Halo: Reach Review
|Genre:||First Person Shooter|
|Release Date:||September 14th, 2010 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Andy Hemphill (Bandit)|
From the beginning, you know the end. And it ain't pretty. Ten years ago Halo bounced onto the original XBox. Within weeks, that game alone had sold millions of copies, saved Microsoft's white elephant from the scrapheap and launched a brand which has gone from strength to strength, spawning two sequels, a real-time-strategy title, add-on packs, animated films, books, posters and... soap. Halo is a powerhouse.
So we come to Halo: Reach. The last hurrah. Bungie's final goodbye to one of the most influential gaming series' of my generation. And my goodness does it kick ass.
As a package, Reach ticks all the boxes - stellar story, great gameplay, thrilling multiplayer and so on - but what really shines through, as soon as you pop the disk in your shiny white box, is the sheer effort put into the game.
Picking up shortly before the beginning of the first Halo game, Reach tells the story of Noble Team, a six-strong unit of Spartan supersoldiers, and their battle to protect the human colony of Reach from the invading Covenant armada - a battle which, thanks to the series' rich storyline, we already know ends badly.
The player assumes the role of Noble Six, a new recruit to the team, who is quickly thrust into an arching storyline which fits nicely into the Halo canon, and features just about every good bit from the other Halo games.
There's a stealthy mission with snipers and night vision, huge tank battles, close-range sword fighting and fighting retreats against the endless tides of the Covenant, among many other stand-out levels.
There's even a space mission - which plays a bit like Lylat Wars - and is a nice addition to the campaign, acting as a welcome change of pace from shooting hunters in the back with a shotgun.
The rest of Noble Team, which are often fighting alongside you, all have their own characters and abilities, and watching the disparate personalities of the Spartans play off against each others is a highlight of the campaign. As Carter, the leader of the specialist unit, says: "You can drop the 'lone wolf' crap, Noble fights as a team."
A good thing then that rather than being the traditional Halo NPCS (of mis-thrown grenades and constant death fame) Noble Team, and the other marines you run into on your long journey, are clever, fast and deadly accurate.
Good thing too, as the Covenant are deadlier than ever. The Elites (at this point in the Halo storyline still the bad guys) are agile, command their squads intelligently and have bought a whole load of new tech, weapons and vehicles along for the ride.
The new weapons on offer range from the deadly needle rifle (think a needler with a scope), to new shotguns, assault rifles, an improved rocket launcher, a weapon which fires four plasma grenades at once and my personal favourite, the 'focus rifle' - a sort of sniper beam weapon which cuts through shields like a hot plasma sword through Spartan armour.
Also included this time are 'armour abilities'. These pick-ups give your Spartan extra skills, be it the ability to sprint, dodge incoming fire, fly into the sky with a jetpack, turn invisible or put up a bubble shield - there's even one which makes you invulnerable (and immobile) for a second or two. These abilities are a pleasant evolution of the pick-ups from Halo 3, and can really mix the action up, both in campaign and multiplayer.
New vehicles making their debut include the Falcon - a combination helicopter and transport gunship, a small, two-seater Covenant skimmer with a miniature Wraith plasma mortar attached and a new variant on the Halo standard Warthog - this time rocket pod-flavoured.
All of these vehicles fit brilliantly into the long campaign's big levels, which are less corridor-shooter and more open-world than previous titles. There are usually two or three routes to an objective, but whether you fly in, shoot your way through the massed ranks of grunts or try to sneak around the back is up to you. The only downside to this open world effect means it's quite easy to get lost. The game doesn't use waypoints very much, meaning I quite often had to look at the objectives and match the 'go to the east' instruction with the compass in my visor.
Outside of the campaign (which can again be played with three friends along for the ride) the game is fully loaded with all the Halo classics you know and love.
First up, there's the multiplayer. Once again Bungie have served up a masterpiece of competitive battles, ranging from team slayer to rocket race (Mongeese and unlimited rockets = good times).
The maps are varied, including a new version of Blood Gulch, and are perfectly rounded when pitted with the vehicles and armour abilities on offer. Several new modes also make their first appearances in the menus. These include Invasion - a six vs six battle which plays a bit like Battlefield, and high-roller matches for the wannabe MLG professionals among us.
Firefight, the Gears of War Horde-alike mode, also makes a return - and it finally has matchmaking. The gameplay is as intense and enjoyable as ever, and thanks to Bungie's ridiculous amount of game customisation options, if you want an entire wave of grunts armed with fuel-rod guns who explode in a ball of confetti when you kill them, that's perfectly logical.
Also, if you fancy throwing a spanner in the works, some of the spots on the enemy waves of dropships can be taken by human players, making the whole experience a heck of a lot more intense.
Forge, Bungie's incredible sandbox of death, also makes a welcome return - but this time, it's on steroids. Not content with giving you every multiplayer map to tinker with, Bungie have created a massive arena (with its own ecology, including animals and birds) in ForgeWorld.
Within this gargantuan space you can build just about anything your imagination can come up with, and the game lets you save all your screenshots, game modes and maps to share with your friends. The really good homemade maps are even slated to enter their own matchmaking mode, so keep your visors peeled for that.
As for the matchmaking system itself, it's as tidy as ever, and the developers have made it a lot easier to move from multiplayer to campaign to firefight without losing your party - it's now as easy as pie to zip about, trying the numerous modes. The only mode which can't handle a party is the theatre mode, which is a shame, as it would have been cool to re-watch that sweet grenade stick with a few mates in the back rows.
Graphically the game is a cut above Halo 3, and has been built from the ground up to portray Reach in all its glory. The colour and depth the developers drew the world with is simply stunning, and the textures are lush with no discernable pop-in, even when the action gets intense, as it frequently does.
The animation is sharp and does a brilliant job of showing off both Spartans, humans and Covenant at their best. The score is another series highpoint from composer Martin O'Donnell, who manages to go from quiet drumbeat to a symphonic climax and still create a sound which is quintessentially Halo, but has a haunting melody of its own. (He also does a great line in drum-heavy battle themes.)
The voice acting is also excellent, with Noble Team each having their own personality and inflection on their characters.
There's not much else to say about Reach. I can't recommend it enough. If you've never liked the Halo games, stay clear, but if you're a fan, or indeed have never played a Halo game before, get your wallet out. That's an order, Spartan.
- Great plot
- Brilliant gameplay, both online and off
- Great score and graphics
- ForgeWorld is just ridiculous
Not so good stuff
- No parties in theatre mode
- The AI, while improved, still struggles with driving
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