The Halo franchise has always gone hand in hand with Microsoft’s Xbox brand. The first in the series boosted the Xbox from a new contender to a must-have, while the second Halo helped Microsoft launch the Xbox live service with ease. It’s a no-brainer then that Bungie’s swan song as a first party developer for Microsoft would be regarded as the largest Xbox 360 release of the year, with a massive following already set in place and a successful series of titles behind it.
Some Noble Chaps
Halo has always revolved around its lead protagonist Master Chief, his daring exploits and his never ending quest as the last remaining Spartan soldier to save humanity from an alien threat.
Rather than continue with his story, Halo Reach is a prequel set just before the events that take place in the first of the series, Halo: Combat Evolved, when Spartans were plentiful and the war with the covenant had only just begun. The story revolves around a group of Spartans called Noble Team, and you are the fresh meat sent to fill some pretty big shoes.
While Halo has always been about a bigger picture, the story always focused around that of Master Chief. Halo Reach changes things up in this regard, with no one hero in the spotlight, but rather a group of Spartans that work together to get the job done. Rather than have a mysterious faceless protagonist, the Spartans of Noble team bring a fair amount of personality into the mix and is a welcome change from the previous formula.
The campaign mode can be played as a solo or co-operative effort, but is only a couple of hours long overall and seems to lack some of the epic fun-factor that graced the campaign from Halo 3 for example. It’s not bad, it just feels like it could have been a little more fluid and fun, whereas a lot of it feels like you are merely moving from point to point.
Many of the levels from the multiplayer have been recycled from the campaign as well, so if you, like me and many other gamers jumped into a good chunk of multiplayer gaming before finishing the campaign, be prepared to forfeit your feeling of adventure every time you waltz into yet another familiar setting that you recognise as a multiplayer map.
While the Halo story is adored by many, the real bread and butter of the series has revolved around its once revolutionary gameplay mechanic as well as its multiplayer.
Chuck Grenade, Shoot, Shoot, Melee, Tea-Bag
Unlike most other shooters, Halo sets itself apart with a fast paced shooter experience chock and block full with big weapons, grenade lobbing, melee attacks and vehicle combat, rather than cover systems and strategy. I have admittedly never been a huge fan of Halo’s gameplay, often finding it a little too “loose” and chaotic overall, especially when compared to more recent shooters.
Some changes have been made to the formula with Halo Reach, with the intent being to tighten up the combat and create a more visceral shooter experience and the differences won me over. I, for the first time in my life, can say that I am really enjoying Halo’s gameplay to a large degree.
Some of the tweaks involve slightly lower jump height as well as the inclusions of “bullet bloom” whereby your accuracy decreases the more you fire and health that stays decreased should your shields be dropped for a short amount of time.
The most important addition however is that of load-outs and armor abilities. Previous Halo titles allowed you to collect items such as bubble-shields and mobile launch pads, but with Halo Reach they are no more, and have now been integrated into abilities linked to your load-out (in the campaign they can be swopped out as pick-ups) .
The armor abilities vary greatly and make a big impact on your potential, often causing you to be punished for not taking an enemies abilities into account before taking them on. One of the most popular abilities included is that of a Jet-Pack, which allows you to propel yourself into the air for a limited amount of time. There are also bubble shields that heal, stealth cloaking, sprinting, dodging, invincibility lock-downs and more that all serve to create more variation and add a spot of strategy into the mix as well. There is a time and a place for each one, and sometimes the right choice can make all the difference in a situation or specific game mode.
The Multi-Layers Of Multi-Player
Speaking of game modes, this is the area that really makes the Halo multiplayer experience shine. There are multiple playlists to chose from, with multiple modes available within them ranging from deathmatch (slayer), team objectives, capture and hold, king of the hill, quad racing, quad rally, CTF, realistic damage and a ton more. If there is anything that Halo Reach doesn’t lack, it’s variety. Whether you are in the mood for solo heroics, team slayer, strategy, big lobbies, small lobbies… you name it and it’s there to cater to your specific mood.
