It’s always going to be the last Halo game isn’t it? I’m sure I finished the fight already, then last year I had to revisit New Mombasa to clean up the city a little bit, and now I find myself travelling even further back in the Halo annals to relive the period of the fall of Reach. I thought that all the fun from the Halo universe had been tapped and ready to be filed along with other once great franchises that took it a little too far in search of recapturing its original appeal and a few assured bucks to stuff into an already bulging wallet. Turns out Bungie thinks a little differently than I, good thing they had some good ideas to back up this 6th entry into the franchise.
Reach’s into sees you introduced as the newest addition to the team of Spartans known as Noble team. There are five existing members when “6” joins. There are intonations that the new guy isn’t exactly welcome but this part of the story isn’t fully fleshed out, almost as if someone thought it might make for a more intriguing team dynamic but failed to explain why and also carry the rift past the initial point of introduction. The story from here follows Noble’s missions in discovering and then trying to prevent the Covenant invasion.
The story might surprise a few people that really think they know their Halo universe trivia. It surprised me (not that I profess to be a Halo trivia buff) and while I’m not going to spill the beans and ruin it for everyone, there is that unknown element that made Halo CE so great. There isn’t a ridiculous lead on that hints at another game at the end, we already know what happens after Reach. What is there however is a little intrigue, it came in a little bit late that I would have liked it, but it was there.
Something that has plagued previous Halo’s has been the disparity between the cut scenes and the game play. Faces looked horrible and almost necrotic. This time around it’s still not to the level of some highly detailed games that have elaborately drawn cut scenes but it does exceptionally well by using the in game engine for the whole shebang. An obvious benefit from this is that there is no jarring return to reality of the in game experience, it’s a very fluid experience and one that had in the past put me off the entire Halo experience.
The game graphics are also a little shinier, there is a little more pop in the plasma effects and the grenade blasts. The deaths of grunts seems a little more chaotic and meaningful as they are propelled to-and-fro by their soon to explode back packs. The overall detail is adequate and when looking off into the vista’s that are provided as a back drop to your run and gun the level of tangible atmosphere creeps up a few notches.
Unlike how as I was initially misinformed, the game does not step away from it Halo roots, this is a FPS through and through. Many aspects of the game are in fact far truer to their roots than many Halo games have been. Game play is fast but slightly tactical with the elite covenant taking a hell of a beating, they get pretty ballsy in parts as well, surprising me more than once with a rush attack resulting with a sword in my stomach. Friendly A.I are proficient in battle, yet struggles to get into vehicles, I couldn’t figure out why that would more of a sticking point for the programmers.
Weapons are more varied, the Spartan Laser returns, the brute shot is long gone, the Covenant sniper is very different and the pistol plays a far more pivotal role. There are new abilities as well, much like the bubble shield of Halo 3, these aren’t special grenades however, they are special power-ups to help do your thing. From memory there is a jet pack, a bubble shield, an armour lockup and sprint ability.
The game lasted about 7 hours playing on medium, the difficulty of co-op is scaled according to the number of people playing, so legendary with three people is going to be more difficult than with two people. How difficult it gets I can’t exactly say as I haven’t been able to test it out for myself, partly because Wugga doesn’t play well with others, and probably more importantly, the NDA we signed with Microsoft stipulated no online play.
Forge was an impressive addition to the genre, this time it’s gotten serious with a ridiculous amount of space and improved tools. The community will have a field day with this one. I’ve never been a creator in situations like this, but I do enjoy consuming and the fact that there is a perfect space for grifball both inside a hangar structure in the huge forge world and also a grassy meadow above with equally appealing dimensions and a sweet view to boot means that I foresee some use of these features in the future.
As far as endings go, this is one of the better finishes that the gaming industry has produced. Too many times there are cliff hangers, ridiculously implausible victories and faux happy endings. Halo: Reach is less about the prior and more about honour, team work, and doing what you can for the cause. The post credit experience is also something completely novel, it leaves no bitter aftertaste and answers the question you wanted to know before the credits roll, or at least it did for me. If I were to have one complaint it would be that the game is a little soulless, specifically in that I didn’t really feel I was given a chance to relate to both the protagonist or his team. A feeling of intimacy was lacking.
I’d recommend Reach for those disenfranchised fools that have missed the magic that Combat Evolved brought to the table. The bursts of bright colours, along with an epic tale and stirring music that frames the emotion of the plight of fire team Noble. Not flawless, but a return to form in my opinion.