- Street Date:
- September 14th, 2010
- Reviewed by:
- Nick Hartel
- Review Date:1
- September 27th, 2011
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox 360
- Microsoft Game Studios
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Ready your pitchforks and torches, for I am no “Halo fanboy.” Truth be told, when the original “Halo: Combat Evolved” hit the X-Box what feels like ages ago, I played it and barely managed to reach the end. It felt derivative and clunky and to someone who had put in many hours with “Perfect Dark” and “Half-Life.” When “Halo 2” came out, I gave it a shot and was again, unimpressed, although “Half-Life 2” coming out within weeks might have had something to do with that. My disinterest in Halo became hatred over what I felt was empty hype. Then “Halo 3” arrived and I began to view things in perspective. For console-only gamers, “Halo” and “Halo 2” were revelations, offering a quality of game play usually reserved for PC players. “Halo 3” entertained me, but I still couldn’t buy into the story of Master Chief, but eventually the series would win me out with a bit of stunt casting, employing most of the cast of “Firefly” to voice “Halo 3: ODST.” It was the first game in the series I bought new and through it I developed a greater love for “Halo 3’s” multiplayer. Now comes “Halo: Reach” the last Halo release under Bungie, the creator’s of the franchise and the first to really push the 360 to its limits. Does it live up to the hype?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Coming from someone who still isn’t a “fanboy,” yes, “Reach” delivers the goods and then some. Gone are the one-man super heroics and Master Chief. Instead “Reach” takes you backwards in history, before the fall of the famed titular outpost of Reach, before Master Chief, but no less epic. You are Noble Six, the sixth (naturally) member of Noble Team, an elite squad of UNSC Spartan’s sent on a routine mission, resulting in non-routine consequences. Yes, ladies and gentleman, “Reach” has managed to capture the imposing presence of Master Chief, multiply it by six and mix it with the camaraderie that made “ODST” memorable (although some will disagree on that point). “Reach” takes no steps to neither reinvent the wheel nor bring a new achievement in genre storytelling. Your squad is made up of five broad stereotypes that still manage to be diverse enough for you to remember their names and care when things go down. You, Noble Six however, are a mute Mary Sue, existing solely out of necessity for a player character. Every game needs one and if “Reach” has one flaw, it’s that Noble Six is almost comically mysterious and devoid of personality.
The main campaign of “Reach” will take you across a planet, through multiple industrial complexes, known and otherwise, and even into the reaches of space. After four successful at-bats, Bungie hits it out of the park with “Reach” keeping things running smoothly, further cementing the series as a hallmark in FPS game play. “Reach” comes with a new game engine though and in addition to a slicker, presentation that uses the next-gen hardware more efficiently, some tweaks to game play have been thrown in. In single and multiplayer, players can take advantage of various character abilities including sprint, active camo, a jetpack, and armor lock, the latter being a powerful tool when used in conjunction with human allies in campaign or general deathmatch. These four simple but powerful additions offer subtle new ways to approach game play, most pronounced in multiplayer.
On the “A for effort” side of things, vehicle based sections, a series trademark are back, and when they’re ground based, they work. When things go into the air, the controls still feel sloppy and the entire experience is too gimmicky, breaking the immersive element of the game, often through sheer frustration. The game’s space based combat is 100% tacky, although the brief zero-g player based segment that follows is technically impressive and quite fun.
The elephant lingering in the room is multiplayer and that’s the reason Halo has endured. As a former Call of Duty devotee, coming back to the Halo world fulltime resulted in getting my butt handed to me on a steady basis. Bungie’s stripped down approach to multiplayer game play truly places an emphasis on skill over luck and devotion to unlocking weapons. “Reach” is all about giving players equal set-ups and forcing them to get better to succeed, making relying on a cool gun and exploiting a combo of perks a moot point in “Reach” because they don’t exist in the first place. Everyone has access to the same abilities and while some exploit things like jetpack in maps to reach points on the map that the average player wouldn’t think to, “Reach” is thankfully devoid of cheap action based exploits that sap the game of its fun. What ever your multiplayer tastes may be, “Reach” has them covered from free-for-all to team based matches, to whimsical diversions like Warthog racing and Grifball.
Just as solid is the great design of the initial maps. Each game environment has a unique flavor and different strategies to employ. Personal preference will inevitably result in some maps held in higher regard than others, but in reality, there’s not really a true stinker in the lot. If standard multiplayer isn’t always your bag, “Reach” offers online co-op campaign as well as the return of Firefight, an up to four player team mode where you fight of various waves of Covenant NPCs. Add to all that, full customization options down to weapon drops via player matches, daily and weekly challenges (giving players in-game credits to visually customize their appearance), ever evolving multiplayer play lists and Forge and the ready for wild custom maps and new game types, and short of hating FPS in general, it’s tough to not find something to like about “Reach’s” multiplayer.
