Halo: Reach Xbox 360 Review – Not Quite the Traditional Experience
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: First-person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: September 14, 2010
Rating: M- Mature
Halo: Reach may have been Bungie’s final contribution to the phenomenon known as Halo, but they spared no expense in saying goodbye to the franchise they had created in 2001. Reach serves as a prequel to the main Halo series, albeit an unusual one in that it tells its own independent story. Unlike the previous installment in the series, Halo 3: ODST, Reach was independently designed with its own engine and features the full range of gametypes accumulated over the series’ ten year run. This includes: Campaign, Matchmaking, Firefight, Custom Games, Forge, and Theater modes. All of these gametypes have been adapted for easy online and local multiplayer use.
Thanks to this astounding variety in gameplay, it’s a fair claim to say that Reach has something for everyone. Each gametype has its own pros and cons, but does Halo: Reach as a whole deliver that highly-praised paradigm of experience that fans of the series and the greater gaming community have come to expect from Halo?
The Campaign for Halo: Reach tells the story of a special six-man team of Spartan-III supersoldiers, a newer and more secretive incarnation of the legendary commandos. The player takes the role of the unnamed Spartan-B312, better known by the call sign “Noble 6,” who has just been reassigned to Noble Team to replace the character’s recently killed predecessor. The team is immediately called into action in response to suspected terrorist activity, leaving Noble 6 (and the player) to get acquainted with her new comrades in the heat of battle. Note: This is the first game in the Halo series that allows the player to choose the character’s gender. This review will use the perspective of a female Noble 6.
The suspected terrorist activity turns out to be the first wave in a massive Covenant (the alliance of alien religious fanatics with which the human forces of the United Nations Space Command are at war) attack on the planet of Reach, a massive military stronghold and human population center. Noble Team is assigned to gather intelligence on the aliens’ offensive and later spearhead a retaliatory strike.
Though Noble 6′s personality, like those of the previous player-controlled characters in the Halo series, is left largely to the player’s interpretation, the interaction with Noble Team allows for more established traits and greater development of the character. This game’s story does a great job of putting a subtle but notable focus on Noble 6′s relationships with her teammates. During each mission, Noble 6 is accompanied by at least one of her fellow Spartans. This represents a shift that is, in essence, the inverse of the gameplay/story mechanics of the numbered games. Noble 6 is described as a “lone wolf” who must now adjust to fighting alongside her comrades, whereas the Master Chief, once a squad leader, finds himself facing his most perilous battles alone.
One would assume that having a few invulnerable NPC allies around would be a great asset, but for the most part Noble Team is only helpful on lower difficulties. And even then, may the Guardians have mercy on you if you let one of them drive.
Each campaign mission has its own unique challenges, as well as its own (somewhat bittersweet) charm. For the first time, you see Spartans fighting large-scale battles both on land and in the air (and even space!) as they try to slow the Covenant advance. Try… and fail. As the advertisements said, “From the beginning, you know the end.” The game’s story may be fated to end in tragedy, but rest assured that this fight will bring plenty of excitement, determination, and bloodshed before it is finished.
Halo may be well known for its deep, compelling stories, but it truly established itself as a prime multiplayer experience early in the days of online gaming. Reach offers a wide variety of multiplayer content, ranging from objective-based games to fan-created gametypes to every imaginable variation of Slayer. Unfortunately, the available maps, weapons, and armor abilities present certain drawbacks that stray from the traditional Halo multiplayer experience.
Many of the maps are redesigned locations from the Campaign or Forge-constructed homages to previous Halo games. Though mostly well-designed, some of these maps, in many of the more common gametypes, are too large for the number of players they are meant to accommodate (resulting in the player being distanced from the action) or require the player to take extra care not to fall off the free-floating map. All of the weapons used in the Campaign are also available in Matchmaking. However, the principle weapon in most gametypes is the Designated Marksman’s Rifle (DMR), which has somewhat poor shooting mechanics and damage ratios, requiring some practice to adjust for.
Armor abilities are something of a mixed blessing. Some can be extremely useful, such as sprint or evade, but others, when used in certain ways, can knock the gameplay slightly out of balance. Though armor lock draws the most vocal accusations of this, its play-altering capabilities are limited to absorbing grenades or temporarily blocking hits. The most fundamentally gameplay-breaking ability is probably the jetpack, which allows players to circumvent the physical parameters of the map. These problems can be mostly avoided or compensated for through changing tactics, but that extra effort may be more than some players want to put in.
Firefight, first seen in Halo 3: ODST, returns in Reach with a significant expansion upon the original concept. This mode puts the player in a confined arena to hold position against waves of enemies. Games can be customized to set the number and characteristics of the waves, as well as the player’s base features and weapon loadouts. Up to four players can join in the firefight, and this mode also has its own Matchmaking playlist.
Custom Games make a reappearance in this title, once again allowing players to design their own games to their personal tastes. The Custom Game options in Reach are extensive, allowing players to set almost every aspect of any gametype to their satisfaction. Reach‘s Forge World mode, an expansive open world designed to allow players to build stages, arenas, and even art, makes for a great complement to the Custom Games feature by providing completely user-designed play environments. Theater mode allows players to recapture video footage from games, snap screenshots of memorable moments, and review a match from every perspective with a free-moving camera.
Reach‘s graphics differ significantly from even the most recent installments in the series. The sharp, colorful sci-fi/fantasy feel has been replaced by something purposefully dark and gritty. Though this fits with Bungie’s vision of getting down and dirty with the individual soldiers fighting a losing battle, it also yields some mixed results. Environments, landscapes, and skyboxes in Reach are absolutely breathtaking, but objects viewed more closely (buildings, weapons, other characters) show a level of detail that is unnecessarily refined.
Reach is Halo, but it doesn’t look or feel like Halo. It is a different breed, but one which, for the most part, holds to the high standards of the franchise. In the eyes of the Halo fan community, most of the game’s flaws are in the form of slight, but noticeable, divergences from the traditional Halo formula. While some of these changes did not, in fact, succeed in making any notable contributions to the game, they hardly detract from the overall great experience Reach delivers.
+Easy online multiplayer in every game mode
+Fun, challenging campaign
+Tons of variety
-Relative lack of quality and variety in multiplayer maps
-Poor integration of new concepts
-Gritty graphical detail