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Halo: Reach Review

Posted: 11 Sep 2010 09:13 PM PDT

I was sick of Halo. Don’t get me wrong. I loved it, ever since the beginning. But in the gaming world, everywhere you go, there’s Halo. Halo 3 is still the #1 most played game on Xbox Live, and it’s been three years since release. “The Fall of Reach,” a novel inspired by the Halo universe, is a New York Times Bestseller. There are six novels. There’s a “Halo Legends” anime. There are action figures galore. The internet is flooded with Halo machinima.

It’s not just that Halo has permeated pop culture. It’s knocked big holes in it. I’d followed and loved the series, but I was overloaded.

That is, until I played Halo: Reach. It did what I cynically doubted it could do: it brought me back like a prodigal son, and gave me exactly what I was looking for. Halo: Reach is the best Halo game by far, a giant, feature-rich Halo party celebrating the series in all its glory.

I am seriously at a loss for where to start with this review. There’s a lot going on in Halo: Reach. I’ll attempt a summary.

Sweeping summary attempt:
Halo: Reach includes: a solid single-player campaign with a new story, 9 new weapons, new vehicles, new combat abilities and a full cast of characters; there’s Firefight 2.0, with all-new game types and a huge array of customization options; there’s a revamped matchmaking system, allowing you to quickly hop into matches with friends or strangers alike, as well as filter out the types of folks you’d like to play with; there’s a bunch of new multiplayer game types; there’s an “Armory,” where you’ll spend credits you earn on sweet armor, and there’s Forge 2.0, the revamped level editing system allowing way more control over objects.

Single-Player Campaign

Halo: Reach is set in the year 2552, and serves as a prequel to the original 2001 game Halo: Combat Evolved.

The player assumes the role of “Noble 6,” a mysterious and powerful Spartan soldier joining the ranks of “Team Noble.” The special forces unit is deployed to the planet of Reach, where the Covenant are waging a brutal war.

The planet of Reach is a superbly realized setting for the campaign. Reach is a young planet, lush and beautiful in places–but it’s falling apart, pockmarked with crater holes and ravaged by the war around it.

Your first mission (of 11 total) is to investigate a distress signal at an outpost, and eliminate any Covenant forces.

You’ll find signs of the Covenant’s brutality at the outpost. UNSC carcasses lay scattered about, and it appears they were tortured. Reach definitely starts out on a darker note than you would expect for a Halo game, but it serves to get you right into the story.

You’ll move deeper and deeper into the planet of Reach, gathering intel on the Covenant’s weapons capabilities, and work on a big (awesome) heist-like plan with Team Noble to take down the main Covenant base.

There’s some welcome variety in each of the missions. The 4th mission, Nightfall, is a dark recon mission in which you sneak through Covenant bases at night with a Sniper Rifle. In mission 7, Exodus, you’ll get a hold of the Jet Pack “Armor Ability,” and use it to fly through a base built on treacherous cliffs. There’s “Long Night of Solace,” the 6th mission which takes you up into outer space where you pilot the new Sabre spacecraft and fight through waves of Covenant.

It’s a solid campaign, for sure, and it’s on par with the previous games.

It kind of loses some steam in the middle, though. The story becomes less focused, the missions objectives more scattershot and almost disjointed in terms of the narrative. Things pick right back up for the final act, but there is that dip there.

Also, I’m thankful that Halo: Reach has a full cast of characters in the form of Team Noble. They add some emotion and drama to the story, and they contrast with Noble 6′s (very) silent ways. They also add some cheesy one-liners in there, and their personalities can verge on cliche.

None of this ruins the experience or anything. There is still a great, 8-10 hour game here. Now, on to some of the new features in the game.

Armor Abilities:
Armor Abilities are reusable powerups, each with a separate special ability. You can equip one Armor Ability at a time, and they can be reused after a brief cooldown period.

These superpowers add a surprisingly deep new layer to combat strategy. There are 7 total Armor Abilities, which you’ll find scattered around throughout the campaign.

They are: Sprint, Active Camo, Evade (activates a super fast diving roll), Jet Pack, Armor Lock (locks you in one position, but you’re invincible), Drop Shield (the Bubble Shield you know and love, but it also heals), and finally Hologram.

You’ll often find a few of them clustered together, and you’ll need to choose. How you use them really depends on the needs of battle, but also the player’s style.

Personally, I found the Drop Shield insanely useful. It pops up a Bubble Shield, which is great for when you’re surrounded. The Drop Shield can also heal you if you kneel inside of it, even if you’r down into the red.

But really, everyone needs to get a taste of firing up a Jet Pack and raining hellfire down on Covenant forces below. It’s thee Armor Ability, and it’s a blast.

These aren’t just “god weapons” that make the game easier. Halo: Reach packs a fierce challenge. You’ll feel naked without an Armor Ability, particularly if you go up against any of the super-tough Elites, like the Zealots.

Here we have the “Hologram” Armor Upgrade.

They also work in multiplayer matches (more on those later). Hologram–which creates a double version of yourself that runs into battle–while not my favorite in single-player, is a brutal powerup in a multiplayer game. It’s extremely deceptive, and can cause the enemy to waste ammo and walk into trouble.

Assassination Moves:
In addition to the standard melee attacks, you can now execute insta-kill assassination moves. Sneaking up behind an enemy and pushing “B” will trigger an extended, brutal kill animation. These also work in multiplayer. Yup. They make you feel like a ninja, and rightfully so.

New Weapons:
Of course you’ll have standards like the Assault Rifle, Needler, Sniper Rifle, and so on–but Halo: Reachs adds 9 new wonderful weapons with a variety of uses:

They are: Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR for short), Grenade Launcher, Covenant Focus Rifle, Needle Rifle, Plasma Launcher, Target Locator, Concussion Rifle, and the Fuel Rod Gun.

The DMR is an instant hit. It has the zoom-in capabilities of a sniper rifle, but with a much quicker rate of fire. It’s a headshot weapon, to be sure. In the right hands, this thing is going to be deadly in multiplayer.

The Grenade Launcher is a blast to use. It works like you would expect with one twist: you can manually trigger the detonation, based on how long you hold RT. This takes some skill, but it’s very useful for annihilating clusters of Covenant.

My one complaint with these weapons in the campaign, is you just won’t see them very often. The DMR is basically a regular drop, but some of the higher grade ordinance only appears a handful of times in the campaign. It would have been nice if Bungie let us have a little more fun with these.

Next Page (2/2) – Multiplayer

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