Hi. I've been away for a while. Usually, when I don't publish blogs for a time, I'm busy saving the world and bedding attractive women, in space. Recent months have been no exception. Moving on, I'm happy to present a rough draft of my review of Halo: Reach...
Halo: Reach is the fifth shooter and sixth game in Bungie's and Microsoft Games Studios' juggernaut game franchise. This new addition takes cautious steps in introducing new game concepts, as has been the case with every Halo sequel. In spite of this, Halo fans, and shooter aficionados in general, will find a lot to like in Reach.
Halo: Reach is akin to many other popular game series', in that the commercial demand outlasted the story the designers were originally telling. Well, what do you do when your writers are finished, but your shareholders aren't? You make a prequel, of course! That's right; Reach tells a story that takes place shortly before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, before now only witnessed in paperback novels and YouTube machinima.
Halo: Reach follows Noble Team, a group of the Master Chief-like cyborg supersoldiers, the Spartans. The player assumes the role of Noble Six, new to the team, and having not earned a name yet, in keeping with the tradition Halo: ODST started. Noble Team begins their operations on Reach, a planet which Halo fans will immediately identify as the site of a battle preceding the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, and a planet which non-Halo fans will immediately indentify as a verb. Noble Six and friends get into all manner of shenanigans with the Covenant, a consortium of alien races who strongly dislike humans.
The production values in Reach are first-rate on the 360. There is a clear improvement here over ODST, which really didn't do anything more graphically than Halo 3. Halo: Reach is on or about the best looking shooter we're going to see with this generation of console hardware. Character models, terrain, and effects are all first-rate. The vistas, skybox, and draw distance truly give a sense of fighting in a real place, and not a shooter level. The first Halo began a trend in shooters away from outdoor environment geometry being identical to indoor environments except with no roof texture. Reach continues this fine tradition.
As with every Halo game, the soundtrack is excellent. Combat Evolved stunned gamers with a sweeping, motion picture-quality orchestral score. (This doesn't seem like such a big deal today, but keep in mind that in 2001, high quality music in a shooter was Trent Reznor writing some guitar riffs for Quake.) Every subsequent game has only improved this, with music setting the mood just right. Lots of games do this in cutscenes, but the Halo series, and Reach in particular manage the same dynamic during actual gameplay. When defending your position from increasing waves of enemies in a desperate situation, the music builds to a crescendo perfectly. In terms of artistic presentation, the audio is actually probably the best item in this game.
In terms of gameplay, Reach will be instantly familiar to players of previous installments. Some old weapons are gone, and some new weapons appear, but they all do essentially the same jobs. There is no dual-wielding in Reach. This is good. It fits with the lore: Dual wielding was not invented until Halo 2, discovered independently by both Master Chief and the Arbiter. The number of grenade varieties has been pared down for Reach, which seems like a good move. When your scifi action shooter has more grenade types than Rainbow Six, you should probably lose a few. Special abilities such as the bubble shield are now persistent and recharge (now called Armor Abilities), assassinations have fancy animations, and armor is customizable in campaign. And also there's a space battle level. There are some changes from Halo 3 here, but nothing major.
A first for a Halo shooter, most of the game takes place with the player and his squad together as a unit. It seems like there was a possibility here for some squad tactical options. Having this mechanic through the entire game wouldn't have had a very "Halo" feel to it, but it could have been implemented in a few select areas. Previous Halo games have had no problem with rail shooter sections to add some variety to levels, so why not squad tactics?
Following trends in the shooter world over the last few years (Horde mode, Nazi zombies), multiplayer is now divided into two broad categories: Cooperative and competitive. Reach's cooperative mode is called Firefight. It's actually finished after the $60 beta called Halo: ODST. This time, Firefight actually has matchmaking, as well as an array of customization options. There are Firefight-specific awards, for people who like to boast of such things to family and friends.
In the competitive side of multiplayer, Reach introduces a completely new game mode based on Firefight. In it, a team of Spartans fend off endless waves of Covenant baddies, the catch being that some of the Covenant Elites are human players. The Spartan team attempts to survive and score as many points as possible in the time allotted. Then the human players swap teams; both teams will play as Covenant and Spartans. It's reminiscent of Left 4 Dead in that sense.
The conventional multiplayer is mostly typical of the series. Since Call of Duty 4 especially, there's been a movement in shooters towards customizable characters c|asses. There's a half-hearted attempt at this in Halo: Reach, with a loadout screen appearing before each match. Players can choose an Armor Ability, such as moving faster or turning invisible, and they can also choose their starting weapons. One wonders if in future installments, this mechanic will be expanded. Per tradition, Bungie has also finicked with the leveling system in their latest game, but the changes are so irrelevant that I'm not going to describe them in detail here.
In conclusion, this is a solid shooter and a solid Halo game. This is not a glorified expansion/multiplayer beta like Halo: ODST, which was "glorified" only in its price tag. If you're a fan of the series or this genre on console, get this game.