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Halo: Reach Review

posted Mar 26, 2011, 3:25 PM by Golden Knight

By Mitchell Reslock


Picture Courtesy: Microsoft

  One of the most anticipated games of 2010 has finally arrived. Halo: Reach isn’t just the next big shooter, it’s the closing of an era in console gaming. Ever since Master Chief first leapt into the spotlight with the promise of securing FPS dominance outside of PC games, the entire Halo franchise has been stamped on countless shirts, mugs, novels, and commercials over the past decade. For every one thousand fans Bungie was able to recruit, ten thousand flimsy imitations of their games were churned out by other developers clamoring to get a piece of the frenzy. The Chief’s helmet has become a recognizable icon for even the most casual gamer. Everyone’s been wondering how well Bungie’s swan song will stand up to its massive legacy. Well, there’s good news and bad news.

                The campaign is every bit as beautiful and action-packed as you’ve come to expect from the franchise, but it has no patience for new players. If you haven’t played any of the past games and read at least one of the novels, you’ll completely lose the plot (a prequel to the first Halo) in a matter of minutes, in addition to being crushed under the game’s increased difficulty level. A quick introduction: the fall of humanity’s colony on Reach is the single most catastrophic tragedy in the franchise’s lore. It was a military fortress containing over 700 million people, as well as the training grounds for Master Chief and his SPARTAN-II super soldier pals. The SPARTAN-III’s are cheap knockoffs of them, weaker but infinitely more expendable.  That’s what you’ll be playing as, once again a personality-lacking rookie joining a veteran squad of specialists, a reference to Halo ODST. Although the destruction of the planet has been stressed throughout the books and even in advertisements for the game, Reach‘s focus is almost entirely on your small group. There are really only a few levels in the game that give you a glimpse of greater battles going on outside your unit’s concern. While this does give you a chance to feel closer to your teammates, who are thankfully much more memorable than those in ODST, the sense of the epic scale that Reach’s destruction deserved is lost.  Just as it was in the last installment, you’re not trying to save the universe or single-handedly tackle an army of impossible numbers. You’re a small team of soldiers trying to get a job done and survive in the process. And though the pulse-pounding climax feels significant and seals the Halo series in a complete and emotionally-satisfying conclusion, you’ll still have a Master Chief-sized hole in your heart.

                But there is good news. Bungie has once again found a way to improve their already enviable gameplay on all fronts. The graphics have never been more crisp and refined. The dark and foreboding soundtrack is as masterful as ever, matching the desperate mood of the game perfectly. You, alongside your team, will once again be taking on the evil Covenant juggernaut, be it in the form of clusters of deadly Elites, columns of armored Wraith tanks, or screaming Banshee flyers. But there are several twists. New weapons, vehicles, and enemies make their debuts without feeling an inch out of place, making this Halo arsenal the largest yet.  The traditional shooter formula is occasionally remixed with impressive and exciting aerial combat missions both in the expanses of space and over ruined cityscapes. The risky addition of the new armor abilities pays off, completely revitalizing infantry battles as snipers fly to impossible vantage points with jetpacks and quick-witted strategists fool enemies via clever use of hologram doppelgangers. Revamped computer AI results in allied marines concentrating fire and generally being useful, while making even the lowliest alien grunts a threat with the inclusion of intelligent flanking tactics. Bigger enemies anticipating your melee swings will often dodge and counter them. Reach‘s frenzied skirmishes will pleasingly keep you on your toes. This may arguably be the ultimate Halo experience.

                Reach‘s multiplayer has also greatly surpassed its predecessors. Halo 3 provided a massive array of gametypes and customization options, and this latest installment has only added to it. Unprecedented playstyles such as Infection return with added variations you’re free to tinker with, while entirely new modes like Race make their hilariously fun premiere. The ability to tweak the already intense Firefight matches removes them of their tinge of monotony present in ODST.  Although the nine starting maps may feel slightly constricting, the inevitable map packs and unbelievable freedom and ease of the reworked Forge mode will ensure your addiction to Reach‘s online games takes a very long time to wane.

                Halo: Reach is an outstanding game. For all you fanatics of the Halo universe, this is a must-buy, but you especially will find that the slightly disappointing plot mars the exhilarating and immensely enjoyable campaign mode. No one, however, is going to be dissatisfied with Reach‘s expansive and infinitely fun multiplayer experience. Get it now if you’re looking for an remarkably entertaining sci-fi romp with enough guns, lasers, and explosions to shame Michael Bay, but don’t depend on the story living entirely up to your expectations.