Halo: Reach on XBox 360 is the best Halo campaign to date with a well-crafted narrative and eye-popping presentation
- Expertly paced storytelling and carefully crafted gameplay, delivers the best Halo campaign to date, multiplayer fans get even more bang for their buck with Reach's bottomless suite of online options.
- It's still Halo -- so if you didn’t like it before Reach probably won't change your mind.
An epic story, incredible pacing, and a spot-on mix of old and new elements make Reach's campaign Halo's best yet. Oh, and when you've finished the story mode, plan on spending a large chunk of your life in the massive online universe. Any way you cut it, Halo: Reach is a fantastic swan song for Bungie, and it leaves behind a Spartan-sized set of boots for 343 Industries to fill.
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Shortly before Halo: Combat Evolved landed like a Gravity Hammer on the original Xbox, a novel titled Halo: The Fall of Reach introduced fans to the sci-fi universe that would forever change the face of console first-person shooters. Nearly nine years, five games, and countless action figures, comic books, and yes, even energy drinks later, the video game retelling of the events depicted in that first novel has finally arrived. But Bungie’s final Halo hasn’t come to finish the fight--Master Chief handled that task in Halo 3; on the contrary, Reach is here to start the fight. A prequel to the original Halo, Reach’s narrative conclusion is revealed right in the title of the previously mentioned novel.
So, it’s a great surprise that a game with a not-so-secret ending manages to unspool the greatest Halo yarn yet. Despite going in knowing Reach will end with humanity on the brink of extinction, the game still consistently nudges players to the edge of their seats. This is due in no small part to a much more emotional, human-driven story than we’ve ever seen unfold in the series. As Six, a member of Noble Team, it doesn’t take very long for you to become attached to your new Spartan family.
You fight along side these Master Chief-like warriors for much of the campaign, so when you witness the sacrifices they make on the battlefield and the bravery they display against seemingly certain death, your heart becomes as engaged as your trigger finger. There’s also some great surprises in the story and a few end-game revelations that will send the most hardened Halo fans’ jaws to the floor.
Supporting its well-crafted narrative even further is Reach’s cinematic pacing, which begins to reveal itself the second you hit the start button. As the story opens, your Noble team member spies a Spartan helmet with a crater blown in its visor, just before he pulls on his own protective headgear; this minor, but effectively ominous moment almost makes you feel like you’ve just signed your own death certificate. Continuing on, you pass black smoke-spitting Warthogs, blood-stained rocks and fresh corpses, as rain spills out of a darkened sky. By the time those first red blips scatter on your HUD map like roaches in a lit room, the tension’s been ratcheted to near intolerable levels; you’re five minutes in and itching to unload some rounds into anything with a pulse.
Another similarly affective moment comes later when you engage in space combat, a well-publicised new addition to the series that I’m happy to report officially makes Halo cooler than Star Wars [Matt's opinion on this matter does not necessarily represent those of the GamePro editors, so please don't send us any hate mail telling us we're wrong.--Ed.] . But it’s the scene before you’re actually picking Covenant fleets from the stars that you again feel Reach’s pacing take up residence in your anxiously beating heart; as you ascend the staging area of the Saber starship, strap into its cockpit and await blast-off, you’re senses are stung with equal amounts of apprehension and excitement. Reach is filled with moments like these, making you feel as though you’re experiencing a true epic rather than a smaller scale ODST-style spin-off.
Complementing this further--and courtesy of a brand new engine--is an eye-popping presentation that brings a new expansiveness to the Halo universe. Sweeping vistas, waterfall-dotted cliff faces, and battlefields whose combatants look like specs from a afar, continually remind you of Reach’s ambitious scope. While much of this screen-stretching beauty serves as a backdrop to the action, there are also moments when you’re right in the middle of it. One level in particular, which sees you piloting a Falcon chopper above an impressively rendered skyscraper-filled city, wouldn’t be out of place in a big budget science fiction film.
