Review: Halo: Reach

Cast your gaming mind RIIIIIGHT back to the springin’ Summer of ’09. The very first date of June, to be precise. The Xbox 360’s E3 Press Conference was purging on swimmingly, with hit titles like Forza Motorsport 3 and Shadow Complex already leaving the company’s head held high. Around halfway through the historic event (which, bar the original 2001 conference, was the most popular show for Microsoft in the company’s history), famed Halo producers Bungie took to the stage, amidst much hype. The fans were clearly aware of Halo 3: ODST’s inevitable showing, which did come to be. Right on suit, however, came something that wasn’t expected.

A rather mysterious trailer, rotating around a peaceful planet which, without warning, burst in to an unimaginable level of chaos. Just, what could this be? A completely new franchise from the famed developer? There does seem to be quite a chance in there. In the end, contrary to the Halo haters who were looking for a sealed SPARTAN fate, the mystery title turned out to be the ‘status quo’ of the Halo franchise. None other than B’s own swansong to the hit universe they themselves sparked, Halo: Reach.

That was June 2009, a time when the gaming world was hooked up on Ecstasy. It was clear that Bungie was planning a completely new title with this one, and not just the ODST fare as SOME initially were confused for. Especially when, in the début trailer, the Earth also gained knowledge about the megalomania hit’s multiplayer BETA. Clearly obvious. While only 25% of Bungie was working on ODST since Halo 3’s release, the rest were secretly working on Reach. How did they keep the idea from possible leak? Queries, guys.

15 months and 13 days later, and Halo’s final note hit the streets. The game’s opening sales, while not as lucky as Modern Warfare 2’s, branded the FPS as the Xbox’s most successful launch for an exclusive. Over the 15-month period, information kept slowly dripping out, right up until all was rendered clear last month. With such a lengthy history, it’s only normal that TGD joins the 70-something reviewers shedding their picks on the particular game. So, what do we think of it? Time to shine some light.

Being the first member on our team to lay the fingers on one particular Limited Edition boxset, I myself was chosen to give my thoughts on a game I’d had hyped for AGES. Before I start, I would like to tell you that I’m a huge Halo FAN,  but not a FAN-BOY. This, in theory, should wipe those jackass; comments about me being biased. I do have a few negative points that I (sadly) need to distress, but for the most part, you should stop reading this review right now and BUY IT. There’s the review. End of.

Aww, ‘kay, I’ll go further. You never expected me to end there, did you? In Layman’s Terms, Reach is a game that sticks to the Islam beliefs, or one of them, anyway. It’s a game that’s almost perfect, but it isn’t, because it can’t be. I scowl at IGN’s 10/10 review. It isn’t perfect. But, in my defence, it almost had me fooled that it was.

So, booting up the disc on my Xbox 360 Arcade console, and I’m greeted with some ambient, stunning space cut-scenes. A positive note already. What d’ya expect? Going on, the aural piece to run alongside gives players a small taster of the suitably epic soundtrack that the game has. The Ear Candy’s coming up later. To be honest, I did prefer the BETA’s opening material, ever-hoping that a secret switch is available in the game’s option menu. Then again, this seems like a fine/dandy replacement.

The Main Menu, confusingly, is split up in to TWO different interfaces. One, which demonstrates the new engine’s raw power, displays a beautiful waterfall in ever-lasting action. The word ‘Reach’ overlays (in stretched form) this glamorous background, with two small menu options tucked in the corner. The two options lead to the Campaign lobby in particular, and the ‘main’ Main Menu. Why Bungie has opted for this menu interface does baffle me, as it leads to a clunky method of getting in to a game. At least that said Waterfall isn’t clogged up by text-based monsters. Not exactly the best way of luring in CoD fans, is it Bungie? Tut, tut.

