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Second Opinion Review: Halo: Reach
by Andrew Whipple III

This is a second review of Halo Reach, by Andrew Whipple III. Our original review can be found here.

Halo: Reach marks Bungie’s last title in the Halo era. All is not over: whilst Bungie may be moving to make games for Activision, the Halo series will be retained by Microsoft and handed to new devs, 343 Studios. Whatever comes of that, Bungie’s last foray into their own creation is a refinement of the highest calibre and poses 343 Studios with quite a challenge to surpass. Reach is, simply, everything you’ve come to expect from a Halo game.

But that might not be a good thing.

Depending on which side of the conflict you’re on, you either enjoy Halo or you cringe at the very mention of another game set in the popular universe. Halo is a fast and frenetic affair that has won over millions of gamers and, more importantly, its mechanics helped shape a console-centric industry into what we see today. The Halo series is an important asset to gaming, and as the swan song for Bungie, Reach offers the most out of any of the previous games.

Everyone knows the ending to this story. Often hinted at, referred to in other games and even brought-to-light in a book surrounding the incident, Reach is doomed to fall victim to the Covenant onslaught. If that doesn’t make any sense, this is a prequel to all the events in the Halo universe. The planet Reach is a militarised world, upon which rests a significant amount of human technology, which plays an integral role at beating back the planet's alien invaders. You play a decisive role in the war as part of an elite squad of Spartan soldiers called Noble Team. As Noble Six, you and your team are tasked with taking down various objectives in an attempt to thwart Covenant advances. Of course, it will all be in vain, but certain cameos and events link directly with the Halo games which can make it all worth something upon the game’s completion.

It was only recently that we were first able to play through the games with more than two of our friends, a feature which was first heralded in by Halo 3, returned in ODST, and is also present in Reach. It’s definitely the best way to go through the campaign, but you can elect to play solo if it’s more to your liking. Just as in Halo 3 or ODST, you can also manipulate the scoring and the different skills available to make the game more challenging. Unfortunately, the campaign this time around isn’t as good as you might expect, and suffers from a myriad of issues that can only be described as frustrating.

The game’s campaign is built around a cooperative experience, which is all well and good, but - like Lost Planet 2 - you really need those other players to make the game feel the way it’s supposed to. You see, the enemies occupying Reach are in their thousands - they're everywhere. There are so many that I found myself running past conflicts just to progress to the next checkpoint. It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t scale depending on how many people are in your game either; if you’re at one section with four people and have to fight several Hunters and twenty Elites, that number won’t go down if you’re playing solo. It might not seem like a big issue, but even playing on the recommended setting of Heroic for Halo veterans (like myself) was a labour.

All the enemies are much tougher now: Jackal shields can take a huge amount of punishment, Elite shields sometimes take a full clip to take down, and even some Grunts take more than one shot to the head to kill. At one point I shot a Hunter over twenty times in their exposed weakness with the DMR (the new Battle Rifle), struck him twice with Plasma grenades, and fired two rockets, only to see the bastard still standing. It gets especially frustrating when Grunts, Brutes and the Golden Elites all come at you with Fuel-Rod Cannons, which are hands-down the most annoying weapon to deal with in the campaign. It isn't nearly a large enough deal to ruin the game if you’re playing with friends, though, because you’ll just respawn if killed. For instance, there was a point in the latter half of the game when I encountered a Brute with ridiculously strong shields and, of course, a Fuel-Rod Cannon. I hit the guy with my own cannon five different times but he still didn’t go down. I had to wait for the game to send AI in to have even a remote chance against him. If I had companions in the game with me we would just throw ourselves up against the thing until it died. It’s things like that which detract from the overall experience.

The biggest problem, though - even after the AI and scaling issues - is the story. You already know how the story ends, leaving Bungie with many creative possibilities when it came to conveying the story. They had a chance to enthrall you with some very emotional roles or maybe involve you in something you’d remember long after the credits rolled. Unfortunately they failed in that area pretty badly. Voice acting falls flat on several occasions and, more importantly, you just don’t care about the people you’re fighting with. There isn't enough development when it comes to your crew to establish working relationships, and when something does come up, it doesn’t feel like anything. Even the final event (which I won’t spoil here) ended abruptly because of a wonderfully placed Fuel-Rod Cannon shot.

