Videogame Verdict – ‘Halo: Reach’

It’s the last ‘Halo’ game to be made by Bungie, and the studio has left some big shoes to fill. Does ‘Halo: Reach’ live up to the hype?

I’ve finally managed to get enough time into the latest installment of the ‘Halo’ series that I’m comfortable posting a review on it. I could easily have slapped together a few hundred words on the campaign just after finishing it, but that wouldn’t be providing the full picture.

‘Halo: Reach’ is the last installment to be made by Bungie, the company that created the franchise in the first place, and it’s evident that the game is meant to leave an impression. It has everything you could ask for from a ‘Halo’ game and even just a little bit more.

I’m not going to delve too in depth into the story of the game in this review, partially to avoid spoilers for those who find that sort of thing upsetting, but mainly because the story has never been an important part of the ‘Halo’ franchise. Fair warning, though: I will reveal details about the final mission of the game. If you haven’t beaten ‘Halo: Reach’ and don’t want to know about the last level, don’t read the “Campaign” section.

Gameplay

You’ll notice a few things when you sit down to ‘Halo: Reach.’ For starters, the control scheme has changed. Zooming is now done by pressing in the right analog stick, your special powers are done via the Left button, and your melee attack is controlled by the Right button. This is a switcheroo for ‘Halo,’ and it’s a nice change, but it’s not optimal.

There’s an agreed upon method for controlling shooters, and that method uses the Left trigger to handle zooming. Using the Right thumbstick just feels clumsy. It’s not as bad as those NES games that used the B button to jump, but it’s still a bit strange.

Health packs are back in the game, though your shields still regenerate. It’s a nice change from the constantly regenerating health seen in most games, but ultimately doesn’t lead to any significant changes.

There’s another kind of pack that I absolutely love – the jetpack. Being able to soar above your enemies and drop plasma grenades on their heads is a thing of beauty.

Campaign

‘Halo: Reach’ takes place before the other ‘Halo’ games. It occurs on the planet Reach, which ‘Halo’ fans will immediately recognize. In that way, it’s a bit like taking a cruise on the Titanic. You know how it’s going to end; it’s just a matter of how you get there.

You’re playing as a new Spartan, and most of the story is what you’d expect. There are aliens around, and that’s a bad thing, so you kill them. Nice and easy. The entire story happens in cutscene form, and there aren’t a whole lot of surprises along the way. It’s like a summer blockbuster film, if you could skip through the boring bits by hitting A.

Also like an action movie, Halo is full of amazing fights and fascinating scenery. Over the course of the campaign, which runs six to eight hours, you’ll jump into battle on foot as well as in the standard set of ‘Halo’ vehicles like the Warthog.

It doesn’t end there. There’s a particularly amazing sequence where you have to take helicopters from building to building, invading each building along the way. It’s a blast to play, but even more exciting is the space combat.

That’s right, there’s space combat in ‘Halo: Reach.’ It’s the sort of stuff that takes me back to ‘Wing Commander,’ even if it’s just a half hour fight in the middle of a game.

The absolute best part of the campaign is the very end – the bit that’s a huge spoiler for you folks who worry about that sort of thing. After the credits roll, you’re left to defend yourself against an oncoming horde of baddies. There’s no getting around it, you’re going to die in the end, but you’ve still got the option to keep fighting.

It’s a really effective moment, and one that actually evokes a bit of emotional involvement. There you are, resigned to your fate, but unwilling to go down without a fight. Of course, you could simply give in and let the creatures surround you.

Either way, this final sequence is what interactive storytelling is all about, and something that should be learned from. Cutscenes are not the way to tell a story in a game. This is.

Multiplayer

Now, this is what ‘Halo’ is really all about. ou may go through the campaign a few times, but you’ll be playing multiplayer games of ‘Halo: Reach’ for years. It’s the new standard for shooters on the Xbox, and it’s easy to see why.

Matchmaking is faster than ever and even lets you adjust a few settings so you get matched up with teammates and opponents that are more your style. Whether you’re a quiet team player or a trash-talking lone wolf, the game can be adjusted to suit your needs.

The game modes are varied, but you may never end up playing some of them. In the hours and hours that I put into multiplayer in ‘Halo: Reach,’ I’ve done dozens of races – which I hate – and only played Elite Slayer once and never had the pleasure of Oddball.

This all comes down to the voting system, which offers three options for players to choose and then goes with the majority vote. That means you’ll end up with a lot more games of Infection than Slayer unless you bring some friends with you to sway the votes. Of course, I can hardly cite the poor taste of the folks I play against online as a mark against the game.

‘Halo: Reach’ allows you to unlock new gear through the various game modes, including some very cool pieces of armor and some fun death animations. You won’t find anything that changes the gameplay, though. Every change is simply an aesthetic one. That may be a turnoff to ‘Modern Warfare’ fans, but a balanced playing field is nice to have.

Firefight mode is back again, and it’s just as fun as ever. There are a few different variants, but the general concept remains the same. Defeat wave after wave of enemies while staying alive yourself. It’s a great break from competitive multiplayer, since you can join up with friends and strangers alike to fight the alien horde.

Conclusion

It comes as no surprise that ‘Halo: Reach’ is a great game. Aside from the story, which simply feels unnecessary, I really have no criticisms. The campaign changes things up enough that I never got bored, and the matchmaking system is still the best around. If you even have a passing interest in shooters and you own an Xbox 360, you should own this game. There’s no getting around it, ‘Halo: Reach’ is amazing.

Rating: ★★★★★ (out of 5)

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