Review by TheEngima683

"Send me out with a whimper"

One may describe in many ways. Halo is considered to be the Xbox's flagship title, Microsoft's Mario, most overrated gaming franchise to stain the gaming industry, or a fantastic video game franchise that sustains hundreds of hours of longevity. I'd consider my-self a loyal and devout Bungie fan, since I booted the original Marathon on my Mac when I was a child. The Halo series has been one of the best franchises of decades, as Bungie continuously provided a high quality of polish and care within in each installment, rarely seen in most video game franchise. Halo: Reach is their final entry to their magnum opus, as Bungie main goal with the series is to send it off with a bang. With such hype, anticipation, and promises made, is Halo: Reach the beautiful swan song to a beloved (and hated) franchise?

[b]Story[/b]:

The story is a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, taking place during one of the most cataclysmic and poignant events in the series backstory. Based on the paper-back novel Halo: The Fall of Reach, which introduced the Halo mythology before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. The tale is about the Covenant glassing what is homed to billions of people and what is considered to be the heart of the UNSC. Bungie wanted to convey a darker, and grittier, and somber story in the Halo franchise. It's a character driven story about sacrifice, as a UNSC squad consisting of six Spartans. The player controls Noble Six, a shell character who has been assigned as a new member of Noble team to replace a former member who has been K.I.A. Halo: Reach seems to have laid down all the elements to tell a riveting, emotional tale, but sadly, it plays out like a bad fan-fiction on the 8th grade level.

It perplexes me how Bungie intended to offer a character-driven story to humanize Spartans, without giving any investment into the character personalities or motivations. The character fall into generic, archetypical trappings, in which results them into nothing more than cardboard cut-outs those are impossible to become emotionally attach to. Bungie seem to have focus more on how each character would die, instead of developing them. The only character who was somewhat develop was Jorge, the only Spartan-II of the squad, but unfortunately he's killed-off to escape from the “big-guy-with –a-heart-of-gold” stock stereo-type to care about. The death of each Spartan comes off as ether comical, corny, or cheap. One of them simply vanishes from the narrative, leaving-off an obvious loose end. It's downright embarrassing, when a short expansion-pack like ODST, provided much better developed and likable characters than Reach.

The game doesn't explore, nor build-up the Covenant's genocidal rampage on Reach. The stories of the missions consist of generic military task, without context to set-up a dramatic situation. The sense of desperation isn't there, as you could care less to what's happening to a planet you already know is going to fall. It's as Bungie intended to distance gameplay and story separately, in which results into running a bunch of tasks with lack of any emotional motivation. You don't see enough of the planet's glassing, destruction, or the deaths of its population to become emotionally invested. It's as Bungie already assumed that you would be emotionally affected by the outcome, as we already know Reach will fall, so they didn't bother to develop its plot. In fact, the plot only kicks into gear in the last two missions.

Past Halo games never had remarkable storytelling, even by the low standards given to the first-person shooter genre. However, they had a lot more craftsmanship and dedication than the storytelling of Reach. Each Halo game prior to Reach, followed themes of war, religion, dedication, courage, and the dangers of blindly following demagogic leaders. Were the story masterpieces? No. But they were interesting, engaging, and successful in their own right. Halo: Reach's writing comes off as amateurish and mechanical as far as first-person shooters or video games in general go. Prior Halo games had sharp, witty, and snappy dialog. The dialog in Reach is rather generic and corny; especially some of the lines Emile (the Spartan with the skull carved on his visor) spew out.

If there's one commendation I have for the story, is its ending. The ending is evocative, and emotionally stirring than the rest of the game wished it would be. It brilliantly gels story and gameplay, which emotionally engages the player's unfortunate situation. It's metaphorical, and conveys the theme of the story beautifully. It's just a shame that the rest of the game couldn't offer the same quality depth of the storytelling as its ending did. It may seem I'm berating the story too much, but when Bungie hypes of Reach like emotionally somber story set in one of the most poignant events in the franchise, I expect Bungie to place some effort into the writing. Reach's story is lazy, emotionally distant, and utterly forgettable. It's a shame, because Bungie had potential to tell an emotional and mature tale in Reach, but they never tapped it.

[b]Visuals[/b]:

Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 shown case the original Xbox's spectacular's graphical capabilities (Despite Halo 2's reoccurring texture pop-in) at the time, while maintaining a framerate of 30 frames per second. Halo 3 didn't push the 360's capabilities as its predecessors did, but it provided solid visuals with a smooth framerate. Bungie hyped up their “new engine” for Reach, promising it would bring twice the amount of polygons and particle effects on screen than Halo 3 did. Not to mention to allow for some bigger battles, with a smoother framerate. It would've been one of the graphically advanced games in the 360. They succeeded in some aspects, but fail to deliver in others.

