Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Bungie says goodbye, we say Halo."

If there was one console shooter that defined its generation, Halo: Combat Evolved was it. Master Chief's adventure across the ring-world of Halo became one of the most popular mythologies seen in any game, bringing the Microsoft Xbox into home after home. It's been nearly 10 years since Halo: Combat Evolved appeared on store shelves, and since then, Halo has become a phenomenon. But before leaving the Halo franchise behind them, Bungie is giving eager wannabe Spartans one last hurrah before the company enters the world of multi-platform game development. Halo: Reach is that last hurrah. Despite the lackluster campaign and slight stagnancy of the Halo gameplay formula, Bungie has crafted a game well worthy of the Halo name, one that will be remembered for years to come.

Halo: Reach's story follows Noble Team, a collection of soldiers who also happen to be Spartan warriors, super-powered militants created to fight against the long-time antagonists of the human race, the Covenant. You play as Noble Six, the newest member of Noble Team. Noble Team is deployed to the Earth colony planet Reach to quell a Covenant uprising and put a dent in their forces. Along the way, the Noble Team members duke it out against the Covenant forces, reveal some bitter memories, and set the stage for the penultimate Covenant blitz. Halo: Reach's true dramatic irony isn't revealed initially, but if you read the novels based around the Halo universe, you will already know the fate of the soldiers who defend Reach. For those of you who haven't educated yourself in Halo mythology, Reach's storyline still has plenty of merit. Admittedly, seeing Halo without Master Chief is kind of surreal at first, but once you really immerse yourself in the Halo world, you'll quickly find out that Halo isn't about a single character anymore; it's about the universe and the war amongst it. Halo: Reach is a cool departure from the “save-the-day” mentality that has plagued many action titles, opening plenty of new doors for a better and deeper storyline experience.

Halo: Reach abandons many of the older nuances seen in past Halo games. Equipment is out, replaced with armor effects. These abilities are reusable skills that range from sprinting to armor locking (temporary invincibility, but the inability to move) to a jetpack boost. The armor effects have specific recharge time, so there's a degree of strategy in using them during the single and multiplayer. Also dual-wielding has been removed, so no more running riot with dual plasma rifles. Halo: Reach also brings back the health packs from the original Halo: Combat Evolved, so balancing the rechargeable shield and health in combat is also pretty intense. The changes and refinement are welcome, but compared to the leaps and bounds made from the first two Halo games, Halo: Reach doesn't evolve the gameplay that much.

Halo: Reach has some great set-pieces in its campaign. Some are well beyond even those seen in Halo 3, but the game never really builds upon those set-pieces. Earlier missions are borderline boring, and even with new weapons, vehicles, and armor effects, never seem to feel as fresh and engaging as they've been promoted to be. There are some detours through the campaign, like piloting a spacecraft or manning a turret, but none of these ideas feel essential to Halo: Reach's gameplay. It feels like they were inserted into the campaign in a desperate attempt to break up the shooting. The lack of any triumphantly epic moments like the final run in Halo 1 or the massive Scarab battle in Halo 2 really brings Halo: Reach down a few notches. Ultimately, the gameplay doesn't feel very progressive or evolutionary.

That's not to say that the shooting is bad. Far from it; Halo: Reach does feel more like a throwback to the original Halo: Combat Evolved and that's a great thing. Before Master Chief met the Arbiter, before the ring-world Halo was even mentioned, Earth was at war with the Covenant. It feels familiar, but in a good way. There's something comforting about returning to the battlefield to blast grunts and assassinate Elites, harkening back to a time before intricate plot-points divided up the gameplay into different styles. The introduction of modern Halo amenities like vehicle hijacking, new weapons, and armor abilities definitely makes Halo: Reach a solid balance between new and old. Sadly, though, Halo: Reach doesn't reach the caliber of its predecessors due to a slightly dated design and a lack of progression.

Once you finish the campaign, dive into the competitive multiplayer. This is where Reach really expands upon past games in the series. Everything you know and love from earlier Halo games is here and better than ever. More game types, match preferences that are easier to customize, streamlined matchmaking, and plenty of competition online make Halo: Reach the epitome of Halo multiplayer. New weapons feel right at home in Halo: Reach's multiplayer, changing up the skirmishes in consistent and remarkably balanced ways. Match types like the incredibly addictive and chaotic Headhunter mode bring some new spins to gameplay. The multiplayer does have a tendency to feel familiar and doesn't step up the variety the way that Halo 3 did, but it's hard to fault Bungie when the end result is so thrillingly addictive. The inclusion of Forge World and Firefight options keep the content count high, so there'll always be something more to do after the campaign is complete. It's a massive package that will satisfy even the hungriest of FPS fans.

Halo: Reach is the best looking game in the Halo series, hands-down. Character animations are much less mechanical than in past Halo games and the cut-scenes feel much more real, capturing the urgency in the story well. In-game, the battles are intense and filled with exceptional weapon effects. There are a few glitches and the cut-scenes can suffer from a slightly sluggish frame rate, but this is a great-looking game, one that captures the atmosphere of Halo's universe well. The sound design is just as exceptional, with some great new performances of classic Halo themes. Voice acting isn't as cheesy as past games, keeping the dialogue serious and straightforward. Weapon sounds are excellent; explosive grenade blasts and fizzling cool-downs of plasma weapons all feel perfectly tuned. If the presentation of past 360 Halo games felt a bit underwhelming, Halo: Reach's presentation will more than make up for it.

Pros
+ Hearty and addictive multiplayer remains one of the best on any console
+ Surprisingly captivating story
+ Nice graphical improvements and sound design
+ Excellent setpieces and battle sequences return to the classic Halo formula

Cons
- No serious evolution to the gameplay
- Shoehorned extraneous missions feel out of place
- Classic Halo formula can feel too familiar

Halo: Reach, flaws aside, won't be forgotten anytime soon. Bungie's final Halo adventure feels more like a tribute to the formula that kick-started the series, instead of a modernized first-person shooter experience, and with that, the framework does feel a bit dated. The firefights are good and surprisingly expansive, but don't feel evolved or particularly new. The campaign possesses an engaging narrative and some great set-pieces; it's just a shame that the gameplay hasn't made much of a leap since Halo 3. Still, the multiplayer is some of the best around, with plentiful options and a huge community. The return of Forge, Firefight, and cooperative campaign options will only fuel the community even more. Though Halo will still be around, seeing Bungie's final Halo installment puts the entire series into perspective. It'll be interesting to see how 343 Industries handles the series from this point on, but regardless, they have big shoes to fill. Halo: Reach is a fantastic game that doesn't redefine or re-imagine anything, but manages to offer so much content and so much panache in its execution that it really doesn't matter. It's rather sad seeing Bungie say goodbye to Halo; the video game world won't be the same. But as we await Bungie's next great title, play Halo: Reach and enjoy what is one of the best first-person shooters of 2010.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/07/11

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


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