Halo: Reach Review

By Kevin Kelly - Posted Sep 11, 2010

Bungie's decision to veer away from Master Chief and instead feature a squad of Spartans with players driving replacement newcomer Noble Six, has paid off. Halo: Reach stands as a fitting capstone to Bungie's five-title legacy, both in campaign and multiplayer. Come for the story, stay for the fragging ... and eventually, the teabagging.

The Pros
  • Noble Team becomes your family
  • Multiplayer gets a huge shot in the arm
  • Halo has never looked so good
The Cons
  • A.I. drivers are atrocious
  • Where's the emotion?

Halo: Reach Review:

Most developers and publishers pray for a title that is even marginally as successful as the Halo series has been. Once that success hits, however, it can pen you in creatively when people want you to return to the same formula every time.  Yes, you’re rolling in cash and popularity, but what happens when that creative well runs dry?

Luckily, that hasn't happened yet with Bungie. (Well, Post-Halo Bungie, that is; let’s not forget Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete from back in 1992.) Since Halo propelled the company into superstardom, things have been marching steadily forward, and each new Halo title has added innovation while continuing Chief’s story: Halo 2 added amazing multiplayer and dual-wielding; Halo 3 gave us deployable equipment and Forge; while Halo 3: ODST introduced Firefight. Now, Halo: Reach brings together all the lessons Bungie has learned over the years.

For Reach, Bungie could have easily slapped together a new Halo game, shipped it out the door, watched money pour in, and been done with it. Instead, they chose to go back to the drawing board, a move that stoked the fires of creativity and allowed them to say goodbye to their beloved franchise. That’s why Halo: Reach isn’t about Master Chief at all, and instead puts you in the armor of an entirely different Spartan.

There’s No I (or pie) In Team!

Near the beginning of the game, you’re asked what boots you want to put on the ground, meaning male or female.  It’s the first time we’ve had a female character as a playable lead in a Halo campaign, and I’m sure it’s a welcomed touch to people who were tired of playing as testosterone-laden males. Based on your choice, the appropriate pronouns are used throughout the rest of the game and your model appears in the cinematics.

Those boots -- male or female -- are meant to be part of a team, which the game hammers home from its opening moments. Carter, Noble Team’s battle-hardened leader, tells you at the start of the first mission, “We’re a team. That lone wolf stuff stays behind. Clear?”  From there on out, you’re performing missions with Noble Team, and learning how to operate in conjunction with your fellow Spartans.

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It’s Got Game

As part of your first mission as a member of Noble Team, you’re tasked with investigating a distress beacon. Command thinks that rebels are stirring up trouble on the outskirts, and you head out with the rest of Noble Team. After you step off your ride, you look around for a bit, before the game asks you,  “Do you like these controls?” It’s a bit more intrusive than the “aim at the lights” sequence from the original game, but a lot quicker to configure.

If you played the beta earlier this year, then you got your first look at armor abilities, which now appear as items (they look like a holographic representation of the ability) that you can pick up; however, you can only have one at a time. You’ll encounter these slowly throughout the campaign. New to Halo: Reach is the hologram “decoy” ability, which didn’t make an appearance in the beta. It sends out a decoy drone that looks just like you in a straight line, distracting your enemies.

Also new is the Drop Shield ability, which mimics the Bubble Shield from Halo 3. Hit LB to activate armor abilities for a short time, and watch the ring around the icon on the lower left that indicates how much usage you have left, and when they’re recharged. Which is particularly important to keep an eye on when you’re sporting the jetpack.

Other than a few small changes, this is your basic Halo. You can cycle the control scheme through six different settings to your liking. Turrets now overheat (even in the Warthog) when they’re mounted, meaning you won’t be able to pump a non-stop supply of lead into your foes. This also goes for the side-mounted turrets in the Falcon as well, so be prepared to wait through some cooldown time.


What’s The Story, Spartan Glory?

As with all games, how it plays doesn’t matter if the story is weak. You definitely don’t have to worry about that here, as Reach contains a powerful and tragic narrative, set against the destruction of an entire planet. In fact, the moment the game begins, you’re set against that ticking clock, knowing that nothing you do can stop it.

Ten missions pull you through the plot, and you’ll be teaming up with various team members for different tasks. These might be retrieving information, planting explosives, evacuating survivors, or even entering orbit to engage in some space combat. There’s a lot of variation here, including many different vehicle-based missions, and it spans almost every environment possible on Reach.

My only real issue with the story is the emotion, or rather, the lack thereof. Reach isn’t constrained by time like a movie would be, but there are emotional moments that need to resonate, and, too often, the game rushes past them. Maybe that’s meta-commentary on the nature of war -- that you can’t pause for effect -- but I found myself wishing I could savor some of these powerful moments, rather than getting dumped back into gunfire immediately.