Visually, Reach looks moderately improved than Halo 3. Reach provides some nice texture work, exquisite particle effects, awe-inspiring sky-boxes and a few gorgeous backdrops. The mo-cap capturing of the animation during the cutscenes look a lot more convincing than prior Halo's handcrafted, but cartoony animations. The facial animation, during the cutscenes looks much more dynamic and believable than ever before in a Halo game as well. The Spartans look a lot sharper, cleaner, and more detailed than ever before. Reach is overall, a very solid looking game overall.

However, it doesn't hold a candle compared to most visually inspired AAA titles. Some of the texture work looks muddy, and bland up close. While the Covenant look excellent, the minor human NPCs look as bland and dull as ever. This wouldn't be much of a problem, if the game was able to hold a steady framerate. Reach's framerate occasionally suffers hiccups during moments where many particle effects, polygon counts, and action are occurring onscreen. Several segments during the cutscenes, where the framerate dips and tearing appear during moments where not much is going on. These issues are inexcusable for a AAA game of this magnitude

Artistically, Reach doesn't look as great as it should. Many areas lack distinct personality, and seem generic. Bungie attempts to make Reach to look like an alien planet, fails when the world resembles a slightly different geography than Earth. The environments seem they wanted to convey somberness with its drab colors, but it still comes off as rather cartoony. It's just that, artistically it looks rather uninspired. Considering the Halo franchise excelled in delivering memorable, and distinct art design.

What boggles me most is that Bungie lied about using a new engine. It's rather a heavily modified version of Halo 3's engine. To call Halo: Reach's engine new, would be calling the original Half-Life's modified Quake engine new. Bungie definitely pulled-off a Peter Molynuex with their engine for Reach.

[b]Audio[/b]:

If there's one aspect the Halo franchise always exceptionally excelled at, it's the audio department. From the music, the sound-effects, and the voice acting, we all fondly remember hearing. Even the most passionate Halo hater will admit that the series always had some of the most iconic and professionally composed music in gaming. Halo: Reach fortunately pulls-out in the sound effects and music department, but not so much in the voice acting department unfortunately.

The weapons sound much louder, visceral, and meatier in Halo: Reach. It helps to give the weapons a bigger sense of weight, and huft. The roaring sounds of the explosions, com chatter, and ambience help evoke tension during the action. There are even nice touches in the audio design, when sound is muddled during low-gravity areas and every surface gives out a different thump noise when you melee them.

Marty O'Donnell's score is superb as it always was. He intended to give Reach a more somber and visceral musical score than ever before. He succeeds admirably in this regard. The music fits moments during the story, situations, and action near perfectly. If there complaints I have with the music, is that it isn't as memorable as ODST's original score, and the Lone Wolf track that was played at the VGA teaser trailer, is not to be heard in this game. However, those are only minor quibbles to what essentially is another fantastic soundtrack.

Reach unfortunately falls short in the voice-acting department. The voice acting here is flat, and some lines are delivered in a rather monotone fashion that doesn't fit with the sense of desperation in the given situations. The voice acting isn't bad; it's just uninspired and flat-out average. The only real stand-out performance is Jen Taylor as Dr. Halsey. But the lowest point would have to be Carter's performance. He sounds shoe-horned in, and he sound inconsistent at times. The voice work in the first three Halo games was quite good, while ODST's performances were outstanding. Reach simply couldn't hold up to high voice acting quality it should give us.

[b]Campaign[/b]:

Bungie promised to deliver the best campaign experience in the series. They promised so much with Reach. Bungie intended to deliver bigger and planetary scale battles, with twice the amount of A.I. and vehicles than you ever seen in a Halo game. They would also take time to experiment with some new elements introduced in the series. The campaign was supposed to be more varied than prior games, with wide-array of mission types. As seeing how many adored the Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie also wanted to bring back of that sense of wonder and exploration founded within Combat Evolved. Bungie's other goal was to make Reach feel like a living, birthing planet, with immersive environments. Hell, Bungie even wanted to vastly improve the friendly and enemy A.I. Unfortunately, Bungie either fail to deliver most of these promises or handled them poorly.

Halo: Reach tries to spice variety in the mission design and structure. However, most missions tend to repeat the same objectives. The player is often tasked to flip one switch after another or destroy or activate an AA battery. It's no apparent in missions like Winter Contingency, Tip of the Spear, Long Night of Solace, and Exodus. Bungie attempts to use new elements in the series such as; on-rails shooting segments, jet-pack platforming, space combat, use of auto-turrets, zero gravity spaces, and using a MAC cannon were rather underdeveloped and incredibly brief to be memorable or exciting. Space combat fortunately handles very well, but the action and set-pieces for it are very dull; same can be said for the on-rails segments. The newly introduced Armor Abilities have little significant use for the game's combat, and rarely are there situations where they come in handy.

