It is my humble opinion that this is, in fact, the best “Halo” game to date; let the flaming begin, I know. Everything that I have come to love from the “Halo” franchise made an appearance and a few of those things that I didn’t like so much have either left or been modified (e.g. super-jumps, using a whole clip to kill someone, etc.).
The graphics got a nice boost compared to “Halo 3” as well as a different styling that makes “Reach” stand out, not that 3’s graphics were bad by any means. Everything, from the medals to the commendations to the characters themselves has that brushed metal look, like my favorite cast iron skillet. All of their gear, their suits, their vehicles, it all looks like it’s been taken care of but, walked through Hell and back at the same time. While I’m sure this was done in part for style I felt that the look gave the impression of desperation as well. Yes, Noble Team is a badass group of super-soldiers but, if you look at their gear you’ll notice that they’ve been busy and there is only so much one team can do at any one time, especially against an entire Covenant armada. However, “Reach” continues to perpetuate “Halo’s” cartoonish graphics which does detract one’s attention, a bit, from the rather dark plot line one finds oneself in.
If you’ve played “CE” then you should feel at home in “Reach.” Yes, there are differences but, that’s to be expected nearly 10 years after the original, sorry fanboys still looking for “Halo: CE 1.5.” Gameplay is superb, every button has a function and, since “Reach” is only on the 360 none of those functions seem like they’ve been awkwardly shoe-horned into the 360’s controller (i.e. I’m looking at you “Crysis 2”).
Compared to its predecessor, “Halo 3,” the reduced the number of rounds required to take down an opponent allows the weapons to feel like they’re doing what they’ve been designed to do, kill. Adding to this much needed mortality boost are the “armor abilities.” Rather than entirely relying on weapon spawns one now has the ability to choose the initial weapon and armor ability within some limitations. Armor lock, bubble shield, jetpack, sprint and invisibility all make their appearance.
Now, I must admit, that the [over]use of these abilities can get annoying during multiplayer, especially so during objective styled matches but, they do appear to be mostly balanced out in time use and strength. I do wish that their appearance in the campaign was a little more thought out, perhaps having levels that are ability specific, as Bungie did for the jetpack in one of the New Alexandria levels.
The weapons are beautiful, the sniper being the crowned jewel, in my opinion. The details on them, the sound of their report and their combat effectiveness make me wish I had never played “Halo 3.” The scoped pistol returns somewhere between the look and effectiveness of “CE” and ‘2, perhaps a whisker closer to the original. I will say that I find myself searching for the SMG, though. While the assault rifle fills that roll quite nicely I still do miss the ol’ bullet hose once and a while.
The What, the Where & the When
Let me tell you right now that the story is missing that surprise-turn feel that “Halo: CE ‘2 and “ODST” have provided in the past. Understandably, this is the prelude to all of those stories and as such surprises don’t come easy. With that said, the cut scenes and the story itself are compelling. You won’t find ten minute long cutscenes, in the vein of the “MGS” series nor will you find the near useless cutscenes from the “Bad Company” series filled with zero emotion but, a lot of swearing. No, “Reach’s” team has created videos that are both succinct and compelling allowing for repeated viewing while one is going after that next weekly LASO challence. Bungie also did a very good job blending the first-person perspective with the third in the cut scenes (e.g. the Zealot Elites on Winter Contingency, as well as assassinations made in multiplayer). The videos made me want to see what was coming next.
The styling of the gameplay itself had me making swooshing noises and tilting in my chair when flying around New Alexandria in one of the Falcons. Its not just smooth controls that make the game feel so good, it’s the combination of many subtleties that, it seems, is lost upon many game companies today but, not Bungie. The dark and brooding atmosphere of an entire planet under attack, smooth third-person camera controls and the beautiful styling of the weapons and HUD make this game so very immersive. Plus, when one can take a break from killing all of the baddies and take a moment to just stare in awe at the spectacle of New Alexandria under siege one knows that Bungie knows their shit.
