Platform: Xbox 360
Category: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Co-op: 2-4 Players
System Link: 2-16 Players
Online Co-op: 2-4 Players
Online Multiplayer: 2-16
User Generated Content
Halo has transcended from being simply a video game to a franchise of novels, comics, action figures, and even an animated movie. The latest game, Halo: Reach, is the sixth installment in the series and is a prequel to all the previous Halo games. There has been a lot of hype this since Reach was announced in 2009 given the fact that it is the last game that Bungie Studios will develop in the Halo universe. After Reach is completed Microsoft will take the reigns of the Halo franchise as Bungie walks calmly into the sunset. So now that Halo: Reach is on store shelves, has this prequel been worth the wait?
Reach’s visuals are solid and has finally brought the graphics to the next level. Don’t get me wrong, the graphics in the franchise as a whole have always been great, but with the capabilities of this generation of consoles I expected a whole lot more from Halo 3. Reach’s in-game cutscenes are well done with all the bells and whistles included to make it a top notch visual experience. The transition between the cutscenes and gameplay is seamless. I really like how there was a switch to a third person view during the cutscenes, to get a better visual experience, then the screen would go back to the first person view and it was game on.
Two new level types have been introduced in Reach. One is a space combat situation where you pilot a fighter called a Sabre. The other level type has you piloting a helicopter called a Falcon. Seeing one of the cities in Reach from a bird’s eye view when piloting the Falcon was quite amazing, with all the little details such as the lights in the buildings, fans on top of the buildings, and the realistic the fires throughout many of the buildings. The Sabre space combat levels were just as visually pleasing as you zigzag around the orbital space stations receiving shooting solutions to attack Space Banshees, Seraphs, and the much larger Covenant Cruisers. As for the other levels included in campaign, and the maps used in multiplayer, they too have a great level of attention to detail and offer a large variety of terrain types, along with some tributes to familiar levels that have seen/played in previous Halo games. And don’t forget the Forge Mode, as you can create some pretty interesting looking maps on your own too that can look great.
When you first pop Reach into your Xbox 360 you are guided to make a custom Spartan. This includes helmet design, chest plate, shoulder pads and so much more. Choose to be male or female, customize your logo, as well as your armor colors to round out how you will look throughout the game. That’s right, the choices you make for your custom Spartan will translate into the game right down to the finest detail, including speech. This will not only make a lot of die-hard Halo fans quite happy, but it may just recruit some more players to take on the role of a Spartan. When I told my wife that she could be a female Spartan, she quickly quipped that she now wants her own Xbox 360 along with her own copy of Reach. Players are not limited to the stock armor that is available from the beginning of the game either as you can earn in-game credits by playing a lot and completing challenges to earn in-game credits which you can use to purchase different armor.
One of the first things I noticed amidst all the gunfire, explosions, drop ships flying through the sky, and grunts screaming, was the amazing soundtrack throughout the whole game. Sure, all the right sound effects are in place in the game and add to the atmosphere; however the music throughout each level inspired me to play better during intense battles, it moved me during emotional scenes throughout the storyline, and ultimately it made the overall game experience that much better. After playing the game I am going to invest in Reach’s Soundtrack.
To say that the sound effects add to the atmosphere of the game is true, but there is plenty of details that some might miss during gameplay. For example, listen to the Covenant and you will notice that they don’t, or rarely do, speak any English at all, as they only speak in their native tongue which to the human ear will sound like a series of grunts. UNSC troops speak out to the Spartans, and to each other as well, and unlike other games I have played they don’t repeat that often or fall back on using catch phrases. Another good example is when you are fighting onboard a space station and all you have is the small air supply inside your armor. The sound in that environment will adjust and everything will be harder to hear just like if you were underwater. Overall the great attention to sound detail, and the compelling music throughout Reach impressed me and all of it really does add to the experience of the game.
Personally, I’ve played the Halo series to take in the story that transpires in a war torn universe involving humanity, the Covenant, the Flood, and the Forerunners. As for Reach, there is so much rich detail that has gone into creating the narrative that is hard to just grab this game and hop online to start fragging some friends. You will want to play the single player campaign. The plot focuses on an elite Spartan unit called Noble Team and you take on the role of a rookie member with the call sign of Noble Six. It is your first day on the Noble Team. This is all you will learn in this review as you will have to play through the game yourself to learn the full story of Noble Team, and the Fall of Reach.
I found Reach’s plot to be one of the most complete and enriched stories I have encountered in a game. In the previous Halo games Master Chief seems robotic, methodical, and devoid of any emotions at all; however, in contrast, the members of Noble Team are full of emotions and they are ultimately more human than “The Chief“ could ever be. Noble Team encounters plenty of adversity on Planet Reach and overcome many challenges at grave cost, which results in an emotional roller coaster of joy and despair.
The maps in campaign are great to play through, for the most part, providing a lot of different challenges, terrain, and Covenant to battle through. There is also a good balance of combat variety in the air, on the ground, and in outer-space. The previously mentioned new gameplay modes, the Falcon helicopter and Sabre space fighter, were nice to see, but you can tell that the experience of the developers is a little bit more in the first person shooter aspect rather than aerial combat. It wasn’t a bad experience overall, but I felt that that the combat was a little bit slow paced and could of used a speed boost, especially in the space missions.