Bungie said that there would be up to 40 A.I. and 20 vehicles at once to provide a global scale of the battles. This is almost no where to been seen in Halo: Reach. Not once, did I feel like I was participating in a massive battle to convey that feeling that you're anticipating in a war. The mission Tip of Spear opening made led me to believe I was going to engage in a massive, planetary scale vehicle battle. The mission unfortunately results into a generic, checkpoint to checkpoint, destroy an AA battery mission. It had the audacity to make pathetic attempts to make you feel like you're in a war, when you see massive vehicle and scarab battles in the background. The campaign just lacks the memorable and complex set-pieces of prior Halo games; scarab battles aren't even battles in this game.

Reach's goal to create a believable and palpable atmosphere fails miserably. The environments (Much like the art design itself) lack character or personality to be immersed in. Bungie attempts to place wild life and civilian NPC interaction to add immersion is poorly thought-out as well. There are only three wild life animals to be found, and they're all just scattered at random. The most interesting of them all, the giant and ferocious Gueta, make only one brief and anti-climatic appearance. The civilians just come off as a nuisance, as they meander around the battles and often get in your way. Halo: Reach doesn't feel like a central character, to the gameplay or style. The ODST expansion pack to Halo 3 provided better atmosphere with its underwhelming hubworld, than Reach did.

Thankfully, there are several aspects that remain in the campaign. The enemy A.I. is as cunning as it ever was, even more sore in Reach. Enemies are more aggressive and cunning than before. Sadly, the friendlies are dumber than they were in Halo 3. Halo's sandbox/puzzle combat is very much intact with Reach, same goes for the open-ended outdoor environments that keep the game somewhat enjoyable. While there aren't any painful Flood missions like in prior Halo titles (Minus Reach), there isn't a single level that memorably stands-out. Bungie promised that the A.I. would become more aware when played on co-op, but in reality, they become cheaper and you easily take more damage than on solo.

The campaign is lackluster and by far the weakest in the series. The Halo series always provided engaging and memorable single-player experiences, with heated and intense action that stick with you. It sadly isn't the case with Reach. The missions are set-up in way that make you feel like you're running errands, and not defending a planet. Overall, Halo: Reach's campaign plays out like another variation of FireFight

[b]Multi-Player and Content[/b]:

Reach was hyped up to have the most definitive multi-player experience in the franchise. Before any gameplay footage of the game was shown, I expected Reach to evolve Halo's formula into new territory. I expected them to change with new mechanics, different gameplay types, completely new weapons, something to replace Halo 3's equiptment system, and provide class based systems. When the beta was released, it turned out many of my predictions happen here and there. But do I approve of their new gameplay changes?

One of the biggest changes were the Armor Abilities, it was to replace the Equipment system from Halo 3 and meant to have a big strategic impact to the multi-player. Unfortunately, Armor Abilities play out like cheap tricks rather to serve tactical purposes like the Equipments did in Halo 3. These armor abilities are abused in order dominate maps cheaply, such as players abusing the frosting effects of Armor Lock, sprinting to do cheap melee attacks instead of shooting, and snipe camping with Active Camo, and running around in the open to use Drop Shields that replenish health. In prior Halo games, it was about learning and analyzing how each single aspect of the mechanics work in order to progress effectively through combat. Halo has relied solely on its groundbreaking and well-balanced Golden-Tripod combat model for meshing gunplay, melees, and grenades. It's now broken by Armor Abilities.

Another significant change to the multi-player was bloom, it's supposedly to make shots more strategic by having the game to time shots, but it randomizes hit registration. It simply doesn't belong in an arcadey shooter such as Halo. It's especially game breaking in Team SWAT, as you'd be spamming and praying to land a headshot.. Halo: Reach's melee could've been perfect, as one hit doesn't do as significantly overpowered damage as Halo 3 and not as underpowered as Halo 2's. But it's sabotaged by the fact that you can double melee, making it more overpowered than it was in Halo 3. Assassinations may seem cool, but adds more strategic or meaningful purpose to the gameplay. It's like putting a hat on a dog, it may seem neat, but it's just a dog wearing a hat.

Reach brings new weaponry, while bringing back classics that have been heavily re-done in Reach. The weapons are well balance for the most part; however, there are plenty of issues that prevent it from being less balance than Halo 3's. The shotgun, Plasma Launcher, and Concussion Rifle are overpowered for the most part. While the Needler, Pistol, and Plasma Repeater are practically useless. The best decision they've done to the weapon balance was removing the overpowered Battle Rifle and replacing it with the single-shot DMR. However, it's been sabotaged by the game's bloom system. Bungie thankfully removed Spike Grenades and the Incendiary Grenades, considering they were essentially underpowered. Unfortunately, the frag grenades are mini-nukes and Plasma grenades are rendered useless by the considerable amount of players using armor lock.