The proper Main Menu holds a collection of SIX OTHER SUB-MENUS. Jeez, Bungie, how many? The good news, however, is that each menu is rather best described as a lobby for the game’s six different game modes. These game modes, in Menu Order, are:

  • Campaign. The main Single-Player attraction, and the meat of the disc. A collection of nine different ‘levels’, which can be blasted through by yourself/with friends, with one of four enemy difficulty levels.
  • Matchmaking. Head over here to jump head-first in to the world of Xbox LIVE. Clever servers will find other Reach gamers, with a similar skill level as your own, and place them as opponents in multiplayer death matches, or any other kind of game. More about that later.
  • Firefight. This is the Horde-like ‘endless AI’ game, introduced in Halo 3: ODST, and built on for Reach. Face an onslaught of familiar foes, by yourself or with mates, abiding by fully customizable game settings. Rockets for all!
  • Custom Game. Renamed from ‘Custom Games’, this bad boy has been around since Halo: Combat Evolved. Link up with a few friends, with local or or Xbox LIVE settings, to play multiplayer games with any settings, on any kind of map that has been built with the Forge mode (see below). Anything is possible over here.
  • Forge. Originally a map EDITOR in Halo 3, Forge is back in Reach,  now a map CREATOR. With a helluvalorra tools and objects to tinker with, in a new dedicated map named Forge World, players now have the ability to keep up the jobs of Bungie’s own multiplayer designers. Someone’s getting fired.
  • Theatre. Been part of a hallmark Halo moment? Get over here and watch it again from all angles. If you want to, you can even record a certain part of the clip, from any angle of your choice. The Machinimator’s toolkit.

As you can see, Bungie has done everything possible to cram 6GB’s worth of awesome sauce on to an Xbox disc. At times, I tend to question how Bungie managed this in the end. After all, Halo 3’s massive game disc only had around half of all this. Shoving 6 game modes, nearly 20 multiplayer/Firefight maps, nine Campaign missions and the Halo series’ best graphics on to a single storage method deserves serious credit. I don’t reckon that Modern Warfare 2 even went this macho.

Talking of graphics, we need to especially address that section. Graphically, Reach is…a bit Marmitey, if you like. From the start, even blind people would notice that the game’s engine was constructed with a unique method, so that it rules supreme a million times over Halo 3. However, this may be just myself, but some of the textures (at close range) were obviously a little pixelated. This is easily noticeable at the boot tip of the Campaign, when flying around in that opening Falcon. Maybe this department should have had a little bit more tender care smacked in to it, but hey – it beats Call of Duty’s HORRIBLE textures, by a country mile. Period. In general, without getting too close for comfort, the graphics are some of the best that the system has.

En plus, for the audio-philes, there are no such ‘marmitey problems’. Sound IS sound – there are no visual elements towards it. That’s why, vibrationally, Reach does indeed rival a Star Wars film. Bungie’s own in-house orchestra holds some of the best musicians ever to grace the western Earth, and when the group is coupled with experienced  musical icon Martin O’ Donnell, the results are undeniably ground-breaking. No single note in the game’s OST is computer-generated, which allows for a set of completely emotional pieces that go together with the Campaign’s setting like bread and butter. Courageous moments are paired with courageous sheets of bits and bobs. Heart-breaking moments (there are many in the game), likewise. The Reach soundtrack, being such a legendary collection of tunes, have themselves been able to morph a CD-based soundtrack. The soundtrack is THAT epic. I hope you don’t need any more convincing.

The main story revolves around a team of SPARTAN-III class United Nations Space Command troopers, named Noble team, despatched to the planet Reach to investigate a distress signal. Before the six warriors can adjust to their surroundings, they are tangled in a fight with the alien Covenant group, looking to destroy Reach as part of their huge Human-genocidal cause. Within a few minutes, this escalates in to a full-scale war, in which Noble team have been tasked with winning for Humanity. Unlike most of the other Halo games, this follows ODST’s example of laying a clean table with an ORIGINAL story. This isn’t one more showcase from the man in green. This, is a full, detailed tale of six human-like soldiers deadlocked on a knife edge. They aren’t superheroes – they do have to take risks, which can lead to possible repercussions. They act like normal people – something, which they aren’t. Noble team allows for a bigger sense of mood being cast in all of the different Campaign sections, especially when some shockers come to materialise. If anyone has seen the endings for the levels ‘Long Night of Solace’ and ‘New Alexandria’, as well as the end of the entire game, then you’ll feel right at home with my description. Ladies and Gentlemen, prepare for a thrill ride, which (a slight spoiler) may culminate with sheer sadness. In the right way, though. Tut.