The characters themselves are a plus, adding another layer to the story that Master Chief could never do. Having the characters take their helmets off—aside from Six and Emile (i.e. the “anyone” and the black man…a bit of token racism, perhaps)—gives a face to them allowing the audience to see their humanity, however cold and calculating that humanity may be. Noble Team does remind me a bit of Pokémon with all of the characters each bringing to the table their own unique talents that will help the whole group do what they need to do. Such a tactic is often used in team-based games, as well as movies so as to make the recognition of the characters easier and it fits in nicely here. Unfortunately, the characters are fairly one-dimensional but, I suppose genetically pruned super-soldiers would be fairly detached in their dealings with warfare; we can’t have any Spartans crying, now can we? I won’t blame the voice-actors just the act.
Forge makes its return and, I’ve actually made a few maps so, I can bitch with impunity now. I love the ability to make maps and tweak them to combat effectiveness. The fact that Bungie takes some community made maps and incorporates them into matchmaking is another plus. I do, however, kinda wish there was a separate matchmaking list that hadn’t passed Bungie’s pruning and was just a collection of maps, totally random, filled with crap and gold, perhaps with a voting system at the end of the match that would determine the continued life of the map on matchmaking (i.e. too many votes down and the map gets removed). I wish for this because despite laboring weeks on a few of my maps they just sit on my hard drive, a testament to my boredom. Sure I’ve played them a couple of times with a few of my friends but, they don’t earn one the credits that regular matchmaking does nor do these maps, as big as they are, play very well when its only 1 versus 1.
Additionally, if you’ll grant me a momentary pedestal, having tried to get my maps noticed through various forums and groups I’ve noticed that the maps are never looked at from an aesthetic point of view. That is, the only consideration in these map making groups are spawn points and symmetry which makes for a lot of very similar maps that play identically.
Also, that Lego block look returns along with the clinical slate-grey look of all the pieces. Because of this I find my maps, any map in fact, looking dull. Why is it that Forgers aren’t allowed different choices in style for the pieces? Even a simple 5 color scheme for the blocks would be welcome.
Multiplayer is great, that’s all you need to know to get this game. The voting system has received a revamp giving up to 4 different choices for the players’ votes to go as well as finally incorporating matchmaking for Firefight. Though, just like “Halo 3” there are occasional loops where one finds oneself stuck playing the same two or three maps over and over because a majority vote keeps passing. Democracy blows sometimes.
The multiplayer gameplay is fast and frantic with no time to stand and be idle. Bored you will not be in “Reach’s” MP. Like the character and background graphics themselves the multiplayer has a lampoon-ish feel to it where the battle seems more fun than desperate; though, I do suppose, one could just pop in “CoD” or “Battlefield” if one wants realism.
As the players have come to expect there is great variety in game type choices. I won’t bore the readers with a list but I can tell you that Team Doubles is my personal favorite given that its fairly easy to find one friend online who’s willing to communicate their way to victory.
Following “Halo 3’s” lead, “Reach” also allows the player to change the physical features of their character for both online as well as campaign play. This allows the player to “own” their character both online and offline in much the same way as one does in “Rainbow Six Vegas 2.” To change the features, however, one must play and by play I mean devote one’s life to “Reach.” If you’re just looking for a good time with the game you’ll get it and you’ll be able to modify your character in some interesting ways but, if you really “need” your character to look exactly like Jun from the campaign you’ll be playing well over 2,000 online games to get the requisite credits or, you could waste a few more days of your life and credit farm like a bastard.
The Sum of its Parts
“Reach” is the superior mash up of what works in both campaign and multiplayer gaming. Graphics, plot, characters, multiplayer incentives…“Reach” has ‘em all. Like “Halo 3’s” advert campaign this game, not just its advertising, is psychologically perfected to make you, the gamer, feel right at home. The campaign has its fair share of replay value, especially with the weekly/daily challenges that dish out huge credit jackpots as well as Bungie’s great A.I. Not to mention Noble Teams story that I was compelled to complete to the bitter end the first time through. Add in the multiplayer, which is crazy, varied and fun enough to make one keep coming back for more and you have a winning combination.