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Monday, December 27, 2010

Halo: Reach (8.9/10)

I have a confession to make… I never played the first two Halo games. I didn't pick up the series until Halo 3 on Xbox 360. I really enjoyed it even though I had no earthly idea what the hell was going on. It’s action packed sequences were everything I had read they would be. Then I made a mistake. Like a lot of other people I went out and got Halo: ODST as soon as it came out… and was, like those other poor saps, supremely disappointed.

While ODST sucked, I had faith that Bungie would come good with Halo: Reach. They had said that this was their last go for the franchise, and I knew they wouldn’t disappoint. I mean, come on, this was their baby! They started the whole thing, and ultimately changed the landscape of modern gaming... and by finishing their work on the series with a prequel Bungie has come full circle. Reach serves to set in motion everything that follows...

At it's core, Halo: Reach is a soldier's story about comrades facing insurmountable odds, and the shared knowledge that an impending and inevitable death is nigh. You play as Noble Six, the most recent addition to the Spartan Noble team on the planet Reach as it is being overrun by the evil Covenant. The war has taken its toll, and Reach is one of the last bastions of humanity in outer space. Losing here could turn the tide in favor of the alien onslaught. Your new team of iconic super soldiers must go on a series of missions to not only thwart the invading hordes of hostile aliens, but also protect and evacuate the populace. From various locales on Reach to space above it, Noble team struggles to staunch the incoming Covenant flood.

As you battle for survival you'll come to learn more about your teammates. Being a Spartan, the quintessential "space marine," means that one must act selflessly in the face of such adversity. Sometimes soldiers are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice and they accept this as part of the job. As the game hurtles towards it’s inevitable conclusion, you might find yourself getting a bit emotional (at least I did), because if you know the Halo canon, you know what will ultimately happen on Reach... and the fate of Noble Team.

As confusing as the overall plotline of the series can be, Bungie obviously put a lot of effort into the narrative of Reach. While the cast and voice work is pretty good, your Spartan team is hindered by generic character templates such as the big burly gunner with the heart of gold. Poor, cliched 'war' dialogue doesn't help either. These guys (and girl) are obviously not the iconic Master Chief, but rather his distant cousins. Chief wasn’t exactly the most eloquent chap, but sometimes that 'silence' is more effective than using recycled platitudes and predictable plot twists. That said, in the end it proved to be much harder to witness the fall of Reach. I won't spoil the twist towards the end, but I will say I actually enjoyed the story despite the fact that you knew from the get go that it wasn’t going to have a happy ending. That horrid sense of impending doom creates such a powerful, charged atmosphere... I found it pretty evocative.

But let's be honest, Halo's main draw has never been its story, happy ending or not. Halo is, and always has been, defined by it's stellar gameplay. I'm happy to say it's alive and well in Reach. For some reason I’ve always struggled a bit with Halo controls, probably just because the grenade is on the left trigger, that seems to throw me… far too often I sneak up on some hapless grunt ready to knife them in the back when I instead chuck a grenade at them. Effective? Most definitely. Stealthy? Not so much. If you've played any of the other games in the franchise you know it takes and inordinate amount of shots to bring down the baddies. It does take some getting used to especially compared to other shooters. Seems like every time I play a Halo game the first 45 minutes or so are punctuated by a lot of swearing and "Why won’t you DIE!" moments. But, once you get a bit of practice under your belt you’ll be kicking ass and taking Covenant names.

While there aren't any major departures from the stock Halo gameplay, the addition of reusable upgrades can change the style of play. Armor lock is cool (although I can never pull it off the way they do on those awesome online highlight reels, I just get run over). The active camo is good as well, sending out a hologram to draw fire while you flank the confused Covenant. Oh yeah, jet packs are awesome! Flying up over cover to headshot a grunt is extremely satisfying... you can almost see their eyes open in surprise! 

Reach also boasts more variety in level construction. You'll be traveling all over the planet, from urban to rural to underground environments. These essentially corridor based FPS sections open into wide vistas where you'll once again need to rely on vehicles to get around. But this time the Spartans aren't limited to Warthogs or commandeered Banshees, you'll be piloting Falcon attack helicopters and even space fighters fending off Covenant warships! These flying sections are ace, but last a bit too long and the controls can be wonky at first... 

Halo: Reach has good graphics and sound... good, but not great. There is plenty to catch the eye and the action looks amazing. The sound track of familiar haunting Halo music returns, as well as the effects for the weapons and vehicles. But ultimately I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was watching a slightly more polished Halo 3.

I had few issues with Halo: Reach beyond that it's just more of the same ol' Halo. My biggest problem is the same one I had with Halo 3, namely the crappy checkpoint system. Firstly, they are few and far between, meaning if you die, more often than not you'll end up playing the same section through again in entirety. Then there are times when you will get respawned with no health and have to reload, surrounded by Covenant forces. Cheap deaths abound... it brings forth more than a few "WTF! Come on!" moments. I had one such issue at the very end of the game. I really didn't want to restart the level, but by this time it was getting close to 3 AM... I was getting severely annoyed.

One clever addition to Reach was the ability to customize your very own Noble Six. This is mostly to differentiate between stock Spartans for online play, but I love this kind of stuff. Sadly, I can't take full advantage of some of the cooler things because I don't play online. To amass that many experience points I'd have to beat the single player campaign like 87 times... Still, it gives me reason to go back to Reach, beyond the futile struggle to save the planet.

Before I get inundated with hate mail about how I can't possibly review Halo: Reach if I don't play online multiplayer, I'm gonna cut you off by saying I completely agree. Multiplayer is, probably more than the campaign or canon, why the Halo games are so popular. If it's worth playing for the campaign alone, which I believe it is, then the multiplayer is all gravy if you are so inclined.

Halo, while not as rich or detailed (yet) as say Star Wars, has still managed to create its own identity in the public consciousness. It is now a known quantity, and ultimately Reach is par for the course. I don't think it's anything particularly special, but that's perfectly okay. I'm happy with more Halo to enjoy! Bungie should be commended to for creating one of the most beloved, and fiercely defended, franchises and in modern gaming. As it stands Halo: Reach, while telling the story of what happened in the beginning, serves as a fitting end.


Score = 8.9 / 10

P.S. Stick around after the credits. The epilogue was clever and arguably my favorite part!

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I saw your blogger from Great writing!