“Remember Reach”, says the tagline for the promotional campaign for Halo: Reach. The imperative statement was pretty hard to follow before the launch of the game considering the rather limited knowledge of what happened on Reach that the gaming community had. Sure, we knew it was a significant step in the Covenant's assault on human space and that the destruction of the planet led to the actions of Master Chief and to the events depicted in the other four (five if you count the red haired step child that is Halo Wars) titles that have spanned two generations of consoles and burnished the reputation of Bungie as a shooter developer.
But we don't know how things happened and that makes it difficult to create a connection. And that's what is so powerful about Reach, the fact that it's the chance to experience events that have so much weight in the universe but have always felt locked into the characters around the player, too raw to remembers, too painful to be the subject of ballads and poems.
Halo: Reach manages to achieve its objective and delivers a story of Reach, the planet and the battle, that can be told and retold, puts content in our empty gaming memories and managed to a fitting send off in gaming terms for the original developer of the series, who is mowing to greener pastures at Activision Blizzard and to a new universe which does not feature any Spartan or any Elites.Story
It's hard to talk about Halo: Reach and its story without revealing too much for those who might want to see for themselves how Bungie brings it all back and links this game to the first one in the series. Bungie has clearly learned a lot from how it told the narrative in Halo 3 and in last year's ODST and has created the most comprehensible story in the series.
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|Speed trap ||Through the fire |
The company has benefited from having to juggle just two main factions, the Covenant and the United Nations Space Command, and from basically having a clear end point for the game already established. The characters are a bit uni dimensional, mostly defined by the role thy play on the battlefield but there are some interesting personal touches here and there, no doubt to be fleshed out more in inevitable background detailing novels or comics. Other moments feel very much forced, like when ammunition is given to one member pre missions just to make a point about Elites and sniper rifles.
One special moment is the very last missions of the game, which actually shows how the main character actually dies under the Covenant onslaught. It's a surprise that it's there, as the mission before it cleanly ended the actual narrative, but it manages to impress upon the player the importance of Fall reaching.Gameplay
This is a game which is not squeamish about taking the best elements of the series and turning the intensity up. It's all instantly familiar and accessible, an experience that builds on what was good on previous titles in the franchise but also introduces a few twists designed to keep even long time fans in their toes.
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|Big enemy ||No shield power |
The player is Noble 6 and most of the stages will have team mates fighting alongside the main character. They tend not to die, unless the story requires it, but they won't win a fight on their own either. The game is built around firefights which mix tight corridor spaces with more open arenas, with jetpacks coming into play as some junctions.
The amount of new weapons Halo: Reach offers is something to be appreciated, as it offers more options for fun during the battles, although the way it is explained while some of them do not pop up in the other titles, which are set further into the future of the universe, is a bit forced (Reach is the testing ground for the Spartan project and its glassing leads to all the tech being lost).
The missions are varied, a sort of greatest hits collection of what gamers liked in the series. A space based battle deserves a special mention and most of the other familiar vehicles can also be driven (don't let the A.I. do it), all the old enemies (which are actually new, taking the time line into account) will be fought and familiar looking places are ready for exploration.
The difficulty seems to spike apparently in random manner at some points, with some situations where the character death could only be prevented, the first time through the game, by someone with the gift of prescience. The final mission is especially guilty of this, coming pretty close to actually using a lot of drama for nothing as the game throws in just one more thing a player needs to do before it concludes.
Be careful when engaging enemies who are packing energy swords, usually Zealots. The main character is no longer Master Chief so one hit means death so engage them from long range and be careful to move around and use the environment to always keep them at a good distance.
All vehicles still feel like they are some kind of hovercraft, even those who clearly have wheels, which can make some bits of Reach frustrating. It's also annoying to only carry around two of each grenade type when Master Chief could rock four of them.
Graphics and audio
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|Epic ||Team based |
The art direction in Halo: Reach is incredible, making it the best of the Halo games in terms of visuals, even when controlling for the different platforms on which the first one arrived. The skies are especially great, detailed, introducing a sense of nostalgia and loss early on into the game. When looking at cities or big numbers of units there's a sense of scale that is not present in other titles. The cutscenes are also well built, although the difference between the amount of detail they offer and the look of the same locations in live play is sometimes significant.
And the graphics in Halo: Reach are not only beautiful for aesthetic purposes, they are here to show the player what loss really means, how the beautiful planet of Reach will become, by the games end, a clear symbol of how humanity stands on the brink of being destroyed and how there's precious little hope to hang on to.
At times, when a lot of things happen on the screen simultaneously, it's pretty clear that the engine is a bit old, but the team working on the game has made sure that everything is as polished as possible. The squeaky clean future look might not be everyone's cup of tea but there's no denying the effort put into Reach and the majesty of the results.
Sure there are nitpicks if you slow down and run up to a piece of scenery and scrutinize it for low res textures of geometrical weirdness. But Halo is a fast paced game where a lot of action happens at the same time, where threats are popping up left and right and when played as it was meant by the developer the game is good looking and engaging.
The music is also appropriate for the occasion, soaring when the UNSC and Spartans are apparently making progress against their enemies, and dropping to more somber and dark tones as the future of Reach becomes more clear during the narrative.
The voice acting is also competent, even if there's nothing extraordinary in the script to make them shine. Noble 6, the player character, seems to have the worst lines in the whole game but otherwise the game offers solid sounds to complement its excellent action.Multiplayer
Bungie clearly cares about the story it tells in Halo: Reach but there are a lot of players who will be much more interested in the multiplayer component, which comes with both cooperative and multiplayer modes.
There are a lot of options for matches, allowing for players to customize the experience to their own taste, and quite a few maps to choose from, making sure that players will be kept interested for quite some time before Bungie has to deliver more game areas and, presumably, even more modes. Initially the big attraction will no doubt be the Firefight mode, with waves of enemies coming at the player and his buddies.
One issue that a lot of the player base is complaining about is the prevalence of grenades in most of the competitive multiplayer modes. This, coupled with melee attacks and kills, means that there are lot of instances where the shooting part of Halo: Reach does not come into play, frustrating some of the player base.
Another issue is the possibility of kicking off a game players who continuously attack their teammates. The system is being abused, especially in Firefight, so make sure that you go into a game with people you know and who can handle a few stray shots. Bungie has promised to chance the sensibility of the system in the first patch.
Some players have reported a lot of lag in the Firefight mode, which pits a squad of gamers working together against waves of Covenant that become progressively more powerful. It might just be that there are too many players on at the moment but ODST was also swamped at launch with a few weeks needed for the situation to become better.
As always the multiplayer element of Halo: Reach is better enjoyed with friends and family, the kind of gamers that will not throw insults your way when a game goes bad for them or when one of the persons in the group under performs.Conclusion
Halo: Reach is a milestone for gaming, marking the departure of Bungie from the franchise and the most complete video game of its series. Fans of the series and fans of first person shooters alike need to pick it up.