There are games that come around that define a console generation, games that show that a game can be more than just a game, it can be an experience. I believe that Halo Reach is one of those games. It is the definition of complete; there is not a single aspect that isn’t fully polished. Not many games can say that. So put away your Modern Warfare and your Madden, because the biggest game of 2010 is here, and it is incredible.
There is so much packed on this single disc that it is hard to know where to start. I often felt overwhelmed because I had sunk hours into the campaign or multiplayer without even touching modes such as Firefight and Forge World. When I first booted up the disc, I started with campaign, so I think that is where I will start with in this review. I have always been interested in the story of the Halo franchise, and this was no exception. I wanted to know the story, and give myself context for the rest of the experience. I want to first say that this is by far the best story mode that Bungie has ever made.
The story puts you in the boots of Noble Six, a Spartan that has recently been recruited to Noble Team. Along with you are five other Spartans that you immediately form a bond with them emotionally. Each character feels unique in his or her own right, and you can really get behind them during this last stand. You are fighting to survive on a planet you love. The Covenant has never before set foot on Reach, and without spoiling too much, the way you discover they are there is an awesome experience. I found myself full of wonder in the campaign mode, because of the way that Bungie did their storytelling. Most of the people on Reach have never faced Covenant before, but as the player, you know what to expect if you have played multiple Halo games. So, the way they did it was they made the behavior of the enemies different, and therefore harder to kill. So, instead of running in guns blazing, you needed to think about your shots and how you approach each combat situation, which really impressed me. The story wraps up very well, and has many emotional twists and turns, leaving you with just enough content to feel satisfied.
The gameplay of Reach feels phenomenal. The new physics engine feels far superior to anything Bungie has done in the past, and leads to more diverse combat situations. The shooting feels awesome, with each gun carrying a huge punch when fired. Controls feel a bit looser than I can remember for a Halo game, but at the same time, they are tight and manageable, and don’t feel like they get in the way of anything.
The armor abilities, which are new for Reach, carry over into all of the modes, so each Firefight map, multiplayer match and campaign battle feels different depending the ability that you have equipped. The added new weapons feel to me very welcome, and add more depth to the already deep game play. Even the tried and true weapons have been updated with some new flair to make them feel fresh.
The gameplay is also affected by having a team, as you do not have to do all the work by yourself, and the AI partners are very competent. Also, they have adapted the mission structure and made some changes such as space combat. These sections are intense and well done, and I wish there was even a couple more of them. They did a good mix of vehicle and on-foot sections, and you never felt like you were doing one or the other too long. So, suffice it to say that the pacing is great, and has a good mix between the different elements. As a whole, the best thing that I can say about the game play is that it feels brand new while still feeling like Halo.
The battles can get very difficult in some instances. As mentioned, they have made some of the larger enemies more powerful and harder to take down, so you really need to think twice before engaging them head on. It still keeps the cliché that in Halo games, which there are some points where you hit a wall and have to keep retrying and retrying to get past that point. However, I found that it is often based on the right weapon and armor ability for that section. It takes some trial and error, but you can eventually get past most sections if you think about how you approach them. It is not overbearing though and you do not feel overwhelmed and frustrated often.
The graphics engine for the game has been completely overhauled this time around. The lighting, atmosphere and particle effects are all superb, and make this game truly beautiful. The game has incredible new environments, which really add to the overall atmosphere. Martin O’Donnell returns once again to bring an amazing orchestral score, which meshes very well with the action and what you are doing in the story. Presentation-wise, this game really has something going for it, and makes it stand out even among the other Halo games.
Before I get into the multiplayer stuff, I have to talk about the fact that you can craft you character in Reach, Noble Six, however you want. Every action that you take or mode you play will earn you points and commendations. These points can be spent on upgrades ranging from armor pieces to Firefight voices for your character. This is a really interesting feature, as there are so many combinations, that barely and online avatar will look the same.
Now, going into the multiplayer, I knew pretty much what to expect as I participated in the beta this past spring. So, I knew how the armor abilities worked, which again diversifies the gameplay. Armor abilities, if you do not know how they work are additions to your load outs (yes, you also have load outs now) and you can choose from a variety of options such as allowing your character to sprint or the ever popular active camouflage. The coolest ability that was also in the beta is armor lock. This allows you to become invulnerable for a limited amount of time, and shoot out an EMP if enemies get too close. These abilities allow to fit your play style with your weapons. They have added one other major ability since the beta, and that is the inclusion of holograms. Holograms have a character that looks exactly like your Spartan that goes off in a certain direction and only walks forward, but can quickly fool your enemies. I don’t think this tactic will last long other than in the first few weeks, but it is a cool tactic and addition.
Multiplayer can be completely customized any way you want. You can change how your character looks as I have mentioned, as well as define what type of people you want to play with online. Do you want them to talk a lot? Do you want them to play for fun or competition? You can decide all these factors. This is a really nifty feature, and really defines that Bungie knows how to make a good multiplayer game. I like when a game gives me the options to play how I want to play, it makes it more personable and engaging, and Reach does this in spades.
Most of the maps included in multiplayer are remakes of maps from previous games, but they all feel new in some way, whether it be the change in art style or the change in terrain, they all feel unique. Bungie has also included some from Forge World, which I will get into shortly. Along with the maps, there are new modes in some of the rotation, as well as some new modes all together. Back from the beta is Invasion, the mode where Elites face off again Spartans in a capture and control game mode. This mode is by far still my favorite, and I found it to me more enjoyable than even in the beta.
The other big change in terms of ranked multiplayer is the Arena. The Arena is a mode where you are competing against players with similar skills to yourself. Once you play three matches each month in this mode, you are put into a rank and a division and can play against these similar skilled players. So if you think you are the best, you can play against the best. It really is something that I feel best replaces ranks, and can really separate the best from the rest. If all of this isn’t enough, they have also added daily and weekly challenges that you can complete to earn more credits for your character, so it really gives you an incentive to play every day. As a whole, this game is truly the definition of a robust multiplayer mode.
Again, if all of this was not enough to get you excited and make you want the game, they have completely revamped Firefight. You can now change any aspect you want in the mode, from the equipment you start with to the enemy type you face. You can make Firefight be whatever you want it to be. You can also do matchmaking in Firefight now, so if you do not have a group of friends to play with, you can still hop into this mode. About the same number of multiplayer maps return in this mode as in ODST, but you can now change the different objectives that you want to accomplish, such as defend the objective rather than just survive through waves of enemies. All of these changes are welcome and make this mode more substantial and above all more fun to play.
Last but certainly not least is Forge World. This takes the idea of Forge from Halo 3 and expands it to unimaginable heights. Forge World is a virtual sandbox where you can create anything you want. The best thing about this mode is that they have fixed the controls from Halo 3, and they are now more precise and manageable, and you are able to put objects exactly where you want them. You can also now add many more objects into the environment, and allows you to almost do and create literally anything. This mode will surely lead to massive amounts of new content, and will give this game more things to do for years to come.
Halo Reach again stands on its own as a game that will be unrivaled for a long time. There is simply not a better, more complete shooter on the market, and with all this content, there isn’t any way you can find something that you cannot sink your teeth into. Whether it is the multiplayer, single player, Firefight or Forge World, this game has something for everyone, and will be in the consoles of some people for years to come. I cannot say enough good things about this game, other than go buy this game. If you are waiting to get a 360, use this as an excuse. It is truly a classic experience that cannot be missed by any gamer. Congrats Bungie, well done.