I’ve always known that I’m not a “cool guy”. I’ve also know that being a physicist and enjoying manga doesn’t make you the most popular at a party. What defines who I am the most is probably my reaction to the _Halo 3_ reveal trailer at E3 2006 where I literally had a heart attack; I was that excited. Obviously it’s been a while since that embarrassingly uncool moment and I thought that I had both matured and become less affected by pre-release media hype. Unfortunately while in the cinema a few weeks back, they ran the _Halo: Reach_ live action trailer. After nearly hyperventilating, it occurred to me that no matter how old I become, _Halo_ is always going to undermine any shred of dignity or popularity I might have. Not that I mind, that was an awesome trailer.
As most of you are probably aware, _Halo: Reach_ is the prequel to 2001’s _Halo: Combat Evolved_ and the final game to be developed by Bungie, the franchise’s creators. Instead of following the adventures of the near indestructible Master Chief, as in the previous major instalments to the series, you helm one character of a team of six other Spartans as they attempt to prevent the fall of Reach, a human colony planet.
Before even putting the disc in your 360, you know how the campaign is going to end; everyone gets completely merked with the events leading to the start of _Halo: Combat Evolved_. I’d like to be able to tell you that knowing this doesn’t matter and that it’s the journey that’s important, but unfortunately I can’t. The campaign feels to fast paced and disjointed for any real emotional attachment to be formed with the characters meaning that when they finally meet their maker, which you already know is going to happen, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The pacing is also off in parts with periods of unnecessary waves of enemies and when you think the story is wrapping up the final level drags out, totally destroying any momentum the game had.
Although the campaign has had a number of changes, most notable of which being the addition of armour abilities, _Reach_ is very much a _Halo_ game at heart. You’ll have seen the majority of the weapons before, everything sounds basically the same and the gameplay mechanics are nearly identical to those found in _Halo 3_. The armour abilities, ranging from active camouflage to a jetpack, can result in some interesting gameplay dynamics but unfortunately, even on the heroic difficulty setting, the use of these abilities isn’t require to progress further through the story.
The above makes _Reach_ feel a little archaic; the delivery of the story is subpar compared to numerous first-person shooter releases since _Halo 3_, with titles such as _Bioshock_ and even _Modern Warfare_ offering more in terms of excitement and suspense, and the gameplay, although still very much _Halo_, feels distinctly stagnated due to a lack of evolution.
The single player campaign may be a disappointment to some but it still offers more of the _Halo_ universe that so many adore (including me) and the majority will still have a fantastic time tearing through hoards of Grunts and the various other Covenant minions, as they have in all of the previously released titles. And the campaign is only a small fraction of what the _Reach_ package has to offer; it’s the additional modes that truly elevate _Reach_ above the monotony of other titles and add so much value and replayability that a vast number of people will probably still be playing it in years to come.
Firstly there’s Firefight, a mode introduced in _Halo: ODST_ that puts you and three other players up against wave after wave of Covenant forces with the objective being to rack up points and, more importantly, survive. While this feature was an excellent addition to _ODST_, it lacked matchmaking; meaning that you had to already have three other like-minded friends ready to play. _Reach_ has now rectified this glaring omission, allowing you to slaughter Elites and Brutes with complete strangers.
Of course, _Halo’s_ signature competitive multiplayer modes have also all returned. Here the armour abilities that fell flat in the single player do make a considerable difference to how each match plays. The jetpack ability adds a verticality never before seen in the franchise and the decoy ability results in players shooting at nothing but air. You’re also now given a choice of load-outs, at the start of each match, of varying weapons and armour abilities. This allows you to form a number of different strategies for with the coming fight and puts less emphasis on running for the limited super weapons, such as the rocket launcher, that are scattered around each map.
For everything that you achieve in _Reach_ you are awarded points that go toward levelling up your character, allowing you to unlock hundreds of different types of armour and cosmetic additions. There are also commendations, such as complete so many headshots, that accumulate over time and when awarded give an extra point boost to your character’s development. More interestingly, Bungie have added daily challenges that also award you a chunkful of points on completion. These range from killing a certain number in matchmaking to finishing so many levels of the campaign on legendary; they are always different and keep the entire game feeling fresh and still worth playing.
Even when _Halo 3_ was released, it wasn’t the prettiest looking game of its time, the game engine being used looked dated and with the release of last year’s _ODST_ it was apparent that the next major instalment of the franchise would need a fresh coat of paint. Luckily Bungie have developed an entirely new engine that gives _Reach_ a crisp and rich presentation while maintaining the franchise’s signature vivid colour palate. The amount of action onscreen has also increased considerably with hundreds of aircraft battling each other above you as you race along on the ground. Even the scale of the campaign’s levels has increased dramatically, all resulting in the feeling that this is a full-scale war and not just a limited skirmish.
_Halo: Reach_ should be a five star game; it’s campaign offers more of the _Halo_ goodness that so many know and love, the multiplayer has been developed and expanded to a point where no game, including the _Modern Warfare_ franchise, comes close to competing with it and throughout everything that can be done in _Reach_, it is simply a joy to play. When it comes to _Halo_ however, I’ve always been invested in and drawn to the story the most, it’s the main reason I play these games and unfortunately I can’t help but feel disappointed by Bungie’s final entry into the series. It’s probably just me and everyone else will think _Reach_ is Bungie at its best, but for me this is reason enough for _Reach_, the near-perfect game, to lose a star.