There are some nice grounding touches to the game as it dovetails perfectly into the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved. There are other nice nods like encountering Buck from Halo 3: ODST during a mission later in the game.  Overall, it’s a satisfying story that doesn’t feel futile, despite the end events. I don’t want to give away anything, but there’s a huge reveal near the end of the game, some familiar faces (and voices) and a nice little bonus after the credits roll.




You've Got The Look

Bungie redesigned everything in Halo: Reach, from characters to weapons to large-scale vehicles, and it shows immediately. You’ll notice graphic detail in this game that trumps the last two entries in the series, and everything pops off the screen; Halo has never looked this good. From the menu screens to the space battle, the game has been overhauled miles beyond previous entries.

That look includes some changes to the game as well. Like the aforementioned overheating turrets, the game also has new Berseker Grunts who charge at you with two grenades in each hand, instead of one. There’s a night vision mode, similar to the ODST visor, which you can activate by hitting left on the D-pad. Creatures native to Reach, from rats to enormous Gueta, appear in the world from time to time.

There are times when you’ll be partnered with random squads of UNSC soldiers (one of mine was First Lieutenant  B. Jarrard, after Bungie community lead Brian Jarrard). It’s smart to try and defend them when you can, and you’ll feel responsible if they die, because the game carries on, but without your little buddies. It’s all of the little touches like this that add icing to the already impressive cake that is Halo: Reach.



Multiplayer Madness

What’s a Halo game without multiplayer? Halo and Halo 2 were the flagship franchise titles for the Xbox, and Halo 3 continued the love affair. Bungie holds dear the tenet of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and makes it their own by changing it to “If it ain’t broke, give ‘em a lot more of what they like.”

Multiplayer is simply massive this time around. There are multiple multiplayer game modes (12 total), variations on those modes (18 total), three playlists (competitive, cooperative, and arena), and tons of maps. The game ships with 13 (eight normal and five Forge World) multiplayer maps, eight Firefight maps, and you can already download dozens of new maps through file share.  Firefight has tons of parameters you can alter, so it all adds up to a ton of variety.

Everything has been turned up to 11, even customization. Halo 3’s Forge pales in comparison next to Forge World, which contains a vast palette of toys to play with on a huge, sprawling landscape. You can toy around with gravity, physics, and tons of different tools, giving you a god-like ability to affect the landscape and build your own multiplayer maps.

Plus, everything you do in Halo: Reach, from campaign, to designing levels, to multiplayer, earns you credits. Those credits go towards buying armor appearance upgrades, new Firefight voices, armor effects and more. Tooling around Forge World? You’ll earn credits. Start a custom game with just yourself? You’ll earn credits. Play the single player? You’ll … well, you get the picture.  



Is It Perfect?

Almost. There are a few things that stick out like bent nails, and you wish Bungie could go back into the game and pound them down with a Gravity Hammer. The most glaring of these is the A.I. driving ability, or rather, inability.

If you’re going in a straight line, things are fine; however, if there’s even the smallest bit of debris in front of you -- say, a chunk of a Ghost you just exploded -- then the A.I. will take great pains to turn around it using maddening three-point turns. Remember that scene in Austin Powers where his cart is impossibly wedged in a hallway? That’s what this feels like at times.

The real reason the A.I. driving stands out is because you don’t want to drive all the time, especially when you’re talking about a vehicle with a massive gun in it. You want to fire that thing! Just be prepared to switch between turret and driver’s seat often.

Objectives are another small issue. Sometimes you’ll be in a mission, and realize that you have no idea where you’re supposed to go. Sometimes you’ll get audio telling you where to go, but if you’re engaged in combat or doing something else noisy and miss what they said, you’re out of luck.

Have You Even Read This Far?

Chances are that if you’ve ever played another Halo game, you’ll be picking this up at launch. However, that’s not to say that newcomers to the franchise shouldn’t consider it: this is your optimal jumping-on spot with a brand-new title that follow a new team. The events might lead up the first Halo game, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy yourself. There’s a solid story here, with multiple interesting characters.

You almost need to look at Halo: Reach as two games, with one being the campaign you can tackle solo, or with up to three friends, and the other game as the multiplayer experience that has been pumped up with plenty of new opportunities for death. Oh, and fun. If you own an Xbox 360 and want some serious enjoyment, this is a must-have title.

If you need more, be sure to check out any of our other features:

Halo Reach Weapons and Vehicles Guide | Halo Reach: The First 15 Minutes In-Game Video