Review by andyocon

"It All Comes Full Circle"

I grew up with Halo. It was the first “next-gen” game I owned when the original Xbox was considered next-gen. It was the game I looked forward to playing every day after school, so many years ago. My friends and I spent countless hours huddled around the warm glow of my TV playing split-screen, and then eventually online matchmaking. Screams of “screen looker!”, and “bulls%@t!” kept my poor mother up until the wee hours of the morning. As they say, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. But as I grew, so did the Franchise.

Halo 2 introduced the other side of the storyline as you filled the shoes of the Arbiter. It also established the groundbreaking matchmaking system that was revolutionary for its time, bringing a new level of seamless integration with Xbox Live for near instantaneous game finding with minimal lag issues. Halo 3 brought the original Halo trilogy to a close, and although a solid game, many people thought it paled in comparison to Halo 2. Released following Halo 3, but designed to fit in between the second and third games, Halo: ODST marked a transition from the fast running and gunning that marked the majority of the first three games. Instead, ODST offered a more tactical experience with enemies that packed more of a punch.

The swan song of the Halo universe takes the form of Halo: Reach, Bungie's final offering in the Halo-verse, and what a note go out on. Halo: Reach is a perfect synergy of all the previous halo games, and manages to wrap it all together into a functional, exciting, and uproariously fun package that serves as a fitting end (or beginning, at least story wise) to the Halo narrative. Most of the best facets of all four previous Halo games meld together to create a seamless and fast-paced action shooter for the 360, not seen since Halo 3, and rivaled only by the current Call of Duty games.

Reach tells the story of where the Halo saga all began, a human colony named Reach. When the Covenant appears out of nowhere and begins an invasion of massive proportions, it is all the humans can do to fight to stay alive long enough to evacuate the planet. You play as the quiet and faceless Noble 6, the newest edition to a group of elite Spartan III's known as Noble Team. As part of this group you'll face off against seemingly insurmountable odds while executing top secret, nigh impossible missions. The story is a grand-arcing affair, taking you from cities to barren wastelands, and from lush vegetated mountains to a cavernous underground archeological site. One mission even sees you take to close-orbit space as you fight to defend a docking station against incoming waves of Covenant fighters. Needless to say, this game fully fits the definition of epic.

Although you only play as the one Spartan throughout, Reach can best be described as an ensemble game. There are only a handful of moments throughout the campaign that you are without the company of at least one fellow super-soldier. This presents one of the games oddest dichotomies. The enemy AI is markedly improved from its predecessors, especially on Legendary. Even one single Elite needs to be respected, or you will quickly find yourself plastered against a nearby wall with the guttural laugh of the Elite echoing down the corridor. However, in either an effort to offset this, or as a story telling mechanism (to make sure they don't die), your Spartan companions are invulnerable. This can obviously be used to your benefit allowing them to soak up the hits as you pepper the enemies from a comfortable fifty yards away.

However, if you are playing on Legendary this could be your only lifeline in some areas, as some of the fights can be ridiculously hard at times. [i](Note, when I discuss the AI or toughness of the game throughout this review, I'm referring to facing them in any way that does not use the plasma pistol + battle rifle “noob combo.” Even though this is a legitimate way to play, I find that it trivializes the experience and tend to not use it.)[/i] As mentioned earlier, the AI for Elites has improved tremendously. They dodge and flank like never before, leaving the unprepared as an easy target. Vehicles can also can be punishing to the unwary. One new vehicle in particular stands out, as it's quick-firing cannon and lightning-fast driver reflexes will spell certain doom to you at least several times throughout the campaign.

However, to help you through the story, you'll find the newest element to the Halo games in the form of Armor Abilities. These have taken the place of the gadgets from Halo 3, and serve to be a main staple of the game play. They come in several flavors, including Active Camo, Armor Lock, and Jet Packs. These all see full use in online matches as well as in single player, and can at many times decide the difference between life and death. I lost count of how many times I made it around a corner under a hurricane of plasma fire with only a sliver of health left thanks only to Sprint.

Multiplayer, a staple of the Halo franchise, has returned of course. The matchmaking is as seamless as ever, allowing you to be in-game and fragging within mere moments of landing on your couch. One of the new features found in the service is your Psyche Profile, allowing you to tag certain fields with preferences regarding teammates. Things such as whether you prefer people who talk on their mic a lot, or perhaps you want to only play with people who are playing for fun, can be toggled on and off to help enhance your experience. This is a mighty boon to matchmaking, and in my experience actually works, as I have been called a parental fornicator far fewer times since picking up Reach than I was in even one sitting of Halo 3.

The maps themselves are the same maps you've come to expect in the Halo-verse. A combination of small, medium, and large sized maps are provided, with several being direct remakes of some of the best maps of Halo 2 (hellooo Ivory Tower!). The same game types as you are used to are there as well, such as Team Slayer, Rumble Pit, SWAT etc. One minor annoyance is that the playlist selection itself is rather sparse, so you'll find yourself playing a lot of Team Snipers and Team SWAT even if all you want to play is Slayer. Bungie has promised to update their playlists come October, and if Halo 3 Matchmaking is any indication, the playfield will quickly spread out.

The newest edition to the game types is a new Invasion scenario. This plays much like a combination of King of the Hill and Capture the Flag. The teams are split into Spartans and Elites and face off on an attrition based attack-and-defend battlefield. Invasion begins with two stages of king-of-the-hill followed by capture the core (flag). You are presented with two hills at the off set. The capping of one of the hills will unlock the next set of hills, which sequentially unlocks the flag. This is the only time you can play as an Elite in online multiplayer. The rest of the playlists force you to play as a Spartan, which is a shame because the Elite-specific armor ability Dodge is absolutely sick.

The renowned Forge is back as well, which returns in all its glory and then some. For those of you who are new to console FPS, the Forge is the developer sandbox that players had been clamoring for for years. Introduced in Halo 3, it allowed the construction of custom levels from scratch, doling out structures and building blocks in exchange for a set amount of currency which is based on the size of the map (to prevent overcrowding and lag). Just like in Halo 3, the Forge scene has already taken off, with custom maps aplenty being easily found all over the internet.

Finally is the Armory, which is worth a nod. Using credits you accrue through doing just about anything in the game, you can use the Armory to upgrade your armor. The choices and unlocks are all purely aesthetic and provide no bonus in competitive play besides bragging rights. It is still a nifty idea, and since your earned credits are directly related to your online rank, it's just the cherry on top for pwning that much harder than everyone else and reaching the rank of Facesmasher that much sooner.

Overall, the game is an amazing end to the Halo saga. Although it has its flaws in the friendly AI and option of trivializing most of the campaign, the game itself is as close as a game with this much expectation could hope to come to a masterpiece. Multiplayer is as strong as ever, offering the same tight game play you've come to expect from the Halo online experience. The campaign story is rife with epic battles and even a few surprise moments, but it still ends as you know it must; The fall of Reach and the beginning of one Spartan Mark IV's journey to an odd and mysterious ring world.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/20/10

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

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