Review by tpolimen

"Halo:Reach, Bungie's ride into the Halo sunset is as beatiful as a Morricone score."

There is no doubt that Halo: Reach is, with absolute certitude, the most complete game ever created. Now, I know you may be thinking that was a tremendous fan boy statement which, scanning over quickly, I can see that conclusion being drawn. However, I am not saying Halo: Reach is the greatest game ever created, not even the greatest game to have come out this year but, in terms of playability, flexibility, variation, and off console support, it is painfully clear that Bungie has made this Halo outing the best supported and most complete game to have graced a console to date.

What Bungie has done with Reach is, essentially, taken the best components of the FPS genre and put a Halo spin on it. Some may say that this is ripping other games off. To that very original argument, I would rebuff that an accusation that virtually every other game has to face from the immature and stupid, can equally be turned into a positive. Whenever games make changes that may be traced back to another game, it is usually because they are looking to please fans of their own. Horde Mode, for example, in Gears of War, was a hit and, obviously, a game type that resonated with FPS fans. Suddenly you have Call of Duty: WaW come out with another wildly popular variation in Nazi Zombies so it should not be surprising that Halo dove into this game play category with Firefight. In other words, had Bungie excluded a "wave" mode lets call it, they would've been criticized for leaving such a mode out when competitors had not. Such is the world of a video game creator, either lazy or a copycat.

It's not simply adapting to changing market forces and gamer desires that makes Reach a complete game, but the expansion of those facets of Halo that have separated it from the pack time and again. Of course, in this regard, I am referring to the Forge World and Theater features. Whereas the various co-op "wave" modes can be found in several prominent FPS titles, you will struggle to find any that incorporate a map maker and a theater in which you can create and save clips and pictures. Bungie introduced these features in Halo 3 and has, in Reach, taken both to unprecedented heights.

Players can, and have already, spend hours in recreated favored maps of Halo lore (I've seen Hang 'Em High and Lockout variants that have made me giddy with nostalgia) and then take those maps and share them with players. The amount of detail players can put into maps is truly staggering and the size of the world in which they can create is equally astonishing. Indeed, Bungie has even showcased the Forge World's power by having several maps that are standard, created in the Forge World and played as if they were a created level (again, on this point you will or probably have read several searing comments on how Bungie was lazy but, when you give me an Ascension (Asylum, I believe) remake as well as a Blood Gulch (Hemorrhage) and I am not going to nit pick that the setting is on a Halo ring. To be blunt, Bungie has shamed any other studio that has attempted a map maker with Forge World, setting the standard. The same can be said of Theater. While its controls are still somewhat clunky, it is still enjoyable to search that last game for the epic cross map stick or double headshot, single sniper bullet kills.

On top of that, the Forge World and the Theater are almost perfectly streamlined with, allowing gamers to share their content with the world in a monumental effort to bridge the gap between in game actions and real life (internet) monuments to gamers and their skills.

Next we come to Single Player. What should be no surprise to the Halo fan is the fact that the single player campaign takes a back seat to the multiplayer but, while this is most certainly the case with Reach, the Campaign is more than serviceable and, in my humble opinion, the best of the Halo series. To be honest, I never felt really engaged with any of the Campaign storylines in the Halo universe, other than Halo: CE which was more pure, simple science fantasy than anything else. I felt the subsequent campaign storylines attempted to make Master Chief epic, larger than life, and, in that regard, I felt he lost some of his humanity. Also, the injection of the Flood into the story, while interesting, always seemed to distract from the story, the epic struggle of humanity vs. the Covenant, rather than supplement it. Halo 3, for me, was a bit of a mess. I still don't know what the Gravemind did, or why/how he was able to, and I just felt that, even for a science fiction video game, the pieces seemed jammed together to try and give Master Chief the most epic send off they could.

Reach had none of these issues. The fact that the flood was not in the game was, for me, a great boon (fighting them in all the other Halo games was annoying to say the least) and the fact that Bungie made a great attempt to inject humanity not only into one Spartan but five, was a great move. I actually felt like a part of the team, and while the story was certainly no Metal Gear Solid or Knights of the Old Republic, it was a heartfelt tragic storyline. I wasn't sure if it was planned or not but the silence and general lack of reaction to Spartans as they fell was heartbreaking, it was almost as if Noble team didn't know how to react as normal soldiers would have, or, if they did, they suppressed it. Very rarely, especially in video games, does the lack of dialogue speak so loudly but, here, in Reach, it most certainly did.

On a final note, as Noble 6, I thought the ending was handled very well. It was, to say the least, as epic or as quiet as you wanted it to be. I would've liked to have actually seen players reactions as the absolute hopelessness of the situation is evident and see how they played it. In the end, however, Reach is a story unique to the Halo franchise in dealing with Spartans and is a classic, tragic, tale of a doomed citadel refusing to surrender and fighting to the last man. You.

Finally, we come to the multiplayer which, once again, for a Halo title, is the crown jewel. To say one word, it is easily one of the most skillful games out there. The amount of strategy and tactical stratagems that have to be employed to be successful, consistently, is mind boggling. The use of the class system, obviously Reach's biggest departure from previous titles and the factor that is most pointed to as being a Call of Duty inspired addition, is really none of that. Call of Duty allows users to create their own classes, Halo gives you present classes based off of game types which will, basically, determine your starting weapon and, really, your strategy for how you play the game after selecting class.

