“Before the beginning… you know the end.” Those chilling words serve as the cataclysmic announcement of Halo: Reach at E3 2009. It is also the fall that started it all, as far as the Halo event is concerned – the fall that set in motion the final conflicts of an intergalactic war as humanity struggles to fight back in a cosmic jihad situation against a powerful alien force known as the Covenant that would make even the most hardened Islamic despot look like a fool in comparison. Nearly one year later, the final Bungie project in the ranks of the popular XBOX series is nearly due for public introduction once the anticipated multiplayer beta hits next month. This, of course, is just the beginning of what to expect in the final product, and herein are some of the details of what you need to know for practically everything Halo: Reach has to offer.
Something Has to Fall
First off, here are a few things that do not describe Halo: Reach. For one, it is not a simple retelling of events already described (not even the written events of the parallel story written as Halo: The Fall of Reach in novella form). For another, this isn’t a return to John-117 stories (that’s right folks, there’s no “Master Chief” in this one). This is an all-new tale of epic proportions as the Halo franchise does so well; the only other difference from what we usually get is that this one is more Empire Strikes Back than New Hope in the conclusion, which means the ending is a cliffhanger of sorts leading up to the events of the very first Halo game. Simply put, we already know this place is going to be totaled by the Covenant forces – but this time, we get to see it happen visually.
Okay, Revenge of the Sith is probably the better Star Wars comparison here due to this fact, as far as how this outing sets up future events. Though we do not have to worry about a prominent character turning to the wrong side of the moral line in this one, the effect on the storyline is much the same: in order to save humanity in future events, something has to take the fall ahead of time. That something, as Halo fans are generally aware, is the titular Colony Reach.
Witness to the Fall
Ironically, humanity only settled Colony Reach a hundred years prior; this fact makes the loss even harder in regard to such a relatively short time as the central military installation for human forces. A rather inhospitable place prior to founding the colony as far as humanity is concerned, this harsh, rugged terrain is covered with weather-beaten forests and huge mountain vistas just waiting to be melted to glass-like consistency as the Covenant often do when they conquer their targets. And this time, you’re going to be right in the middle of one such assault, a witness to the fall of the power center of human cosmic defense.
Only this time, you’re not fighting as a lone Spartan II anymore; in fact, we’re talking a different breed of Spartan-class soldier entirely. The Spartan III sub-class may not be as powerful or defensive as the “Chief” and the deuces – in fact, they are often a “fire and forget” group, bred to take a fall of their own if necessary (which essentially means these fighters are way more expendable) – but what they lack in these areas they make up for it in numbers, which is part of the reason you join up with a group of five others as the replacement for the most recent casualty of this approach. A hard fate, to be sure – but teamwork is essential here.
Survivors Against All Odds
Not all Spartan III soldiers have given themselves for the cause, of course: in fact, one such group has made it out of numerous situations no matter what gets thrown at them. Survivors against all odds, if you will. Of course, their luck is about to run out – and for the colony as well – but not before we get to see these guys in action, doing what they do best.
As soon as you start, you are thrust right into this hardened, tenacious group as Noble 6 (a reference to the group as a whole, classified as Noble Team). Your lead carries a rap sheet full of impressive accomplishments, yet carries some rather dark secrets. The rest of the squad is no less for the wear: Carter-259, the leader of the team, has pulled the group out of a whole s— trap full of hair-raising situations; second-in-command Kat-320 has been equally devotional to the efforts, even giving up her right arm for the cause (a robotic appendage now sticks out in its place). The rest your new squaddies, assigned to the unit after others gave themselves to the cause, are no less impressive: Jorge-052, the only deuce on the team, is the heavy-weapons expert; Emile-239, who prefers to let his actions speak for himself, brings the classic gun-toting commando approach; and Jun-266 is the obligatory sniper-class, get-‘em-from-a-distance guy.
Of corse, it doesn’t take long before you get called to your first assignment with the team, and boy are you in for a bit of a doozy. A communications disturbance leads to suspicions of insurrection, but upon arriving at the scene the numbers clearly don’t add up: plasma burns are all over the place, and there’s no sign of human influence – a clear sign that Covenant forces have arrived despite all precautions (Cole protocol and all) that humanity ever implemented to minimize Covenant intrusions in hopes of keeping the jihad from, uh, reaching the steps of Colony Reach (and thus jeopardizing Earth-bound vectors). Next thing you know, the alien forces show themselves and all hell breaks loose.
Of course, you don’t bring your fists to a firefight – even armor-plated ones – so it is nice to know that your arsenal is loaded to the core. Many of the old standbys are here in full force – sniper rifles, magnum pistol, plasma pistols and energy swords all make an appearance here – along with some new options like the needle rifle and Designated Marksman Rifle (or DMR for short). The former combines the structure of the Covenant Needler with better accuracy and the capability to super-combine three of your shots when they hit, resulting in a devastating implosion; while the latter is a single-shot, one-hit wonder that decimates the target from a distance. Returning parts of your arsenal are adapted and modeled after the Halo 1 equivalents for continuity’s sake (which also means the spike and flame grenades are out, as is the dual-wielding mechanic.)
Also for continuity, you aren’t just a sitting duck once your recharging shields are knocked out completely – so keeping an eye out for health kits when needed is essential in this outing. Additionally, the introduction of a couple of new gameplay elements – melee assassinations and armor abilities – also add to the battle strategies. The former involves holding down a button, and – if your opponent doesn’t flinch or move – you will execute a context-sensitive assasination move; the latter, on the other hand, is based on equipment that you pick up from supply caches and plug into your studs that provide such enhancements as active camouflage and sprinting moves, depending on the implement. This hectic state of operative overload also extends into multiplayer battles: several abilities and weapons from the campaign storyline translate to your free-for-all showdowns, and the versus environments themselves are based in part on areas from the single-player missions. Yet even in the story missions, the field is littered with forces from both sides as the game engine can now handle around twenty vehicles and up to forty troopers.
Look for Halo: Reach to hit sometime in the third quarter, with the multiplayer beta on May 3. (You’ll need a Halo 3: ODST disc to access the latter, so if you don’t have a copy then get one as soon as you can.)