As I sit here writing this review, I can’t help but be nervous. After all, the game that I am writing about is the last Halo that will ever be made (or so they say). With Microsoft and Bungie going separate ways, Halo: Reach is Bungie’s way of saying “Farewell and Thank You.” The reason I am nervous is due to the fact that Halo: Reach is easily the best installment in this epic franchise, and to be perfectly honest may be the single greatest First-Person Shooter I have ever played. The pressure to write a review that does this game the justice it deserves is insurmountable. What Bungie has created is a finale that is so near close to perfect, it may be impossible to express through words. At any rate, here I go. Bungie, this one for you.
For those rare few that haven’t been following this game, Halo: Reach is a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved (the first installment released in 2001). Rather than control Master Chief, you see the world of Reach through the eyes of a nameless Spartan on “Noble Team.” It’s up to you and your Spartan crew to defend the planet against the Covenant, and without giving too much of the story away, it’s a losing battle.
If you have played any of the previous games, you will know that Bungie is the King at creating intense settings coupled with epic stories. Halo: Reach is no exception. From the opening cut scene, there is this incredible sense of inevitable doom that sticks with you through the entire journey. From the war-torn environment to the demeanor of Noble Team, to the one-way missions given to you by your superiors, Halo: Reach does a phenomenal job of creating the perfect setting. Hearing the Commander utter the words, “May God help us all,” as the camera pans out of view sent shivers down my spine.
The interesting aspect of Halo: Reach is that I already knew the ending. Everyone who is at all familiar with the game should know the ending. That’s what makes this story so beautifully tragic. Bungie somehow created a story that we all know the ending to, and still made it engaging. Watching Reach and the loved ones around you fall to the hands of the Covenant left me emotionally drained. There were moments when I simply set the controller down, jaw dropped wide open, thinking to myself, ‘I can’t believe they just did that.’ I’m not the only one that felt this way either. I played through it a second time split/screen with a buddy of mine (a Halo hater may I add), that still can’t stop talking about how amazing Halo: Reach is. He’s actually playing through the rest of the franchise to get the full experience. I kid you not, the story told in Halo: Reach couldn’t have closed this franchise any better.
As for gameplay, the major differences are that dual-wielding weapons have thankfully vanished, there are more pick-ups (such as different armors and jet-packs), Space Combat, and there are a few new weapons. The reason that I am thankful dual-wield doesn’t make its appearance is due to two main reasons. The first is that the game makes you have to choose your weapons more wisely. No more carrying a Needler with an Assault Rifle. Make your choice, and hope it’s a good one. The second reason being that dual-wield wasn’t an option in Halo: Combat Evolved, so having it in the prequel wouldn’t make any sense. Technology wouldn’t take a step backwards.
The new pick-ups include Sprint, Hologram, Active Camo, Armor Lock, and Jet Pack. In all honesty, I only used Jet Pack and Sprint. I messed around with Hologram (fun on multiplayer), and Armor Lock is fun when a speeding vehicle is aimed straight at you. Even in Legendary Mode, they weren’t all too helpful. A welcome addition nonetheless that is definitely going to change the way Multiplayer is played.
While there may not be a ton of new features in Halo: Reach, I am thankful for the familiarity. Bungie knew they had already created one of the best franchises to date, and as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The solid gameplay mechanics are where Bungie has always excelled, and it’s evident in Halo: Reach that they are aware of this. I have absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to overall gameplay. Guns fired with accuracy and had a good sense of kickback, melee reacted nicely (dropping in on an enemy’s skull is still way too much fun), and the enemy AI, especially on Legendary, is certainly not lacking. Checkpoints are well-placed, and vehicles aren’t far overpowered (I felt like they were in Halo 3). Even the inclusion of Space combat missions felt well-placed and broke up the monotony very well.
There are ten main chapters, which will take you roughly 6 hours to beat on the Normal difficulty. While this may seem short to some of you out there, it felt to me like the absolute perfect length. The ending is one of the best I’ve seen, and for the first time in a long while I don’t feel like there was no closure. Far too often do games end with either a chance for a sequel, or an ending that seemed abrupt. Halo: Reach tells an epic story from start to finish, and at no point left me wanting more.
Multiplayer naturally returns and is stronger than ever. Online Matchmaking is included with new maps, a few new modes, and a Credit system to unlock new armors and other goodies. With the new abilities (Armor Lock, Jet-packs, Hologram, etc), multiplayer is going to be full of new strategies. Becoming what the game calls a “Jumper” (an enemy with a Jet-pack), is going to be something you want to become a Pro at. Jet-packing into enemy territory, Sniper Rifle sights engaged, and picking your enemies off one-by-one is a feeling that doesn’t get much better. Firefight returns as well, this time with Online Matchmaking (if that wasn’t a “WTF?!” moment in ODST, I don’t know what is). Along with Classic Firefight mode, there are other modes such as Gruntocalypse, Rocket Fight, and a new Firefight mode where you play a set number of rounds to win.
The Credit system is something that I feel is going to draw a lot of people in. You can gain credits in both Online Matchmaking and Online Firefight, and offline modes such as Firefight and Forge. You can use these Credits in the Armory to unlock new Armor for your character, along with other gifts such as different Matchmaking voices and special effects for when you die (such as Confetti and Hearts spewing from your dead character). Bungie was smart here by resetting all Credits of those few that are accumulating them pre-release, and also keeping track of those attained offline so that players aren’t just cheating the system to get the best stuff.
Overall Halo: Reach is absolutely amazing. I can really tell that Bungie took their time, listened to the fans, took their experiences from the past ten or so years, and created a game that they are very proud of. The only, and I mean the only, complaint that I have is that the pacing during the story can be a little slow. Waiting for the Evac seems a little awkwardly timed in certain sections. That’s it though. That’s all the bad I can say about Halo: Reach. The story is incredible. The graphics are top-notch. Watching the beautiful planet of Reach be ripped apart as you fight a war you know you are going to lose creates a feeling unlike any other.
I have seen this game turn myself and a friend of mine into Halo believers. It will convince those haters out there that Bungie and Halo are the real deal. If you don’t own an XBOX 360, Halo: Reach is a good enough reason alone to buy one. If you are already a fan of the series, prepare to lose your job, lose your significant other, and forget that the Sun exists. Halo: Reach is going to take over your life, and guess what… you won’t feel bad about it. This is a must buy for sure.