Halo Reach Review: The World Really Is Ending This Time
Halo Reach is the last Halo title that will be developed by Bungie. Reach, therefor, is the company's last hurrah, a love-letter from the studio to its fan. Will this letter manage to woo its target, or is there little to love in the latest addition to the Halo franchise?
Halo Reach Review
“This is the way the world ends."
So declared the trailer for Halo 3. It was a lie, of course – the world didn’t end in Halo 3, although the Halo timeline as depicted in the games did. That tagline has not been forgotten, however - it has instead been picked up and modified by Halo Reach, which was announced with a trailer that declared “From the beginning, you know the end."
Indeed, Halo Reach is all about the end.
Campaign Mode - Story
Reach is doomed. You probably knew that going into the game, and if you didn’t the opening cinematic hints at this eventuality sharply by opening on a barren landscape on which a Spartan’s shattered helmet sits alone.
The story of Halo Reach is, without a doubt, the darkest of any Halo game. The Halo series up until this point has been a standard space opera featuring incomplete characters that were written to fill clichés rather than display personality. Reach is different. This is the first game to feature a team of Spartan and also the first game to contain any significant character development.
This is also the first Halo game in which the heavy hand of death seems appropriately present. The moment that Noble Team realizes a huge Covenant invasion force has arrived on Reach is the moment Noble team realizes nobody is safe. One later level takes place during a city’s evacuation. Civilians are on the streets, attempting to reach the cover of UNSC. Some make it. Others are savagely killed by Covenant forces.
Unfortunately, I still have to stop short of saying Reach is well written. The game’s story is very thin on exposition. One of the game’s cinematic sequences compacts five days of time into nothing more than a few seconds and only informs you in one off-hand bit of dialogue. What the game lacks in words, however, it makes up for in atmosphere. Reach is, ultimately, a game about courage in the face of death.
Campaign Mode - Gameplay
The Halo Reach campaign is the first Halo campaign I’ve ever played that felt as if Bungie listened to its fans. The Flood does not make an appearance on Reach. There are no overly drawn out levels with filler roomers. And there are no convoluted missions that send you romping from one ass-end side of the galaxy to the other in just a few hours.
Instead Reach focuses heavily on what made Halo great in the first place – intense battles against a variety of shockingly smart AI opponents. Although Reach is still a firmly unrealistic game, it is not by any means an easy one. I died at least a few times every level on normal difficulty, and while I’m far from a gaming god, I’m generally more skilled than the average bear. My deaths were largely the result of the AI’s brains. They will flank you when your vulnerable, they’re incredibly deadly with grenades, and they know when to take cover. A battle against several Elites in a well-entrenched position can be measured in minutes. It’s a shame that more games don’t learn from Halo’s AI. The campaign AI from Modern Warfare 2, for example, feels absolutely primitive by comparison.
You will be hit with a few surprises, however. I won’t name them (that would spoil the surprise) but I will say that Reach has some of the most brilliant vehicle sections I’ve played in any action game ever. The vehicle play in Halo has always been above par, but Bungie has raised the bar with this campaign.
As with the campaign, the multiplayer in Halo Reach isn’t going to surprise you. It is simply the latest evolution on the same matchmaking-based formula that Bungie introduced with Halo 2.
But there’s nothing wrong with that. Halo’s matchmaking has consistently been the best in the business, and Reach only further improves upon it by offering new maps, more multi-player modes, and more matchmaking options. The Forge mode is included and expanded upon, as well, so you can make maps and fight friends on them. You can even forget the action aspects of Halo entirely and turn it into a sandbox construction game.
Indeed, the evolution of Halo’s multiplayer over the years reminds me of World of Warcraft. In the beginning, it was good. But now, after numerous revisions, it is outstanding. It has been a decade since the original Halo arrived, but Halo Reach proves that Bungie’s franchise is still the best multi-player game on the Xbox 360. If you enjoy the sort of old-school combat that Halo provides you’ll likely find that Halo Reach can provide you with hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Graphics and Sound
The darker story of Halo Reach is reflected in the graphics, which are notably duller than those of previous games. Thankfully, this does not mean that the game is colorless – the range of hues that appear in Halo Reach still has more in common with a Viva Pinata game than Gears of Wars. However, the subtle change will be instantly noted by any fan of the series. This fact aside, there is no denying that Halo Reach is absolutely gorgeous.
Reach’s sound is also well above average, particularly when it comes to weapons fire. The feel of a weapon is important in an action game, and sound is a major component. The weapons in Reach sound appropriately beefy and, in the case of Covenant weapons, have a distinctive alien quality. The music is classic Halo, but doesn’t re-use clips from the previous titles as heavily as Halo 3. The only real weak spot is the voice acting that is a bit over-dramatic at times – but the actors at least sound interested.
There is very little to fault in Halo Reach. The campaign is solid, the multi-player provides hundreds of hours of fun, and the visuals are impressive. This is still absolutely a Halo title, so you will want to skip Reach if you hated Halo games in the past. Halo fans, however, will quickly be smitten.