From the Beginning…
Reach. To the vast majority of the world the word means nothing. To Halo fans, it is a word that carries all the weight of Alderaan. It is a dead world, one to be missed, and a symbol of mankind’s desperate struggle for survival. To anyone else that played Halo, it was where the Master Chief escaped from in Halo: CE.
So it means many things to many people. To the guys at Bungie studios, it represents a chance to tell an old story in full. And to the Halo universe in general, it represents a turning point in a war that threatens to destroy the universe. A touch intense? Damn straight it is.
Taking on the Big Boys
Being advertised with the tag line “From the beginning, you know the end…” Bungie are far from trying to make some sort of attempt at suspension. In fact, your impending doom is just the drive you need to plow through the game. Perhaps the best thing about this is playing from a unique perspective -the losing side.
This means that Bungie at least need to give you a different reason to fight, especially if they want a chance of taking on the all dominating Modern Warfare 2, but if they live up to their reputation, that will be no problem. It will probably leave the overall feeling of the game closer to that of Gears of War than the conventional Halo feel, with a do or die outlook and desperately trying to hold out against an overwhelming foe.
Hey there good looking
Beyond a reason to fight, they will certainly be giving you plenty of foes to fight. Tweaks to the game engine have done wonders for the number of enemies that you’ll come up against. Halo 3 supported 20 individual AIs at the same time, Reach will be pushing 40.
Further tweaks mean that the engine will also support distant battles, with the fighters using scripted moves, until the player gets closer, at which point the AI takes over.
This could mean that you could end up with the same kind of panoramic scenes that all previous Halos have offered. However where previously we were offered the vast oceans and plateaus of the two ring worlds in the first two outings, or the crater of the Ark in Halo 3, which were pretty but somewhat sterile and lifeless, now we can hope for a view of hordes of Covenant warriors taking on a battalion of marines, as the war for Reach rages
New friends, old foes…
Big views are only a small thing to look forward to however. There’s no mention of whether cut scenes will be presented as they were in Halo: 3, with the player able to control your character throughout, or if they will be more traditional cut aways.
These are all minor side shows however. What of the game play?
Well as you’d expect from Halo, it’s going to be full on. With the Master Chief making good his escape, you don the armour of a Spartan-III as the newest addition of a squad of other Spartan-III’s called Noble Team, you quickly notice the difference between your new best buddy Spartans, and Master Chief.
Spartans! Prepare for Glory!
Firstly, Noble team aren’t camera shy. With their helmets coming off as they please, they show that they have faces, and that they have almost human personalities. Each member of the team have their own little quirks, and will all be kitted out for their individual roles.
Sniping expert Jun-266, for example, comes complete with a set of ghillie armour, whilst Kat-320 wears light-weight armour, so’s not to ruin any attempts at stealth.
Each member of the team will work with you at various points in the game, moving and reacting on their own, much like the Marines or Arbiter have done for you in the past. This means there won’t be the same lay out as Halo: ODST (which was last years big Halo game of 2009), with the different members having their own parts of the story.
Bad boys, Bad boys, what ya gonna do?
So the goodies are sorted, how about them bad boys? Since this is pre-Halo:CE, there are a few things to remember. The Arbiter isn’t an arbiter yet, simply a ship commander. The Brutes are still unknown to the UNSC, as are the Engineers, which means your biggest and most dangerous foe is once again the Elite.
And they remain as bad ass as ever. They won’t be talking our Human language either, all commands are given in the Elite’s native tongue, save for a few choice insults that will be delivered in garbled English. This reinforces the feeling of alienation from the Elites removing any lingering feelings of kinship once and for all.
Grunts and Jackals will of course be making a comeback, so be prepared for a slight amount of slap stick humor, as well as the odd sniper. There is also a new kid on the block.
The Skirmishers appear as a bird-like Jackal, but instantly you find out the world of difference between the two. Skirmishers don’t cower behind shields and run as soon as it gets too hot. They are much harder to kill, much more aggressive, and stand their ground in a fight.
Thinking of them as a thorn in your side could be a decision you regret for the rest of a lifespan that will only be a few minutes long because of it
A Sight for sore eyes…
But what of the game’s biggest character? Reach is an iconic planet, but with the exception of knowing it was glassed, not much is known. Bungie have stated that they will not be basing the game on the popular Fall of Reach novel, and so they have free reign to create the world as they see fit.
The world itself is likely to be both beautiful and unique. Forests of twisted trees cover a mountainous landscape itself shrouded in perpetual fog. With vast plains in the lowlands, it gives itself plenty of scope for those set piece panoramas. It looks real and feels dramatic and atmospheric.
It’s almost a shame for it to be lost.
A new graphic engine means that Reach is the most polished in the series so far. With stunning landscapes, and a whole new design for the architecture of Reach as a planet, you really feel like you are on a new world, not just another Halo or New Mombasa. Thanks, once again, to this being before Halo:CE Eye candy is mixed in very well with some blasts from the past.
The Phantom drop ship is yet to be used by the Covenant and so we can look forward to the return of the Spirit. Affectionately referred to as the Tuning Fork by the developers at Bungie, it seems fitting to see it return, and adds that wonderful touch of nostalgia which is essential to the game.
Something Old, Something New…
All of your favorite weapons and vehicles will make a return, most receiving a mere face lift. The Pistol regains it’s scope and the plasma pistol now comes complete with splash damage for charged shots, making it a good choice when aiming at a crowd.
These upgrades have been balanced with a dampening of the multiplayer’s favorite, the Needler, which, because of a different ammo type, can no longer be used to perform the super-combo attacks.
There is a new addition in the form of the Needle Rifle. Looking like the menacing offspring of a Needler and the Beam Rifle, it packs all the punch you’d expect from such a demonic looking gun. Not quite as imaginative as the Borderlands weapons development maybe, but it certainly is something to look forward to.
The UNSC also has a new toy to play with in the form of a Falcon. The younger sibling to the Pelican, it is a light craft that carries just 5 people, including the pilot, with two taking charge of the turrets on either side of the craft. Any chance to take control of this vehicle means an even broader level, meaning more stuff to see.
The Beginning of the End
Halo: Reach is still a very long way off, with the release due in the autumn, but with the upcoming beta release on May 3rd for everyone with an ODST disk, you can be sure that there’ll be plenty to whet your appetite until then.
Certainly though, with everything looking the way it does, and with nothing but time for Bungie to add plenty of spit and polish,Reach seems to be more than capable of the very high expectations of fans and critics alike, though that also leaves them prone to a massive fall. We may know the end… but we can’t wait to see the rest.