Despite the fact that Halo: Reach most of all builds further on the strengths of its predecessors it’s the best and biggest Halo game up to now and one of the best shooters ever on console. A must-have for everyone with two thumbs. Now we’ve made that clear, let’s tell you why!
This newest – and unfortunately also the last Bungie-made – Halo takes place during the Covenant attack on the planet Reach. Someone who has kept and eye on the messages regarding the game and the series knows that Reach gets overrun and that you’ll start a lost battle with your Noble team. This doesn’t hurt the fun though, as next to the typical epic storyline you get a unique, threatening atmosphere that’s drenched with knowing that humanity will have one of its darkest days in history. At least, in the sci-fi world of Halo.
You’re the newest member of Noble and meet your colleague Spartans after which you get to work in ever-escalating missions and events. What follows is according to me the best story in the series, thank to understandable twists, interesting and unique characters with excellent voice acting and drama that alternates sci-fi and Halo clichés with more human events. There are still plenty of moments where you’ll be rolling your eyes, but a lot less than in the previous games and certainly when compared with other Space Marine shooters the campaign can be called adult. We still hope that the next game in the series will completely go towards raw and realistic sci-fi, just like the live trailers sometimes suggest, but we’re already more than happy with what we get now.
The gameplay in the meantime has been so refined and perfectioned that there’s little to note. If you didn’t like previous Halo games, then this version won’t change your mind, but we remain big fans of the open and varied gameplay. Veterans will notice that the innovation this time comes from the Abilities; you can switch between running, some sort of defensive shield around you for a few seconds, active camouflage and of course… the jet pack! Especially the latter changes the gameplay quite a bit and allows some more creativity and surprise during combat. Too many Brutes downstairs? Let’s get into the air and fire upon them from the second floor.
Luckily each map can still be played, walked and explored in different ways. On foot or in one of the vehicles, alone or in co-op with up to four players (still great!), with long distance weapons or with melee attacks, by flying or activating stealth… Each time the gameplay is surprising, the objectives can be reached in multiplay ways, and every time the hostiles will adapt and behave differently depending on your playing style. Black Ops should take a lesson from this AI, this anti-linearity and this way of challenge! Also the difficulty degree was improved so that there’s a nice curve from Normal to Legendary making it playable for everyone, with plenty of replayability left. Add to this the Skulls you can activate and the score system for the campaign and you’ll be busy for weeks with this already.
The missions are also more varied than in Halo 3 and ODST, not only thanks to the well-known sequences with vehicles but also due to the many very different environments (ranging from a futuristic disco to space above jungles, mountains and city lanes) and a sequence that reminds of Wing Commander, embedded in a beautiful and colorful sky filled with stars. The unequalled soundtrack perfectly accompanies your adventures and as always helps to tie everything together and add adrenaline as well as more sensitive emotions.
Of course there’s more to do than the campaign. When starting up you immediately see the new menus and possibilities amongst which your persistent character that can be built out and personalised for both single- and multiplayer and for which you can unlock all kinds of gear in the different modes. There are also daily and weekly Challenges you can consult and that automatically get done in both off- and online. They deliver extra credits with which you can buy functional and visual stuff. The amount of possibilities is enormous, but as we’re used from Bungie everything is clear and understandable and you’ll quickly find your way, amongst others thanks to the excellent way you can find friends and accompany them.
Multiplayer then. There’s the improved Firefight mode that has more options and in which you have to defeat waves of hostiles as we know it from ODST. This time added with matchmaking – a lot easier for those that have friends with Reach – and you can also download player-made settings for endless variation. The same variation is also present in the competitive modes. Thanks to Custom Games you can make your own modes based on existing ones and share them with everyone. There are competitions in which the most hardcore gamers will find their liking, the Replay theatre and a mode called Invasion which lets Elites fight Spartans in a battle for conquerable positions.
The abilities and load-outs (you choose which armor and weapons you want when spawning) make for more necessity in paying attention, thinking ahead and constantly adapting your own tactics. And then we haven’t even talked about Forge, the sometimes forgotten editor that’s still an example for the genre and this time offers nine basic maps to let your own creativity go berserk.
You’ve heard it, Halo: Reach perfections and varies not only its gameplay, its campaign and all kinds of multiplayer content, but also adds a more adult atmosphere, a persistent character with all kinds of personalisation options and a graphical and auditive jacket that can take on the best we can currently find on console. Combine this huge amount of content with a flawless finishing and a well-working thing called Xbox Live and you’ve got an absolute milestone in the shootergenre on console. As I said: buy it!