Halo: Reach's multi-player biggest flaws lies with the maps and spawn-system. The maps are easily the weakest in the entire. They have no rhyme, reason, or meaning to the combat. What adds insult to injury is due to the fact they were ripped-off from the single-player. Not only is this lazy of Bungie, but they just don't work in the multi-player at all. The only decent maps are remakes of Halo 2's Asylum and Halo: Combat Evolved's Blood Gulch. The spawn-system is broken, and it's even worse than Halo 3's. I occasionally spawned at points where fights were going on, even where the opposing team spawned.

A new class system titled Loadouts has been introduced, but this class-system feels tacked and shallow compared to most games that use class systems. Considering the fact you can easily switch different weapons during gameplay at any time. The vehicles are brought back, but they too have been tampered with. They're incredibly light, especially the Warhog's case. Just passing through a small rock could have you flipping over. The vehicles are still fun to use, but having the vehicles health individualized with the player's health unbalances them. It easily causes lose-lose situations and easily abandon vehicles that will obviously blow up.

The game introduced several new-modes to the series; Headhunter, Stockpile, Invasion, Generator Defense, and Spartans vs. Elites. Invasion, Stockpile, and Generator Defense are welcome additions. They add more depth and a sense of teamwork to the multi-player this time around. Unfortunately, Invasion has only two maps for it. Spartans vs. Elites would've been great mode, but its unbalance by the fact that the Elites are more powerful than the Spartans. Due to the fact that their shields are stronger and health regenerates. Headhunter is an alright addition, it's a fun but mindless mode that consists of hogging and rushing. Team Slayer is back, but in the worst form imaginable. Now that they're all grouped together, you won't be actually playing Team Slayer, but Team SWAT or Team Snipers or anything but Team Slayer.

This is also made even more frustrating that the fact you have to vote on what game types you want, which won't allow you to choose the game mode you want to play in or you'd be ending up playing the same game mode often. The new ranking system where your rank is based on how many credits you earn from a game, and with those credits you can use to purchase customizable armor. But these customizations only have cosmetic differences, and it's ultimate a cheap Skinner Box method. While there are specialized bans for rage quitting, but you can't derank and your credit system boosts.

Theater mode makes a return, and works well for the most part. You finally rewind recorded films of the campaign, but you can't watch a video with more than one person in your party. Forge mode returns as in the new Forge World. While Forge Mode was a neat and meaningful item editor to Halo 3, Reach turns it into a bland and primitive map editor. The customizable features are certainly impressive, but they don't help the fact that you're using the same dull and grey looking blocks. While Bungie hyped Forge World as you can use the entire island, the game only allows a quarter of it. This is false advertising on Bungie's part.

ODST's FireFight has been revamped into FireFight 2.0. It's more customizable than ever, provides bigger spaces, more A.I. on screen, and provides matchmaking this time around. However, the maps are too taken straight from the single-player and come-off as rather uninspired. The FireFight mode allows for player to have infinite lives, but this would allow the player to abuse the system and acquire achievements without any effort. FireFight introduces some new modes, and brings back most of the modes from ODST's. Unfortunately, Survival Horde Mode from ODST's FireFight doesn't make the cut here. This is flabbergasting, considering it was the best FireFight mode of the entire series; ultimately neutering FireFight 2.0 n

The multi-player is still fun, as it's polished and playable enough to keep the game enjoyable. However, it lacks the competitive, tactical, and well-paced nature of prior Halo games. At times it doesn't feel like Halo, but some bizarre combination of Call of Duty, Crysis, and a little bit of Halo's components mechanics thrown in. Bungie rashly tacked on elements and made poor gameplay decisions without thinking about the consequences. Suffice to say, Reach is to the Halo series, as Modern Warfare 2 was to the Call of Duty series.

[b]Verdict[/b]:

Halo: Reach attempts to send on a high note by being the “jack of all trades” with Halo elements. It's the master of none, all of its gameplay elements were handled with much more care in prior installments in the franchise. Halo: Combat Evolved had a better campaign, Halo 2 had better multi-player maps, Halo 3 had better multi-player balance, and Halo 3: ODST had a better FireFight mode. Halo: Reach is a good game, but it isn't the definitive Halo experience. Halo: Reach could've been this 2010's Uncharted 2, by delivering a great single-player, great storytelling, and great multi-player components. It's sad that Bungie's last Halo feels unpolished and rushed; this isn't the Halo I once knew and loved. It's evident that Bungie focused more on shoe horning as many content as they could, instead of taking time on expertly developing and crafting them individually.

Reach doesn't send the series off on a high note as it should've, instead it ends Bungie's Halo with a whimper.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/05/11

Game Release: Halo: Reach (US, 09/14/10)


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