Halo Reach – Game Review

Ten years ago, Bungie released Halo:Combat Evolved. Since the Aliens-inspired masterpiece played out on millions of original Xbox’s around the globe, gamers have followed Master Chief ‘John’ 117 from an alien ring worlds to the Forerunner ‘Ark’ via a devastated Earth as he battled to stop the advancing Covenant and parasitical Flood hordes.

Halo:Reach sees you play as Noble 6, the just arrived member of Noble Team, which consists of five new Spartans III’s and a single Spartan II. Like the Chief, you are a silent character in the game, with only a few words spoken during the cut scenes, and your face is never seen.

Game play is up to Bungie’s standard, with a few tweaks to include some of the new moves and equipment in Reach. One of these is the Assassination view. Attacking an enemy from the rear and holding down the melee button switches you to a 3rd person view as you beat down on your target. So far I have had a few rather cool looking Assassinations. Another of the bigger changes with the gameplay is the modifications to the weapons and the adding of a interchangeable ‘loadouts’. New equipment include the DMR rifle which, in the right hands, is a lethal weapon from both close quarters and distance. The DMR replaces the trusty Battle Rifle from Halo 2 & 3. New Covenant weaponry includes items like the needle rifle, which is simply a rifle version of the Needler weapon. Vehicle-wise, there’s the Falcon transport for us Humans, along with the Saber space fighter you get to operate for large space battle sequence. The controls for the Saber were quite simple to learn and even on Heroic setting, the space battle was simple and easy, maybe a bit too easy.

The Covenant have to make do with the Remnant, a small 2 seat craft that is a mix between a Ghost and a Wraith tank, as their only new vehicle, though there is a welcome return for Covenant Spirit Dropship from Halo:Combat Evolved.

The ’Loadouts’ give you a special ability for a short period of time, and include the new JetPack and the ability to create holograms to confuse the enemy. So far, I have used the jetpack often and it is fun to use as it opens up the maps vertically and I have enjoyed many a kill from above. The Hologram ability is useful in a close quarter fight as it can easily disorientate the enemy, giving the original player an opening to kill their opponants. Another ‘Loadout’ is the Armour Lock. This ability enables you to survive explosions and enemy fire for a few moments and it extremely useful when low on health or awaiting backup, though that is the limit of the Armour Lock’s usefulness. The other useful ‘Loadout’ is the sprint ability, which does what it says on the tin, giving the user a burst of speed that is useful when covering large distances in a short period of time.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about Halo is Marty O’Donnells scores, and once again he has worked wonders mixing in ODST and Halo 3 music in with new work to create the Reach soundtrack. The moments where Marty’s score and the impressive graphics sync up are jaw droopingly wonderful, specifically the sequence with the Saber fighter exiting Reach’s atmosphere.

From the simply amazing spaces capes to the cool touch of integrating CCTV style shots into the cut scenes, Bungie have taken a large step forward from the graphics of Halo 3 with Reach. In the run up to the release, Bungie had stated a few times that they had gutted the coding for Halo3 to make Reach a better game, one upgrade that is clear is the Covenant are better at finding cover than they were in previous games which is irritating.

Surprisingly, it is the story that lets the game down for me. In the book ‘Fall of Reach, which prequels the start of Halo:Combat Evolved, the Pillar of Autumn is station in orbit of Reach as the Spartan II strike forces assault various locations on and around Reach. In Halo:Reach, they rip up the book’s plot and create their own story of you racing to get a copy of Cortana to the original on a dry-docked PoA. (In the game there is no mention of the Cortana you’re carrying being a copy, it’s only when you read the journal that comes with the limited tin box and Legendary editions that the cloned factor is revealed)

In the run up to the games release, many fans theorised that some of Noble Team were lost during the game, and they were right. Of the team mates you lose, only one went out in a manner befitting a Spartan, while another one’s demise is undertaken in a manner that removes any empathy I had for the character and makes them seem like a waste.

And then there was you, Noble 6. In the few words you spoke during the cut scenes, I felt like there was a great character inside the suit. You had a heavily classified past, something that was only mentioned a few times, leaving me wondering just what the point of that was, and you are one of two people Cortana hand picked to perform a task (in your case, getting her copy to the Pillar of Autumn).

Bungie have always excelled with the multiplayer aspect of the game, IMHO it has the easiest procedure to navigate on the market right now, but the online multiplayer for Reach does hold some glaring flaws. When Halo3 was released, the game came with a large number of multiplayer maps, but Reach only has a small number of them, and after a while of online play I found myself visiting maps for the tenth time or more. Hopefully when the first DLC is released we will get more of a variety.

One multiplayer map that sticks out over the others is the Forge-World map. With the release of Halo 3, Bungie introduced the Forge system whereby a player could take a pre-existing map and create their own layouts on them. Forge-World takes that idea and runs with it by giving you more space and equipment than ever before in a setting that made my jaw drop.

Despite the negative points of the story, the game is a worthy end to the Bungie-made Halo games and despite the plot and character flaws, I’d give this a 9.5/10.

GS Reviewer: Rob Dean

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