User Review: Halo: Reach – fitting end or reach around?

[We grab resident Halo expert and faithful DLC Crew member Northy179 as he runs point on Bungie’s final installment in the Halo franchise. Take it away buddy – koz-ee-ii] Just under a decade has passed since the first Halo game swept the world and now Bungie’s involvement in Halo saga is coming to an end where it all began: the beautiful human-inhabited planet of Reach. This is no mini-project, with 10 huge campaign levels, a bunch of new multiplayer maps and modes, the improved Forge level editor and the exciting Firefight mode to sink your teeth in to.

You kick off the campaign through the eyes of Noble Six: the newest and most mysterious addition to the all-Spartan Noble Team. While you are not playing as the Chief this time, Noble Six is just as combat capable and can be described best as a quiet achiever. A big problem that has plagued the Halo series since Halo 2 is how difficult the story is to follow for avid Halo fans and newcomers. Reach turns this around by offering a simple and straightforward story, without losing the compelling nature the Halo world brings with it.

Marty O’Donnell makes a welcome orchestral return and, as usual, his soundtrack does not fail to immerse you deeper into the game. Reach boasts some of his best work yet and it feels a lot more fluent than Halo 3.

Each campaign level offers diverse and interesting locations with dramatic cutscenes connecting it all together. Noble Team are on a fight against Thermopylae-ic  odds; they are outnumbered and out-resourced, and as you progress you feel this pressure mount to the point where it is truly heart wrenching to lose team members along the way. Fans of the Halo book by Eric Nylund, Fall of Reach, won’t be disappointed either with an appearance by the much-adored Dr Catherine Halsey, creator of the Spartan project and brain behind the AI construct more commonly known as Cortana.

Halo: Reach pushes the Xbox 360 to its limits, all the while making it look easy. The graphics and models are impressive in their quality and detail, with very few drops in frame rate or texture pops even when playing online in co-op mode. The new weapon design is a welcome change, focussing more on precision weapons and less on the classic spray-and-pray combination that made ODST feel like a weaker game than it was [ODST WAS a weak game – Nachos].

As a Halo game, one thing you have come to expect is A-to-B-style gameplay, occasionally broken up with some wave-based situations and the odd aerial-assault mission. While the formula still works, the game mechanics are starting to feel a little dated as they haven’t changed since the original Halo. It is a little disappointing the game series hasn’t evolved as much as it could have to offer some different gameplay elements, offering the player (particularly veteran players) something new and bringing back the wow factor of the aptly named and original title, Halo: Combat Evolved.

The graphics, sounds, cinematics and structure of the game world have improved in leaps and bounds, yet the core game itself hasn’t changed with time. And while it isn’t a game breaker, it may lessen the experience for the more dedicated Halo players who have done it all a million times before. The campaign formula also has the unfortunate side effect of cheapening the Firefight mode experience, as it feels samey playing more wave-based missions. Most players, however, should find the simple (but engaging) story and beauty of Reach engrossing and should enjoy ploughing through Covenant grunts this one last time in the hopes of stopping the predestined conflict.

The multiplayer lobby system has been rebuilt from the ground up and is a pleasant change that makes finding games a lot easier with less of a dependency on trawling through menus. It’s faster to find games and the new map voting system feels a lot more logical than previous veto systems. The game ships with nine multiplayer maps (13 if you count all the pre-made Forge world maps) and while all the old favourites return, there are a few new game types including Generator Defense, Invasion and Headhunters, all of which add a refreshingly new dynamics to the multiplayer arena and are welcome additions to the playlists. Invasion, however, feels a little light with only two maps currently able to utilise the game mode, which is odd for a newly implemented mode, but this will hopefully be rectified in a future update.

One of the new additions for Halo 3 that got everyone excited was the Forge map editor, however, it felt clunky and in order to make a map neat, the player would have to learn various tricks and spend an awful lot of time tweaking. In Halo: Reach the newly packed Forge mode has a lot of new settings and a much more user-friendly user interface, resulting in a map editor that’s more accessible for everyone.

Everything you do in Reach will earn you experience points. Regardless of whether you’re playing campaign, Firefight, competitive multiplayer or even designing in Forge, the points will be rewarded at the end of the level depending on how much time you spent in the level, how well you or your team performed, a random bonus, and you can even get more experience points for completing the daily or weekly tasks. However, the rewards from this feature are purely cosmetic, letting you unlocking new armour, voice changes, visor colours and even fun particle effects that are activated when you die. I like that the rewards are not special enough that people are going to grind for hours to achieve them; nor do the rewards tilt the balance on the battleground. But for some players it may feel weak in comparison to the more meaningful unlockable content of games such as the recent Call of Duty titles.

We have all seen the devastation a single Spartan can cause through the Halo series; now it’s time to see what an entire squad of Spartans can accomplish. Halo: Reach is a must-buy game for any FPS action fan, whether you like a compelling story, beating down n00bs online or creating citadels of doom in Forge, there is something for you in this game. There has never been a better time to jump in to the Halo phenomenon.


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  • Northy179

    Great show the other night guys, you all raised points that were very valid points about the game which i guess i overlooked by just playing the series so much. Such as the bad AI… Halo players have gotten used to the fact friendly targets are just as volitile as those little suicide grunts.

    I must disagree with Dave’s comment on the difficulty. The grunts and jackels are precision cannon fodder, one headshot kill, if every enemy was like that then it would be too easy. I like that i have to think tactically to take down an elite or brute, it teaches the player to be a better player which is what all games should strive to do rather than offering free kills on a platter the entire experience.

    Also, I agree Nacho, ODST was a weak game, i think bungie’s biggest mistake was trying to make it feel like a full game and adding all those big areas… with no enemies… the only reason it made it to retail disc was because they kept adding crap until it was too big to release as an expansion to halo 3 (which it was originally meant to be) it could have been good if it was just compressed in to 4 or 5 levels and released for 800 msp.

  • Anonymous

    Great review northy, I will eventually purchase this for the sp experience.