Bungie added a total of seven armor abilities to Noble Team Spartans. You can equip such things as a Jet Pack allowing you to reach hard to reach places, a Sprint feature to run at fast speeds briefly, an ability to project a Holographic Decoy, Active Camouflage, the ability to use a Drop Shield to protect and heal, or an ability to become invincible but immobilized with Armor Lock. Overall these new abilities add a bit of strategy and pizazz to the gameplay experience.
The single player campaign has been given a great facelift and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. That being said, I just couldn’t help but note something that I found to be negative. When the computer AI drove, or used a weapon on a vehicle, they were absolutely horrible. I thought at first it may have been just the AI Marines having some difficulty driving a Warthog, but even Kat, a member of Noble Team, would spend a good 30-45 seconds maneuvering the Warthog over a hill or would randomly stop in the middle of nowhere because there were enemies up on top of a hill that the Warthog couldn’t easily reach. If I decided to drive, and let a Marine or fellow Spartan take a gunnery position, I was faced with a conservative shooter who would only shoot at the Covenant if the Warthog was a certain distance away. If I was too far away, according to their standards, they wouldn’t shoot even though they could have easily hit the target and taken the enemy AI out of play. This did add for some frustrating moments indeed. This is where playing through the campaign, be it via local co-op or through Xbox LIVE, will come in handy as two or more human controlled players make a big difference.
My issues with the new flight based gameplay and AI driving or shooting may seem like a minor complaint, but I think it was huge oversight. To let something like a sluggish aerial experience and lackluster AI affect the gameplay should have been something easily spotted through Reach’s development cycle.
The other aspect of Reach, which has many Halo fans addicted throughout the franchise’s history, is online multiplayer. Reach’s online multiplayer features a total of seventeen maps. Nine of these are for adversarial multiplayer while the other eight are for Firefight (cooperative). Not only does the online component have the standard Slayer, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and variants of these; it also features a new and improved Firefight and three new game types called Invasion, Stockpile & Headhunter. We also can’t forget the re-introduction of Race from the original Halo. I will focus on the improved Firefight, the new modes, and the re-introduction of Race.
Firefight has been improved by giving players more customization. They can control wave properties down to the initial, main, boss, and bonus waves, as well as they can choose which skulls are in effect, what covenant troops will spawn, and even if they drop in via drop ship. Creative minds can even come up with some custom skulls to add their own twists to the gameplay. Firefight has a few new variants, with Rocketfight and Gruntpocalypse being my personal favourites. Rocketfight is you and your trusty Rocket Launcher with unlimited ammo while Gruntpocalypse has all the waves being strictly Covenant Grunts.
Invasion is a game variant I have not had much opportunity to play, but the premise of the mode is a lot of fun. It pits six Spartans against six Elites in an objective based game. The team that successfully completes an objective gains new weapons, load outs, and opens up new areas of the map. Invasion mode is pretty intense and I can only imagine the type of custom matches that will be made by the Halo community that will make this variant even more exciting.
Stockpile is a variant of Capture the Flag where there are several flags placed around the map and teams retrieve those flags, bring them back to their base, and guard them from the opposing team. This occurs as you also try to take any flags from the enemy stockpilel. A timer counts down and when it runs out any flags that are in your base will go towards a point total, with the first team to reach the point total being pronounced the winner.
Headhunter is another interesting new gameplay mode where you collect flaming skulls which are created by killing other players in the game. If you kill a player who is carrying previously collected skulls these can go towards your total as well, as long as you pick them up before others. Keep in mind though that other players will be trying to gun you down as you collect skulls and try to rush off to the target area to score points. The target area for scoring moves around the map to create a bit more challenge too. I have played quite a few matches of Headhunter and it gets pretty crazy at times, especially with many adversaries looking to collect those skulls lying on the ground.
Race is quite simple and it is split up in to two modes: Race and Rally. The objective for Race is to race around on a map in a vehicle as fast as you can with the first player to complete the circuit winning. Rally on the other hand is a point objective race where players race to a specific target point on the map and the first person to the target wins a point. When a player reaches the target point, another target is randomly placed on the map and players race off to the new target point to earn another point. This process is repeated until a point objective is completed and a winner is declared. Although Race is quite simple compared to other game variants it is definitely a lot of fun that will give fans a little bit more to play with.
If you don’t like the included multiplayer maps on the disc, Reach offers an improved Forge mode to create almost any map you desire. Tools have been added to place objects on grid points, to move objects a smidgeon to just the right spot, and you can even phase several objects together to create brand new objects. Forge comes with several maps that you can make your own variants of, but the crown jewel of Halo Forge is Forge World. This is a blank canvas for players to create the ultimate map of their choosing. Forge World has many fans and they will already know it includes one of the fan favourite levels from the Halo multiplayer maps: Blood Gulch. Creativity is key here. Once you have finished creating your new maps, make sure you release them to the many fans of Halo who will be able to download it and recommend it to other players. Who knows, if your map is amazing enough it may end up in matchmaking.
Added to the overall Halo experience are Challenges that Bungie has set up for players to complete on a daily and weekly basis. Players can earn extra credits towards purchases in the armory by completing challenges like killing 100 Covenant troops in Firefight, getting 10 multi-kills in one session, or even beating the game on Heroic in a week. These challenges will entice players to check in every day to earn credits and add some more achievements to one’s rep.
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