The enemies, while generally being updated egos of past Halo foes, have been personally altered so heavily, that they feel like completely new enemies. While some genuinely are completely new (the Skirmishers provide a fresh new fight, and ODST’s Engineers have now evolved in to Covy personnel), the Elites have completely new traits to freshen them all up. For starters, they delve back in to their CE-founded roots and speak AN ALIEN LANGUAGE. No more English blabbing now. The movement set that they have is now more varied than ever, with the blighters ducking and weaving all over the shop on higher difficulties. On Legendary, the formidable foes feel like bloody tanks, which enforces a whole new perspective towards the Sangheili race.

On the subject of Legendary difficulty, Bungie has seriously cranked up the skill level required to tackle the Campaign beast. While Easy and Normal difficulties still bear that counterpart touch, Heroic difficulty feels like Halo 3’s Legendary difficulty, which is solid enough. As for Legendary, as you’d guess, you should only play the Campaign alone, on said skill set, if you have the skills of an MLG. The monster is made up of more nails than how many of them make up the doors in your home. One month after release, I’m still on with doing it all. Me. A Halo pro. Still doing Campaign. You may proceed to eat your hat. If you eventually triumph through those specific conditions, then Bungie (who do indeed recognise the sheer pain that it may cause) will award you with up to around 500 gamerscore, depending on what you have already hit.

Naturally, as Reach is a different planet to Earth, the developer has also spruced up some touches to make your experience feel like that. The levels each have their own section of terrain, demonstrating how wildly varied that the landscapes can be. As you progress, you will come face to face with multiple living creatures, both harmless and harmful. Reach does indeed lack a wildlife preservation society, so feel free to murder any Moa you see. There may even be an achievement in it!

The Campaign, as you may have read, serves an amazing table. The dessert of it all, however, is the Multiplayer. By ‘Multiplayer’, I specifically mean the Matchmaking and Custom Game modes, which both can spark some memorable times from seemingly nowhere. The Matchmaking mode squares you of against other players in a variety of game modes, all slipping with creativity. The standard deathmatch has always been the very epicentre of the Halo/CoD fanboy riot argument that seems like it won’t stop, and Reach’s take is an updated edition of Halo’s classic trademark MP fare. The fun, frantic action is still alive, though, and most won’t be able to place the game down after trying their hand at the XBL element. Purely classic.

When spawning in any multiplayer game, you are faced with choosing from pre-set combinations, each containing different weapons, grenades and armour abilities, to spawn with. These are referred to as ‘loadouts’, which can be altered in Custom Game settings. By ‘Armour Abilities’, I express six gameplay elements which aid your player in combat. These abilities include being able to Sprint for a short period of time, being able to fly with a Jetpack, being able to protect your character in active combat, and being able to render yourself as invisible among the crowds. Despite being an evolution of Halo 3’s equipment, Armour Abilities seriously evolve a combat to such a level that has only ever been achieved before by the original Halo. I think of them as brilliant innovations, and monuments to be embraced by the gaming community.

Besides the generic DM, a whole array of other Multiplayer games (all fully customisable)  are supported by Reach. Objective gametypes, such as the classic Capture The Flag and King of the Hill affairs, have been thrown in there. Halo-specific classics like Oddball (hold a skull to earn points), Assault (CTF inside-out), Territories (a KOTH spin-off), Infection (hide n’ seek, FPS style) and the age-old Combat Evolved landmark Race (common sense required) are representing the ring’s integrity once again, too. Finally, new boys Invasion (full-on Spartans vs. Elites), Headhunter (deathmatch meets CTF) and Stockpile (as described by Bungie – “CTF on steroids”) have bust out of the mental jailhouse to shine sparks of genius for the developer. They all contribute to set Reach as a worthy contender to MW2’s award-winning multiplayer. Cue the fanboy fights.

Coming over to the maps, they’ve all been designed with that Bungie magic used to create guide classics like Blood Gulch in the past, which resolutes in utterly fair and magically spicy brawn brawls. They’re all designed right off of Campaign levels, which adds to the recurring theme that you ARE on the Planet Reach. Not much else I can really say on the maps, apart from how each one is unique enough to set up favourited arguments about the ‘best map of the lot’. Personally, my favourite of the lot is ForgeWorld-designed ‘The Cage’. Comment on yours, please!