What I am saying is basically Call of Duty allows you to dictate how you want to play, regardless of map, game type, or competition and with whatever gun and perks you choose. Reach, on the other hand, determines the available classes that players have to decide upon based on the game type. So yes, the idea of a class system could, perhaps, be drawn to CoD:MW but, in actuality, Halo is forcing players to decide whether the default weapons or the armor ability are going to be more integral to their success. It really is quite a jarring thought but it leads to very varied gameplay and even you guessing what the other team will choose for their loadouts.

Going along with this comparison, when it comes to actually gameplay I had an interesting experience with my group of friends. Basically, I knew I was going to get Reach and enjoy it thoroughly. However, several friends who bought the game despised it. It didn't take long to figure out why..."It takes to long to kill people", "I'm so far away", "I can't pick any armor ability I want? That's stupid", "No way is that guy still alive". Literally, a bevy of complaints of this nature (with many more expletives) peppered my headset. What caused this backlash? The simple answer is Modern Warfare 2.

I'm not going to sit here and bash Modern Warfare 2. I played the game and poured countless hours and matches into it. For that reason I feel like I am qualified to make three observations that I don't think will meet too much opposition. Firstly, the spawning system in MW2 struggles, at best, on certain maps, and can be downright atrocious on some. Secondly, it is relatively easy to kill an opponent in MW2. I'm not saying its easy to be good at the game, but with one trigger pull, with a great number of the weapons, you have a kill or are killed. Finally, thirdly, MW2 is a killstreak driven game. Once a player reaches a certain number they have the ability to not only win a game nearly alone, but, due to the second observation, almost give no chance to the opposing team to counter or comeback.

Now, those being said, are all reasons why some MW2 acclimated players will have difficulty adjusting and may reject Reach altogether. Reach multiplayer will require players to pull the trigger several times, perhaps reload, perhaps switch weapons to finish an opponent. With tougher opponents, simply seeing and reacting first may not be enough for victory. Yes, it gives you a substantial advantage but, with enough skill, luck, or a combination of the two, fortunes may be reversed which will frustrate players use to shooting enemies in the back and moving on without a second thought. The action in Reach, while nowhere as slow as say, Rainbow Six: Vegas, is not as fast as MW2, and, sometimes, the action will be staggered with much movement between battles. Finally, kills are gained by either acquiring the right weapon to strike from a distance, vehicles that are player controlled, or by skill in gun fights. I don't want to sound uppity or snobbish, but when you see a player go 38 and 5 K/D in MW2 what do you think of? Chopper Gunner? AC-130? Harrier? Of course you do. If I see that in a Reach game I may think he was in a tank, but with the multitude of weapons to take out vehicles, that player either had the skill to kill assailants aiming at taking him out or had a team good enough to protect him.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the skill sets for the two different games in general (SWAT is very much a MW2 playlist/feel) vary to such a degree that players who are so ingrained in MW2 will find the transition difficult. MW2 is based on hand eye coordination and reaction time where Reach is based upon that as well as a tactical mind when engaged in one of the many vicious 1 vs 1 battles that could take place around any corner.

Other than that little dissertation on how the online handles, the game types and maps in Reach are varied and entertaining. The new Invasion Mode (here's looking to you Battlefield) is an interesting twist on team based games and eliminates one of the biggest complaints of Halo 3, the Elite vs Spartan argument. By eliminating the players ability to choose which race to play as, Bungie has left it up to the game type to deserve what you play as and, I have to say, it words to perfection.

Where Reach really excels however, is in the statistics tracking. This is, really, where the Reach title earns the right to call itself the most complete game ever created. The amount of information tracked and stored online is staggering and ranges across all game types. The currency system and players look also translate across all game types, giving a nice sense of fluidity and streamline to the game as a whole. The commendations and daily and weekly challenges provide extra incentive to get online and earn extra credits. The arena is an interesting take on separating giving players that desire status over statistics a realm in which to thrive and, finally, has the best and most in depth statistics tracking ever seen for a game and, really, has no competition other than COD:World at War's buggy and flawed attempt.

Overall, Reach is a FPS that incorporates all that we love in the genre, and then some. With co-operative Campaign mode, Firefight Mode, the plethora of Matchmaking game types and playlists, as well as the Forge World and the Theater mean that Reach is the first game (and I'm sure not the last) to have all of these features on a single disc. That and the Beta that was conducted seemed to have ironed out any bugs that the system has as I have never seen such a highly anticipated title perform so well in its first week in the public, another step that Bungie has taken with a Halo title that Treyarch or Infinity Ward have yet to take with a CoD title, which, for me anyways, means that we will have to endure as many bugs in Black Ops as we did in MW2 (Javelin glitch broke that game for about a week for me, what about you?)

In short, while I'm sure Reach will not be celebrated as the best FPS of the year (though it is certainly in the running). Reach will, most likely, not win GOTY (though, again, certainly in the running). But, Reach should be celebrated and respected as a benchmark for the amount of content and modes on one disc. Bungie has pretty much proven to be the most thorough developer on the planet and I really don't see anything coming close to Reach, not for awhile anyway. Hats off to Bungie who delivered a truly epic send off and I can't wait to keep playing Reach for, most likely, years to come.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/22/10

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