I have to say that, visually, this game is astounding. From the game’s onset you can see how meticulous Bungie is when it comes to detail. The sun reflects off your pistol’s surface; Spartans and Covenant alike are superbly animated; the explosions and set-pieces are wonderfully put together. The much anticipated space battle is actually one of the best parts of the game and, as it turns out, one of the best-looking sections too. It’s all extremely striking and if you’ve ever played other Halo games there’s no comparison: Reach easily takes the prize for the best aesthetic. Hell, anything was better than the muddy, messy faces in ODST.

Any gamer with sensibility will be constantly firing up the multiplayer long after they’ve finished the story. Thankfully, Reach’s multiplayer is the best the series has seen. Bungie has overhauled and augmented just about everything you can think of when it comes to online play. The interface is extremely intuitive, allowing you to drop into friends’ games or even queue up to join in the next checkpoint of the campaign. You also earn credits based on how well you perform (well, actually, you earn credits for practically everything you do). Once you’ve accumulated enough you can enter the new armoury section, which allows you to purchase a variety of armour pieces to customize your Spartan. It’s pretty addictive and an excellent idea.

Firefight, Halo’s take on Horde mode, returns in Reach and has been beefed up from its rough implementation in ODST. Now you can enter matchmaking mode instead of being required to play with people you know. As an added bonus, you can also edit just about anything about the mode or even play preset modes like Gruntpocalypse. It’s pretty cool to jump in and play with your friends, but when it comes to matchmaking it’s an entirely different beast. Instead of having a set amount of lives, Firefight gives you unlimited lives and ends after one set, effectively breaking its entire purpose. It doesn’t matter if XxSniperLordxX gets destroyed fifteen times in the game, you’re always going to win. Sound amazing? It sure isn’t.

Team Slayer, and Halo’s more competitive modes, remain the definitive reason why this game is worth its asking price. There’s nothing more satisfying than utilising Reach’s new armour abilities while performing incredible feats of strength. For instance, the new Armour Lock move allows you to become invulnerable, but also immobile, for a short period of time. However, if you time it right you can reflect missiles, destroy accelerating vehicles, or knock back that annoying sword dude. There are other abilities too such as the excellent Sprint and even a Jetpack to ride around with. You’ll actually find these abilities in the campaign but it’s pretty clear that they were all built with the multiplayer in mind.

New multiplayer options also mean new modes, so Invasion - the best of the bunch - is very welcome. Invasion is an assault/defend mission where you either take the side of the Spartans or Elites. Each has unique weapons and abilities to choose from and more options open up as the game unfolds. Unfortunately there are only two maps for Invasion, and with some of them being so huge it sometimes feels empty amidst the chaos.

One of my personal favorite things about Reach is the return of certain Halo 2 maps. Ascension (Pinnacle) and Ivory Tower (Reflection) were two of my most liked maps and both never saw a release in Halo 3. Even the ever-changing Blood Gulch (Hemorrhage) map makes its re-emergence here, but this time it’s in its original Halo: Combat Evolved form, which couldn’t be more awesome. Easily one of the most addictive features, Theater mode, is back allowing you to upload and share your insane shenanigans with your buddies once again. You can also experiment in Bungie’s refined Forge World map, which is enormous; and you can make all sorts of bizarre creations, maps, modes or whatever you feel the game is missing. If customisation is your thing than you’ll be pleased to know Reach allows it in huge quantities.

Bungie plays it safe with Reach, but for what it’s worth it really is the definitive Halo package. The multiplayer is fun, the gunplay has weight to it and features like the new armour abilities and Theater mode will easily keep your attention. It’s too bad that the lacklustre campaign, stagnant gameplay and small multiplayer annoyances affect the total package. It’s fine to take an “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” approach to something like Halo, but a player can only take so much before they require something more enticing.

7/10 [?]

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- Andrew Whipple III

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