"Reach...ing but Not Quite Hitting the Mark"
The video game landscape has changed a great deal since 1999 when Bungie first introduced Halo as an exclusive game for the Mac during one of the renowned Apple keynotes. There aren’t many who doubt the foresight of Steve Jobs, but very few could have seen that this intriguing, sci-fi shooter would cement Apple’s long standing rival, Microsoft (and their newfangled Xbox), in the pantheon of video game consoles. And no one could have ever foreseen that the Halo brand itself would go on to become one of the most profitable ($200 million in one day, FTW) and prominent video game franchises of the last decade.
Halo: Combat Evolved worked for two, simple reasons: it introduced an FPS control scheme on a gamepad that was a viable alternative to the PC’s keyboard and mouse configuration and a crazily addictive multiplayer element that kicked much ass and took many names. Now, almost ten years later, Bungie chooses to say goodbye to the Halo franchise in a rather peculiar way. Instead of simply creating Halo 4 to close out the series, they decided to tackle the fall of Reach, one of the most important events in the Halo universe and the flashpoint for the awakening of series stalwart, Master Chief.
- So long Master Chief... Hello Noble Six -
But, alas, you do not play as the iconic Chief in Halo: Reach. The protagonist in this experience is Noble Six, a Spartan who joins the unit for a reconnaissance mission that will eventually lead up to a massive invasion of Reach by the Covenant. What plays out is a series of conflicts that should be familiar to fans of the series or the novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach. The in-game narrative is efficient, and compelling in spots, but the characterizations fall flat and into action flick clichés way too simply. Because of this, the characters are nowhere near as engaging as say, Augustus Sinclair in Bioshock or Alyx Vance in Half Life 2.
Otherwise, the single-player campaign is well done and the level design is noteworthy in many places (the parts that stick out in my mind are the attack on the Spire and the Sabre flying/dogfighting section where Reach becomes Dark Star One for a bit). The graphics are gorgeous (some of the best I’ve seen in this generation) and the musical score (Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori) will get the blood a’ pumpin’. But Halo: Reach suffers from a few, glaring problems that just shouldn’t exist in a flagship, triple A title. The first and foremost is that it can be beaten in eight to ten hours at most. I’m sorry…but this is totally inadequate, regardless of how fantastic your multiplayer component is.
Another thing that bothers me is that the designers seem to be making gameplay choices for you by limiting what weapons and armor abilities (dash, lock, jet pack, etc.) you can use at various points in the game. The weapons/abilities do not carry over and this decision mystifies me. If I end a section with a hard-won plasma sword and the jet pack, goddammit I want to start the next section with those weapons, not the crappy pistol (still waiting for the return of original pistol, by the way…) and pea-shooting assault rifle! And lastly, I ran into a few, weird A.I. hiccups that, at best, were just annoying and, at worst, brought the campaign to a grinding halt. These issues typically involved getting members of your squad to do what you want/need (i.e. drive vehicles) in that moment.
- The multiplayer component of Halo: Reach doesn't disappoint -
Of course, one cannot write about a Halo game without discussing multiplayer and this, as expected, is where Reach truly struts its stuff. The excellent competitive modes (Slayer, King of the Hill, Head Hunter, Invasion) and the cooperative campaign (four players online or two local split-screen) are joined by Fire Fight, in which up to four players fend off waves of Covenant troops. Fire Fight has been upgraded with matchmaking and customization options that can vary the objectives and overall difficulty. Add to that all the regular tweaking options for your armor and the like, and the greatly improved Forge World level editor where massive, multiplayer maps can be created from scratch, well, that’s a heck of an impressive package.
Halo: Reach is, above all, a tribute to a franchise that has redefined the FPS genre and become world renowned it its own right. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the impression that it is a Halo pastiche, or “greatest hits” compilation and does little to move the FPS genre forward. It is disappointing that the campaign is so short and has a few, perplexing design flaws but, fortunately, the awesome multiplayer and Forge World offsets the majority of those flaws.
GameDynamo's Score for Halo: Reach (X360)
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