“Halo: Reach” probably won’t go down in history as the best story in the series, despite the change in pace story wise. The roughly 10 hour campaign slowly builds up steam for a final act that stops short of Michael Bay levels of excess, employing a few cheap story ploys to have you hooked until the credits roll. “Reach” is very accessible to new players and that is a huge plus, as the first three games in the series assumed players had been through the previous entry. Those coming in cold will likely find the game more gripping than seasoned veterans, who are enticed with a few carrots in the form of “future” references and action set pieces. As a package though, “Reach’s” multiplayer is a masterpiece and almost worth full price on it’s own, so viewing the story as a bonus, an A-level bonus, makes the must own status of Bungie’s final Halo entry the least shocking recommendation in franchise history.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
It’s not perfect, but it comes oh so, close. The new engine “Reach” was built on gets to show off the capabilities of the 360 with much more pronounced results in the visual department. The little things that players tune out over time, like the hands of your character are constant visual cues to keep you immersed in the game world. Textures are crisp and smooth, giving various materials and items a distinct visual “feel” to them, a point highlighted by the contrast between Spartan armor and Covenant weaponry.
The environments aren’t mind boggling, but instead more grounded in reality, if you can call an alien world reality. A definite distinction is made between organic and inorganic, with invasive technology from both sides of the board looking like tumors on a lush, vibrant, and best of all, colorful planet. As the game progresses to more extreme environments, the visuals are no less engrossing, giving a sense of isolation and removal from the natural world, replacing epic ground battles with ominous, sterile monuments to technology punctuated by swift moments of brutality.
Character models are equally impressive, coming off more natural than ever before, with Covenant acrobatic maneuvers no longer feeling detached from the rest of the game. Things take a bit of a hit in multiplayer, where models feel just a tiny bit scaled back and a bit stiffer. Other than that, “Reach” runs smoothly, with no major instances of pop in or rendering issues. A few levels might be classified as repetitive and slowdown is still a problem in the middle of chaotic firefights, but when the engine is pushing the system like “Reach” does at times, it’s understandable.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The bad news first, compared to ODST, the adequate voice acting in “Reach” is the sole black mark on the game. Not all actors are bad, it’s just most aren’t really great. They serve their purpose and keep the game rolling, but some of the clunky dialogue they’re handed feels stiff and unrehearsed.
Everything else…gold. Depending on how you play the game, “Reach” will keep you on your toes with an in-your face aural experience. It’s a very front and center heavy game, with ambience surrounding you and the occasionally ambush or messy quarrel providing chaos for the ears. The effects have all been finely tuned with familiar sounds returning with new life and force, highlighting the destructive nature of “Reach’s” arsenal. The little low-end thuds in plasma-based weapons are a real treat, as are the dirty exhaust sounds from the newly added jetpack.
To avoid getting hate mail, I must mention that “Halo: Reach” has a soundtrack. Another no-brainer, is “Reach’s” score is cinema quality, mixing classical heroic elements with the modern, physical rock sounds. By now the Halo series should have an identifiable sound to it, no different than a Star Wars movie, and “Reach” is no exception to the rule. When the score is let loose, it puts your system to work.
This may be the biggest no-brainer in recent memory. “Halo: Reach” offers multiple opportunities for replay, from the standard personal challenge of beating the campaign on harder difficulties to replaying the campaign in co-op with a friend, “Reach’s” story is well-paced enough and engaging to warrant another run. Yet, even if this were a one-and-done quest, the multiplayer aspect of “Reach” is worthy of laying down your cash for. All the standard modes FPS gamers expect are here, Firefight is finally online compatible (!), and Forge offers the earnest artist a chance to bring their own designs for private matches. The little gimmicks Bungie has thrown from daily/weekly challenges to novelty modes like racing, Grifball, and zombies help add levity to a game that like a few other notable titles, is blessed or cursed (it’s your call on this one) with a obsessively loyal fan base. Take it from a once vile, hater of the series, “Halo: Reach” earns every bit of its praise.
Those tired of Master Chief’s super heroics will drawn in by the “men (and women) on a mission” saga of Team Noble’s battle for a doomed planet. Those wanting more Master Chief will find sparks of greatness, but ultimately let down. Either way, “Halo: Reach” doesn’t disappoint and delivers a true successor to the already stellar “Halo 3.” As a swan song for Bungie’s involvement on their company making series, “Reach” is a fitting end (for now) to quite possibly the best, console based FPS in the past decade.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- Online Co-op
- Online Versus
- Offline Co-op
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