This is the end of the Halo road for Bungie - the group is set to move on to a new original game next while Microsoft takes over responsibility for the franchise's future - and that sense of this being a finale is in Halo: Reach. It shows clear reference to past games, refines well-established game mechanics, adds a few exciting twists, and polishes the rest to a glossy finish. The result is one of the most complete, fully-featured packages you'll find in gaming.
The approach to making first-person shooter remains the same as it has in the past for Halo. And if you've played a Halo game in the past, you'll feel instantly at home.
That's not to say that the game is just another rehash. There's plenty of new and exciting content in Halo: Reach and it begins with the main character. Master Chief is out. This time you'll step into the shoes of Noble 6, a nameless hero for players to project themselves onto. Noble 6 doesn't even have a defined gender. Thanks to a deep new customization system, you're free to fit Noble 6's look to your personality.
Noble 6's tale begins with an introduction to Planet Reach. This colony is the centre of humanity's military might, and home to the Spartan program that produced Master Chief himself. The events of Halo: Reach takes place as a prequel to the main Halo trilogy and -- though they take small liberties with the established fiction - helps to tell the story of the events that lead up to events of Halos 1 through 3. The war with the Covenant is already raging, and things don't look good for us humans.
The whole shebang will last you about nine or ten hours on your first play through on the Heroic difficulty (less if you're real good and more if you aren't). During that time you'll find a lot of tried and true mainstays of the Halo formula. That means plenty of big battlefields, crazy vehicles, lots of aliens to fight, and tons of weapons to help make the Covenant pay. Though, past Halo games were filled with repetitive landscapes and circuitous, difficult to follow plots, Halo: Reach does not suffer from these problems.
This is the most straightforward and enjoyable tale of destruction the franchise has yet to produce. And don't worry if you haven't played the other Halo games yet – though Reach will feel a lot deeper and more compelling to long time Halo fans, it can stand on its own as a self-contained story. The tale starts out simple enough, but it quickly escalates to stunning set pieces before pulling out all the stops. The last third of the game is just one big thrill ride, and the revelations that occur during that part of the game are sure to make any Halo buff go ballistic. The ending in particular left a huge impression on me. I don't want to spoil anything, but just know that the space combat Bungie used to tease Halo: Reach is only the beginning.
Now, though the Halo formula is intact and there are plenty of wink-and-a-nod references to past games, Reach is a big step forward. Little successful elements of old Halo games are sprinkled here or there while a newfound sensibility in level design and pacing is wrapped around the core. The action is always moving through one combat scenario to the next, with plenty of gameplay and scenario twists to keep things fresh.
The best new addition? Armour abilities. These are an evolution of the equipment found in Halo 3 and drastically change the way you play in their updated form. These temporary but reusable extra abilities add things like sprinting, jet packs, and invincible armour to the franchise for the first time. The result is a faster, more acrobatic game that affords the player more flexibility in how they'd like to approach each fight. Also, jet packs are awesome. How did we go without them this long?
The one aspect of Halo: Reach I found lacking was in the multiplayer map selection. There are 13 totals for competitive games, but four of those are either direct copies or retreads of maps from past Halo games. Everything plays quite differently with all of the gameplay tweaks, but I can already see myself looking forward to the first map pack. It's tough to complain about a lack of content in such a feature rich game, but I was left hoping for more.
Halo: Reach is a fitting end to Bungie's involvement with the franchise, one that both references the past and injects new life into a tried and true formula. Newcomers and Halo fans alike will find plenty to love in Halo: Reach. Even if you've grown tired of the Halo formula through the years, this game is still recommend. It's just that good.
Developer: Bungie Software
Genre: First-Person Shooter
September 14 (US)
September 15 (Japan)
Ratings: M (Mature: Blood, Violence)
Platform: Xbox 360