the great variety of armour upgrades and go back to the sprint ability time after time.

[singlepic id=155 w=320 h=240 float=right]If you have been substituting Halo lately for a more realistic shooter then you may need to adjust yourself. Be ready to empty entire clips into enemies whilst following up with melee attacks to finish the job. The pure aggression and uncalculated violence is what makes Halo great, there’s nothing like staring down the jaw of a huge Elite or chasing down a grunt for a hardcore Halo fan, but some gamers may be expecting more precision and realism.

Old weapons return and new or slightly modified arms take their own place in Halo: Reach. Long time fans will appreciate the return of the 2x zoom handgun which featured heavily in the first Halo. Also, for the first time players will be allowed to wield the handgun in competitive multiplayer too. Speaking of multiplayer, it is back and better than ever. The addition of extra modes in the form of “Head Hunter”, “Arena” and “Invasion” mix things up to ensure players will not just be playing the old modes in a new skin. The firefight mode introduced in ODST is back and accompanied by some added extras to keep things fresh. Players will now be able to fight on the side of the Covenant against other players and also heavily customise the mode to make the perfect match-up.

Customisation has been available in Halo multiplayer since Halo 2 and with Reach, Bungie have taken things a step further. The Spartan you play as is fully customisable and can be used in any mode. Whether you are playing the campaign, competitive multiplayer or firefight, your customisable Spartan will be there. There are a wide range of customisable items to choose from, but most must be unlocked and/or purchased. Items like a new helmet cost credits which are earned through playing any of the modes available in the game. This is to ensure that everyone can unlock the armour they desire while just playing Halo: Reach no matter the game type and keep progressing, it’s a nice twist on the whole experience thing and a welcome addition.

[singlepic id=156 w=320 h=240 float=left]LONGEVITY: The campaign lasts around eight hours of play, give or take a few depending on difficulty and player skill. There is enough substance in the campaign to encourage a second playthrough and that is before you introduce co-op, competitive multi-player and firefight. The introduction of the previously mentioned “perks” gives the multiplayer a much needed extra dynamic and should also help prolong play. The new and improved forge mode offers endless hours of play and customisation to keep even the most hardcore Halo fans happy for some time or at least until the bevy of games coming in October arrive.

VERDICT: It’s hard to say how good Halo: Reach is, it is very clear that Bungie have played it safe, changing very little whilst offering an improved Halo experience. If you were expecting a complete overhaul from Reach then you may be disappointed. Reach was Bungie’s big chance to mix it up, whilst the developer has introduced some new gameplay mechanics there is just not enough on offer to convert the heretic non-believers.

Saying that though, the story of Reach is epic, emotional and sad. It is sad to see Reach fall and it is even sadder to see the end of the last ever Bungie developed Halo game.  To put it in simple terms, if you love Halo, you will love Reach.

Remember Noble team, remember Reach…remember Bungie’s Halo.

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