Of course, Reach is still an FPS at heart, so as much as I appreciate fighting among postcard-pretty environments, it’s filling Covenant scum full of smoking rounds that ultimately makes me happy to put on the Spartan armour again. Thankfully, Reach goes above and beyond in this regard as well, staging some of the most breathtaking battles in series history. I’m not sure if it’s the inherent nature of Reach’s against-the-odds storyline or Firefight mode’s infectious influence, but Bungie’s latest is absolutely brimming with pulse-spiking melees where every hard fought victory leaves you with a handful of bullets and your health firmly in the red zone.
The best of these battles has you defending specific areas as swarms of Covenant come at you with everything they’ve got, while their “Wort, wort, wort!” battle-cry menacingly pierces the atmosphere. Whether you’re defending a landing zone as Grunts endlessly pour from a drop ship, or protecting an interior elevator as rampaging Brutes funnel in through all available entrances, you’ll find Bungie hasn’t lost the ability to craft firefights that raise your blood pressure beyond any doctor recommended level; on more than one occasion you’ll experience the reward--and relief--of just barely surviving with your ass in one piece.
Epic battles aren’t particularly new to the sci-fi shooter series, but some of Reach’s weapons, vehicles and enemies are. Flying the aforementioned Falcon and Saber offers a fun change of pace from the ground-based action, turning Wraiths into charred metallic heaps with the Target Locator--which makes Gears’ Hammer of Dawn look like a pea shooter--is a literal blast, and facing Elites, coded with enhanced AI, offers a whole new reason to improve your aim with Plasma grenades. Then there’s the new armour abilities, upgrades you can switch out that add enhancements such as temporary-use shields, jet-packs and an incredibly cool hologram that sets your enemies’ sites on a decoy of yourself.
These new additions only scratch the surface of the fresh discoveries you’ll make throughout Reach’s 12-plus hour campaign. I haven’t even mentioned the planet’s towering indigenous tusked beasts; you can decide for yourself whether or not they’re friendly. Reach also grants gamers with credits throughout the campaign which can be cashed in to customise your Covenant ass-kicker’s armour down to the tiniest detail. Recently playing multiplayeragainst Bungie’s Executive Producer Joseph Tung, I was slain by his personalised Spartan, which looked like a red Tie Fighter Pilot--very slick!
Speaking of fragging friends online, Reach supplements its solo campaign with a staggering amount of multiplayer content, adding fresh elements while refining old stand-bys. New competitive modes, like Headhunter, which has players scoring points for literally capturing the opposing team’s skulls, will certainly keep fans busy. But it’s the dangerously addictive Firefight that will lead to a lot of sleepless nights. Building on the killer version found in ODST, Bungie’s enhanced their live-as-long-as-you can gameplay in a variety of ways. Along with full matchmaking support, Firefight can now be played with preset rules, such as the self-explanatory Rocketfight or Gruntpocalypse, in place.
Best of all, you can create your own Firefight variants by tweaking enemy waves, weapon load-outs, match durations and skulls. Creativity is further encouraged in the all-new Forge World, an overhaul of Halo 3’s popular map editor. Offering tons of new options and items, as well as a much more intuitive interface, I found Forge World accessible to even a novice map-maker like myself. Whether you’re a purist content to score headshots in Reflection, a shiny new remake of Halo 2’s Ivory Tower map, or you’re determined to dream up the dumbest Firefight variant, Reach’s overflowing online options have something for everyone.
If you play Reach only for the campaign which, by the way, also supports 4-player co-op with scaled enemy AI, you’re going to get your money’s worth. But if you go beyond the highly-polished, immaculately-produced solo story, you’ll discover one of the best deals since Wendy’s Dollar Menu. Counting Halo Wars, Reach is the series’ sixth standalone entry, so sure, there’s plenty here that will be familiar to anyone who’s picked up a Plasma Pistol or piloted a Warthog. But Bungie’s also injected their tried-and-true formula with enough fresh ideas and refinements to make this the best Halo entry yet; and that’s saying a hell of a lot given the absence of Master Chief’s boot prints on planet Reach. The only thing missing from this impressive entry is a number “4” in the title, because for all intents and purposes, Reach feels like the next big thing in the Halo franchise.
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