Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 01/24/11

Is six a crowd?

When the original Xbox was first announced, it was generally fodder for journalists to make jokes about. The controller was ridiculously large with odd button placement, and Microsoft was out of its element. Microsoft was a computer company, not a video game company, and the video game market was already crowded with the Big Three – Sony, Sega, and Nintendo. Of course, Sega failed, Sony skyrocketed to new heights, and Nintendo ended up in an adequate third place, but there was one major game that if it wasn’t created, Microsoft wouldn’t have been as successful last generation as they were. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out I’m talking about Halo.

Halo: Combat Evolved was an ambitious launch title from a relatively young studio called Bungie. The game was a major success, changed FPS games on consoles forever, and started a franchise that has spawned everything from anime movies to comic books. It was followed by an even more successful sequel, some spin-offs, the blockbuster Halo 3, and Bungie’s “last” Halo project, Halo: Reach. Does Reach live up to the hype?

Yes and no. I have criticized the campaign in Halo games a lot. Halo 3’s campaign just didn’t do it for me. It was boring, poorly paced, with two-dimensional characters and weak storytelling to top it all off. Reach isn’t much different. The campaign is incredibly boring, and each level felt like a chore. It’s hard to get a grasp on what the hell is happening most of the time, as the game basically amounts to killing whatever you see with the storyline going on around you simultaneously. The characters aren’t developed well enough to care about, and whenever a major event happens in the game, it basically means nothing. Gamers with knowledge about what happens to Reach from reading the Halo novels already knows where the game is going, and while the plot may hold a few surprises, it’s a basic story without all that much to offer.

With all that negativity being said, there are some wicked cool cut-scenes. Reach does a good job by showing epic battles, sweet combat sequences, and there is a steady flow of action in each cut-scene. Unfortunately, the cut-scenes that should have been used to highlight character development and make the six different primary characters meaningful are rather boring. There is a lot of talking, an excessive amount of talking, that really has no purpose. There are times when the characters do nothing but argue with one another, stretching out a particular scene of dialogue that didn’t need to be that long at all.

Instead of hopping into the boots of Master Chief, gamers play the role of Noble Six, a rookie Spartan with very little character as well. Six is accompanied by the other five members of the group, who should all have a distinct personality, but they all feel flat and unexplored. They are known only by their numbers, and it’s hard to identify with the characters when they aren’t even given a name, or even enough screen time to associate their number as their name.

The campaign just isn’t appealing. It suffers from the same issues that the other games have, and this should come as no surprise. Bungie’s strong suit just isn’t single-player experiences. It’s a shame, but that’s just the way it is. The campaign does feature split-screen on one console as well as four player co-op online. A feature I really did enjoy about the campaign was the matchmaking. Players can be thrust into different campaign levels with strangers over Xbox Live, so those without friends with the game can still play in four player co-op.

Before I get into the other different matchmaking modes and talk about the excellent multiplayer, I need to complain a bit more about the campaign, and discuss new features in the game. Firstly, virtually every single multiplayer map is lifted directly from the campaign. These maps weren’t inspired by levels from the campaign like many other first-person shooters do, they were lifted, piece-by-piece from the campaign. These maps work rather well in multiplayer, but the fact that they exist exactly as they do in the campaign cheapens the overall experience. It shows lazy on Bungie’s part as well.

One of the new features that I mentioned before really isn’t new, but it sets it apart from its Halo 3 brethren. Reach uses a health system to accompany the shields that have become a part of Halo. Instead of just having either regenerating health or set, healable health, Reach uses both mechanics. Shields will regenerate and protect players from a certain amount of enemy fire and attacks, but players only have so much health available to them. Health can be refilled by finding health packs attached to walls and such. It works, and it keeps the game from being like Call of Duty, which is, in my opinion, a game where deaths and kills can come far too quickly and easily. In Halo, just because someone starts shooting you from behind, it won’t mean that you’ll be defeated.

Reach also introduces the concept of armor abilities. In the campaign, players are forced to find these abilities in order to use them, but they are implemented much better in the multiplayer. There are different classes to choose from, each with their own armor abilities. Players can run quickly across the levels, create a hologram to confuse and distract foes, become invisible, throw down a drop shield, soar to the skies with a jetpack, and perform other neat feats with the other abilities. These abilities clash well together, and add a new layer of strategy to the gameplay. A few of these abilities were present in Halo 3 as equipment, but I think they work better as rechargeable and reusable abilities.

