There are few game series that have the same worldwide renown as the Halo series, and with its gigantic success it is a huge surprise that Bungie have made the decision to step aside and hand over the Halo IP to another development studio. Thankfully before leaving the series behind they decided to give it the send-off it deserves, their swan song.
Instead of taking the series ahead to Halo 4 the game is instead a prequel to Halo 1, telling the story of Reach. Reach is a colony that serves as the UNSC’s main military hub, along with over 700 million civilians. Taking the role of Noble 6, a Spartan solider in the UNSC special operations unit Noble Team, you will be continually thrust into warfare against the Covenant in defence of the entire colony to replay the historic events that are detailed in the series books and mentioned in previous games. The events that take place in the game are the foundation of the series, and the most significant to date.
After a quick install (now advised, unlike previous Halo titles) I jumped right into the games campaign. Experience of previous Halo games isn’t required here, but it will certainly add that nostalgia and underlining knowledge that helps better appreciate and understand the game’s story, along with the weapons and enemies that you will encounter throughout. For those that have played the previous titles the game’s campaign plays like the best bits from all prior games, best of which is having a story that revolves around a handful of key characters like Halo ODST, only this time the game makes you give a crap.
One of the greatest additions to Halo Reach is that of reusable abilities. They work in a similar fashion to those from Halo 3 (i.e. the bubble shield, which has made a return), only now they have been given a cooldown allowing you to reuse them time and time again. There is the hologram, jetpack, active camouflage, sprint, armour lock and bubble. Depending on the situation you are placed in you will find a different ability to be most beneficial; however the game knows this and restricts you to only being able to obtain certain abilities in each chapter of the game.
These abilities in turn helps create the most varied and diverse Halo campaign to date, something which I couldn’t appreciate any more. Each new chapter will have you in a new environment with the emphasis being on different gameplay mechanics to keep the game fresh and interesting, such as the jetpack based level that rewards tactical use of the jetpack ability for cover or the flight based level that will take you to new heights altogether. At no point did I feel that I was simply running through familiar levels with the same old guns shooting the same old enemies, as each new enemy breed or environment challenge kept me on my toes... then again that could simply be the new smarter AI that will happily flank you when you are weak or attempt a rush when your current ammo clip runs dry. One thing is for sure, solo legendary isn’t as easy as it used to be!
Upon reaching the conclusion of the games campaign (10+ hours for solo legendary, 6+ for 4 player co-op) the final moments, ending cinematic and closing credits had me feeling quite emotional that this could be the last true Halo outing, and one which from start to finish has clearly been produced with overwhelming passion.
As fantastic as the campaign is, it is as always only half the story in a Halo game. The games multiplayer is vast, detailed and deep – something that once started upon you can easily get lost in and spend hours doing nothing more than killing one another or even the AI as a team. The majority of the games multiplayer follows closely to that found in previous titles, and really all multiplayer FPS games now, with the usual Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill style game modes on a range of maps based off what you will encounter in single player. The multiplayer systems, host migration and game type voting is all as you would expect with a Halo game, solid, stable and brilliantly simplistic. These alone are more than enough to keep the average gamer happy, but obviously there is more.
Invasion, the new love child for the fans of Halo, is the latest and greatest new multiplayer game type mixing both deathmatch and objective based gameplay. The goal is to reach a certain number of kills whilst unlocking new vehicles and weapons by controlling a moving territory. This works beautifully with the new ability mechanic mentioned above which has been streamlined for multiplayer into load sets that can be chosen on the fly at the start of a game and after a death, allowing you to change your own class and playing style as the match progresses.
Additionally the popular multiplayer mode Firefight has made the transition from Halo ODST to Reach, including the option to play as the covenant to disrupt the Spartans defending against endless waves. Faults with Firefight’s implementation in ODST have been overcome in Reach, however alternate faults have been introduced such as a large gaping one that allows you to simply put invincibility on and obliterate enemies for hours with never ending rocket launcher ammunition... somewhat ruining the sense of achievement when obtaining a highscore.
Whilst playing almost anything in Halo Reach you will be rewarded with credits that you can spend on improving your appearance. This can be anything from a new helmet to knee attachments, and come in as purely cosmetic upgrades that provide no gameplay advantage that can upset the game’s fine balance. There is also a ranking system connected to this currency, along with an additional elitist ranking system for those that like to compete competitively in the games arena, a set mode for the best of the best to play in league styled games with set seasons. At the end of each season your place (or teams place) in the game modes division will be shown, comparing you with other players – a little extra bragging potential to increase those with a small e-peen, or those who simply like their Halo gameplay set to hardcore.
As expected from Halo titles now, throughout all these modes you will have the file share system where all of your games are automatically recorded ready for you to play them back, freeze frame, saving screenshots or even entire fights and upload them to the games file share system allowing you to share fantastic moments of sheer skill (*cough* complete luck) with the rest of the world. And if that wasn’t enough... there is more.
If having the common (I wish) and easy feature of being able to watch back every game and document all achievements in a game isn’t fancy enough, you’ll now be able to define your own game types by tweaking a games settings to a fine detail allowing you to create a new breed of mayhem that can be shared between you and other players.
The game’s level designer, Forge, has also had a very large update where you are now able to create levels to a far finer detail, such as being able to rotate objects at set rotations, lock assets in the game world or even through the games environments – which in this case will be Forge World, a large empty canvas which pretty surroundings in order to build around or into. Forge still isn’t the best level designing system used in a game, even older lower budget games such as Far Cry 2 surpass it in feature sets and the much needed ability to shape landmass, but none the less it provides a solid enough backbone to create some particularly interesting levels.
It is also worth mentioning that anything you create (be it in game types or levels) can be shared with the world, via popular download lists or if you are lucky a community spotlight feature by Bungie for all players to see. The only complain with this is that more could have been done to create a community beehive of creation, giving everyone a chance for their creations to receive greater attention.
In closing, Halo Reach is a must have title for any fan of the series (which by now, you should know if you are or not) and even if you aren’t a fan of the previous titles you may find that the lengths Bungie have gone to refine their formula will now win you over. The next developer on the Halo franchise may achieve success, no one can say for sure just yet, but either way Halo Reach marks the end of an era in Bungie’s take for the franchise and any gamer should see them off, even if it is by simply annoying me in multiplayer screaming like a little girl (yes, they still exist).