Halo: Reach Xbox 360 Review
Publisher – Microsoft – Developer – Bungie – Genre – FPS – Players – 1-16 – Age Rating – 16+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A
The Halo universe has always been rich with potential, though has never actually been shown in its best light within the games. The books actually work more effectively at drawing the universe, one of which is Halo: The Fall of Reach, a story which is set within the same period as Bungie’s final Halo offering, Halo: Reach.
Novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach covers the birth of the Spartan II’s and their subsequent failure at defending the planet Reach from Covenant attack. It does its part in adding additional depth to the Halo universe, but whilst Halo: Reach is set at the same time, its story on the other hand focuses on Noble Team, a small team of Spartan III warriors, and is far less of an interesting plot.
As for the characters, the lead character Noble 6 might as well be Master Chief, as you never get to see his face and he never has much to say for himself. But the other five Noble team members all have personalities and you even get to see most of their faces, of which gives them a human element that – at least in the games – is missing with Master Chief. Sadly, as with just about any other Halo character, they’re just not very interesting and lack the depth that helps to form some of the greatest characters.
As always, it’s the combat where the greatest strength lies and here it’s represented better than it ever has been before. All the facets that have made Halo such a beloved series are present: the “30 seconds of fun” ethos, which has moments of intense gunplay, broken up by scrambles for cover to recover. There’s also the excellent enemy AI that give you the sense that they’re really in a fight to the death, the influential recharging shield, the iconic weapons, the wonderful vehicle sections, the great shooting mechanics and the rousing musical score. It’s all here, but presented on a bigger scale, befitting of Bungie’s final Halo.
There are sections where Covenant banshee vehicles fill the skies, others where there are towering guns, ruined buildings and battles playing out long in the distance. There’s nearly always something to see that contributes in offering a greater illusion of war and it all looks fantastic courtesy of a completely rebuilt engine that may not look as immediately impressive as other games, but has a lot of things going on in the background, as well as a sense of scale that is missing in some of the more beautiful games.
The level design is not as repetitive as past games either and is perfectly constructed to showcase that impressive enemy AI, whilst thankfully there’s no labyrinth like levels like the infamous library level in the original game. The only slight downer is that the planet Reach could have done with a bit more personality and individuality, whilst the final stages of the game are a bit underwhelming.
As for the all important guns, all the favourites are here such as the Needler, the Plasma Pistol and the Shotgun, but are joined by a few new ones. The new human weapons are a grenade launcher and a DMR (essentially a sniper rifle which allows for a quicker rate of fire) whilst on the Covenant side, there’s the beam firing Focus Rifle, the concussion rifle (functions a bit like a smaller fuel rod gun) and the Needler Rifle to name a few.
The Campaign is like a celebration of the series as a whole, bringing together set pieces such as a night time sniper level, a ship escape and such, but executed to a higher level. There’s not a single dull or badly designed moment in the campaign and I can quite easily say that in terms of playability, Halo: Reach features the best campaign that Bungie has ever come up with.
There’s nothing much new in the campaign, but there’s new abilities, which replace the single use abilities from Halo 3, allowing you to use them as much as you want (save for a brief cooldown period) until either the level is over or you opt to replace them with something else. Some of these include an armour lock ability, which allows you to temporarily become invulnerable to enemy attack, though sacrifices your mobility, and a hologram that you can fool your enemies with, giving you the opportunity for sneaky flanking manoeuvres and such.
The campaign once again has support for co-op play, just as it always has, and it’s playable both locally and online and in ways it makes an already fantastic campaign even better. There’s the chance for some effective team tactics that just wouldn’t be possible with the AI, whilst playing the game on the legendary difficulty level with capable people can be more enjoyable than braving it solo, whilst the awful driving of the AI becomes a thing of the past.
The skulls are no longer hidden within the game, but are simply menu options that once again are modifications, of which either result in the game being more challenging, for example enemies can have double the amount of health, or your shield only recharges through melee attacks. Others are just odd, for instance there’s an option, where if you shoot Grunt’s in the head confetti explodes out of it and causes minor damage to surrounding enemies.
The other multiplayer options are as strong as ever, featuring excellent map design that has plenty of scope for tactics, combined with Bungie’s winning FPS mechanics. It’s merely a refinement of what has come before, though the armour abilities do offer some exciting new tactical possibilities and memorable situations. The hologram for instance can be amusing and it’s delightful seeing an opponent shooting at it, whilst you sneak up behind and make them pay for their mistake. The Jetpack also brings a new way to navigate the maps and outmanoeuvre your enemies.
Credits are earned through killing your opponents and completing Call of Duty like challenges. These can be spent on new sections of armour, of which have no effect on the amount of damage you’re able to sustain, nor do they grant any other enhancements – they merely exist for cosmetic reasons but do offer a reasonable amount of combinations and there’s scope enough to create an avatar that feels as if it’s your own. It’s a nice bonus, though it’s a bit disappointing that there isn’t anything a bit more interesting to spend your credits on.
In terms of modes, Halo: Reach has all the modes that fans have sunk hours into in previous games, but with refinements. So the likes of Slayer, Oddball and Crazy King are here. The creation tool Forge and the theatre mode also make their way intact to the game. The new modes largely are good additions. A highlight is Invasion, a six on six mode where players are split into teams, one of which must shutdown a shield, whilst the other must stop them. Another proficient mode is Headhunter, here dead players drop skulls and the objective is to pick these up and deliver them to certain areas to gain points.
The most improved of the returning online modes is undoubtedly Firefight, which was first introduced in the excellent Halo: ODST. This time around there is full matchmaking support for the mode as well as refinements and a richer array of options to choose from. There are variations such as being able to defend generators on top of fighting off the Covenant attack and you can even have some players taking charge of Elites to try and prevent the Spartan players from achieving their objective.
With Halo: Reach, Bungie has crafted a game that is seemingly more of a celebration of the series than a game that adds to the existing mechanics. But when all those mechanics come together so well and still manages to offer one of the best FPS experiences around, it hardly matters.
It will be interesting to see the direction that 343 Industries takes the series in, but it’s Bungie that came up with it in the first place and Bungie that brought so many people such joy over the last decade as well as granting so many fellow developers so much inspiration. The new developer certainly has a tough act to follow.