Published on September 20th, 2010 | by prime1
Halo Reach – Review
Summary: Halo Reach is a fitting end to a magnificent series
It’s fitting that a series colored by powerful, forthright words like Truth, Pillar and Noble should end so magnanimously. Yes, it may not be the end for Halo the brand, but this is the last time Bungie will visit the ring world it painstakingly created, and the team leaves it with pride.
Halo Reach confidently pistol-whips concern and blows it out of the atmosphere with a planet-sized laser. It’s clearly the finest Halo game yet, re-establishing Bungie as the world’s premier FPS developer as it jetpacks between epic campaign, furious firefight and relentless multiplayer with the self-assuredness that only comes from 10 years of honing your craft.
Of course, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘how is the campaign?’ The shadow of the original Halo: Combat Evolved’s single-player looms large over the series; Bungie has never quite managed to capture that sense of scale and importance in its (admittedly still superb) sequels. Until now, that is.
Halo Reach is a layered love letter to Combat Evolved. There are knowing nods here and there, but ultimately its admiration is more in spirit than specifics. Instead of the action being broken up by spectacular set-pieces, Reach just offers playgrounds of war that pit you and your Spartan-powered Noble Team against the might of the Covenant, with AI, physics and your own guile and wit deciding the outcome.
After a shaky opening 10 minutes which sees a few framerate drops and a distinct lack of action, something very special happens. Well, special if you’re a Halo devotee, as so many millions are. The Elites come out to play.
Nothing has ever managed to show off Halo’s magnificent AI like these long-tall streaks of alien malevolence, and they’re back doing what they do best. The open environments afford the enemy opportunities to outflank and outwit you at every turn, and they still will. Don’t be surprised to find an Elite behind you when you thought all was safe. They’re clever like that.
Unlike other Halos though, you don’t spend much of Reach’s 10 hour campaign alone, even when you’re not playing in co-op; the other members of Noble team like to join in the fun. They aren’t the most exciting bunch in the world, and some are blighted by genuinely dreadful acting, but you’ll be thankful they’re around when they save you from a plasma sword to the brain.
For a game so rich in pedigree and budget, it’s odd that Halo Reach’s cinematic scenes are so weak. They’re poorly written, badly acted and often making little to no sense. The plot almost manages to confuse ‘bad guys come to planet and kill all’ with unnecessary pondering. Thankfully though, it doesn’t hurt the ‘journey’. There’s a tangible sense of threat, that everything is collapsing around you, and as each mission passes, the intensity and quality crescendo to the point where it’s difficult to remember where you’ve been and what the hell happened. You’re just in that moment, flowing between gunfire, grenade, melee and armor ability, and cutting through the Covenant like only a super soldier can.
Ah yes, armor abilities. Halo Reach’s major change from battles past is these new rechargeable aids which can be chosen from spawn in multiplayer or found on the battlefield in campaign. Some, like the jetpack and armor lock, you’ll have seen in the Beta. Others, like the deceptive hologram you can send off to distract enemies, or the ground-thumping bubble shield, can be vital in a firefight. One memorable moment saw our Noble 6 (the player’s customizable Spartan) fire up a shield at the exact second an effervescent green ball of death flew towards his face. The resulting screen-drowning splash of verdant plasma was like the eye of the storm, a millisecond of calm before diving straight back into the violence.
There are so many moments in the campaign worth regaling, but they’re best left for you to discover and enjoy on your own, particularly as the beauty of Halo is how it crafts such unique experiences for every player. Of course, where the campaign ends, Halo Reach truly begins. The multiplayer has already won over many of the doubters during the Beta stage, and Bungie’s matchmaking expertise and map-building know-how should provide months of triumph and anguish, backed up with the wonderful Saved Films and Forge modes.
Firefight makes its return after debuting in ODST, and it’s been on the protein shakes. It’s now completely customizable, from enemy types and tendency to an ingenious versus mode, and will eat up huge chunks of your life. You could argue it’s the purest way to play Halo. And you’d probably be right.
What a way to bow out, then. Bungie has spent 10 years in the company of seven-foot tall armor-clad super soldiers, and bar a few bump (maps) in the road, it’s been a hell of a journey. Halo Reach demonstrates the studio at the peak of its powers and its passion, a legendary ending and beginning to the biggest franchise of them all. In a game rich in religious overtone, there’s really only one word to sum it all up. Godly. Til next time, Bungie.