Firefight mode has now been brought over from its origins with Halo: ODST and can be played with up to 3 other players over matchmaking or private games. Firefight mode has 4 of you tackling waves of enemies that steadily grow stronger as the game progresses, requiring you to work together to not get obliterated. It’s a wonderful break from the versus modes and allows you to enjoy playing with your friends even more after the campaign is over.
The multiplayer also features an all new ranking system that works based on credits earned. Instead of merely pushing up your level, the credits can be used to buy and customise your very own Spartan (in single and multiplayer) which allows every player to have their own unique look and style as they unlock new armour pieces and accessories for their Spartan, however gameplay or abilities aren’t affected.
Forge mode is also back, and there are already a ton of map variations and game modes available for download in the games file menus. Heck, I even ran around some custom made Gears of War maps already. Also back, is the ability to take, upload and share photos and videos and it all comes together when visiting bungie.net.
Bungie.net is a wonder all on its own, supplying players with a ridiculous amount of stats, as well as the ability to download photos and even watch replays that have been uploaded (like YouTube videos).
Halo Reach undoubtedly has the tightest overall multiplayer experience that I have ever used. The games menu keeps a list on the right that can be customised to show friends in your party as well as friends playing the game. The list can be used to check out their game profiles, jump in their parties, invite them to games and so on.
The matchmaking itself is fantastic and about the best that you will see out there. Finding games is never an issue and the game will also do its best to find local gamers first to ensure a smoother network experience. On that note, the net-code is almost unbelievable. Granted, we reviewed the game on a 4MB Unshaped internet line but joining international games as opposed to local is barely a problem at all, with lag being so minimal that it’s only around a quarter of a second away from feeling like a local game.
The multiplayer aspects of this game are definitely the highlights, and not only are they great fun, but will ensure hours upon hours of fun.
Hella-Good Halo Graphics
One of my biggest disappointments (enough to even write posts about it) with Halo 3, is that as the first next-gen Halo, the visuals (specifically in multiplayer) only looked like a slightly better (albeit not even 720p) version of Halo 2.
Bungie hoped to fix all that with Halo Reach, and promised large graphical upgrades overall, and it shows. While Halo Reach is not the best looking game you have ever seen, it does still look very impressive, especially when seeing it in motion. The game features some impressive exteriors, lighting effects, high-res textures, great looking character models and more. Some extra post-process effect such as motion blur have also been included into the mix, and the effect overall is impressive and feels a lot more like the flagship Xbox 360 title that Halo was always supposed to be in this generation.
Surround Sound In My Helmet
Sound has also received a major upgrade as well, which says a lot considering that Halo 3 wasn’t really lacking in that department at all. All of the sounds in the game have been rebuilt from the ground up and when running a decent surround sound system, you ears will tingle with delight. It can be a little tough to explain, but all of the sounds in the game have more depth to them, more tiny little additions that make it all sound oh-so-good, such as the little “whirring” noise made by grenades when tossed in the air. A lot of effort has also been put into ensuring that the sound remains authentic to its location. Throw a grenade out in the open, or in a hallway and it will sound completely different and if a battle is taking place a couple rooms or buildings over, the sounds become muted and base-ey, resulting in an incredibly immersive experience.
I always had some fun with Halo games, but have never really been able to call myself a true fan. Halo Reach has done a great job of changing my mind and making me a fan. I am addicted to the fun gameplay, the varied game modes and the overall package that comes bundled with Bungie’s final effort.
A lot of hype surrounds games like Halo Reach, but not being a big fan to begin with, I found myself being impressed by my experience rather than my expectations.
Will 343 studios be able to match what Bungie has done with Halo Reach? I don’t know. What I do know is that until that time comes, there is so much fun and value to be had with Halo Reach that you aren’t likely to care for a very long time to come.
Tighter controls and new features make you want to play it for the gameplay alone.
Finally, a Halo game that looks the part. Campaign mode really shines.
Crank it up to full volume, you will not be sorry.
Solo campaign, co-op campaign, firefight modes, tons of varied versus modes as well as replay theaters, screenshots and ranking means that you can play this game for a very, very long time.