The Halo series has always been a science-fiction franchise, but until now the battles in Halo haven’t been taken to the stars. Players have always played the role of a grounded soldier, fighting on battlefields and occasionally piloting modified jeeps or aircraft. In Reach, players finally have the opportunity to battle in space in the Halo universe. Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn out to be all that fun. The space segments last too long and boil down to shoot the bad guys, and that’s it. Being in space is cool and breathtaking at first, but the appeal quickly wears thin. I was hoping for a lot more when the ability to pilot spacecraft in space was revealed, but I was severely let down when I was finally behind the controls.

Speaking of controls, Reach takes a few liberties with the Halo controls. The B button switches between grenade types and X controls a lot of tasks that were usually assigned to RB, like getting in and out of vehicles. It’s not a huge departure from the control schemes of the past, but X was an awkward choice. Don’t get me wrong, a few hours of playing will make anyone comfortable with the controls, but I don’t understand why they were changed in the first place. It seems like a rudimentary and pointless design decision.

With all of that out of the way, I finally get to talk about the multiplayer. The Halo formula we’ve come to know and love is front and center, with adequate matchmaking and plenty of options. Players can customize their matches like never before, and there are more game modes than ever. The game types are fun, frantic, and deliver the satisfying Halo multiplayer madness that stands tall, above even the Call of Duty juggernaut. The multiplayer is complimented by the ability to customize your armor and spend earned points for new armor customization options. Players rank up and earn experience points as well, unlocking new features to purchase from the armory. Every day Bungie issues new daily challenges, which function like daily achievements almost, tasking players with killing X number of enemies in any given game mode, as well as one weekly challenge to focus on during the week. Dailys and the like are commonplace in genres like MMOs, but they work equally as well in first-person shooters. From the ability to take four-player split-screen online to the frantic multiplayer gameplay to the vast amount of modes, Halo: Reach features the best multiplayer experience of any Halo game yet.

To make the deal even sweeter, the vastly popular Firefight mode from ODST returns with more ways to customize Firefight battles. Rocketfight, for example, is a version of Firefight where players are equipped with rocket launchers packing an infinite amount of rockets. Battling wave upon wave of enemy is exciting and wildly entertaining with explosive and epic battles all the time. I’ve created so many memories in Firefight that will last with me for a very long time. For example, I was walking around, minding my own business, when a drop pod landed mere inches away from me. The door on the drop pod swung open and sent me flying across the map. All of this happened in a manner of seconds.

It’s easier than ever before to capture all of these moments with Theater. It’s a bit annoying that there’s no way to directly upload your videos to YouTube like in Black Ops, but the Theater mode in Reach is arguably better. It’s easier to operate, that’s for certain. I can not stress enough that the Theater modes in these games need to be greatly expanded to really make an impact, and I’m surprised that things like voice functionality and the like haven’t been integrated into games yet.

Forge also returns with more features than before, but it’s the same old song and dance as far as I’m concerned. Ever since playing LittleBigPlanet, it’s really hard for me to care about the customizable levels in other games. We’ve seen what’s possible, and it’s hard to settle for less. I’m sure some people will find Forge exciting, but without a lot more features and expansion, it’s really just the same stuff everyone has seen since Halo 3 released a few years ago.

Reach is far prettier than its predecessors, that’s for damn sure. The environments are richly detailed, the character models are much more impressive, and the game is extraordinarily beautiful. The far-distant mountain ranges look stunning, and everything from the rocks on the ground to the blue, cloud-filled sky look gorgeous. Animation has been vastly improved as well, which is showcased nicely in the new stealth kills. Reach is certainly the best looking Halo game there is.

Packing an epic orchestral soundtrack shouldn’t come as a surprise. All of the Halo games have been marked by having musical soundtracks that rival those in the biggest films, and Reach is no exception. The score would make the epic music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies jealous. Voice acting is okay, but not really all that impressive. Classic sounds and voices from previous Halo games return, including the man that growls “double kill” in battles that’s just a part of the Halo universe as guns or warthogs.

It’s easy to dump hours upon hours into Reach’s multiplayer experience. There’s no doubt that the multiplayer in Reach is one of the best multiplayer offerings this generation. The achievements are kind of boring and routine, but the campaign is the real disappointment here. The campaign should have been awesome, but it turns out it’s just like the campaign from any other game in the franchise, which swiftly kills a lot of the replayability of the title. Still, Reach will keep gamers busy for a long time, especially multiplayer aficionados.

Halo: Reach is a great game. The soundtrack, the graphics, and the multiplayer all work together to provide a phenomenal experience. The storyline and the gameplay in the campaign hurt an otherwise explosive package of pure entertainment. The Halo series has a long way to go in my opinion, but the classic formula never gets old. Halo fans should pick this one up without a second thought.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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