As with every new Halo release in the past, Bungie has added some new toys to play with once more. The Assault Rifle broadcasts it’s presence as the series’ staple another time over, with the love-it-or-hate-it weapon having gone through a polygonal makeover. The Spray n’ Pray attitudes are arguably still present, although this time around, they’ve been scaled down. Oh, and yeah, it’s still best to use the AR like Halo 3’s BR. Then you can ATTACK THE ENEMY PLAYER’S ARMOUR FOR MASSIVE DAMAGE.

The Battle Rifle, on the subject, has also gone through pre-volution. However, in this case, it’s much more apparent. The new DMR, upon using it, allows you to pull off headshots that are, in my eyes, greatly more satisfying than those made with it’s predecessor. The sleek functions of the new BK are guaranteed to reserve the DMR as a landmark tool in the eyes of professional gamers. However, this new weapon does require some more skill to use correctly, which may ever-so-slightly put off casual players that are new to Halo. The main rule for this one, is to aim for the head, and pace your shots. The timing is critical for the best result, as tapping the trigger roughly every 0.75 seconds will lead to more accurate shots and more damage given from each bullet. Going against Elites is normally a massive nightmare, especially on Legendary, if one (and, this is most players) doesn’t pace their attitude and swiftly swagger – this should have been made more obvious in the game’s UI.

The truly new toys, here to stay, include a new n00bt00ber, a new stickt00ber, a Covenant DMR that functions exactly like it’s UNSC counterpart, and a new Covy Sniper Rifle that does NOTHING. From those downing descriptions, you can tell that I’m not a fan of the new ideas, due to how I personally think they are simply burdens for cheapness. However, they are indeed inventive, and if they were balanced a little more, then I would have multi-married them. Seriously.

Halo fans, for the past nine years, have been laying in the sun of vehicular stardom, being one of the only gigantically-fanatical FPS games around today with wheeled wonders permittivity unleashed on to the battlefield. Most of our loving transport tools have pitched in once more to separate Halo from every other FPS out there, including the Marmite Warthog,  the new-Jack Mongoose, the road-ragin’ Warthog and that thing which BEATS EVERYTHING. Like weapons, a few are debuting for good measure – the clunky Hornet has been swip-swapped with the fantastically cool Falcon, the Covenant Spirit finally flies back in from Ye Olde Halo 1, and Halo 2’s Spectre gets a Snazzy makeover and a new name; the Revenant. All of these vehicles are a joy to pilot, although the Warthog-counterpart Revenant would to win in a straight fight with it’s brother hands down. Plus, the Falcon’s altitude lock thingy was never friendly to work with at the start, even if it has now grown on to me. After all, side-cannons FTW, right?

Matchmaking itself is varied, with multiple playlists laying the cavalier’s table for some sweet classic moments. Big Team Battle, for an example, revolves heavily around the use of vehicles. If one is coming towards you like SPARTAN was due on it’s dinner table, then triggering armour lock and watching it explode as it crashes in to a brick wall of an object certainly brings a kick-ass morale storming inside your thoughts. Before long, you’re overwhelmed with the amount of awesome streaming inside your blood, and scream “I’m the Juggernaut, b****!”. It’s these little satisfying moments that pull players like me back in to the world of Halo ever often, constantly on the verge of going insane for truly epic encounters. And, if it’s REALLY special, you can record what happened from any angle, and share it with the world. Not bad, eh?

Talking of recording clips, it’s all mad possible thanks to Theatre mode. Theatre allows you to watch any played game back again, and take screenshots/short clips from it. You can view, snap or record the film from any viewpoint, and share any related material with anyone you know. Say you got an across-the-map stick on Boneyard – use the Theatre’s Layman-like simple controls to record what happened and, if you recorded it from the right viewpoint at the right time, there may be a chance that the whole of planet Earth could brace in your mintagedness. It’s an ingenious idea, and onc in which CoD is due to snag. If there is one slight annoyance, it’s that you can now only view clips by yourself, so party viewing is now a Timmy reject. However, party viewing in Halo 3 normally caused huge lag, so in part, it’s more of a blessing than a curse.

Last year, the little sorrow blame-child Halo 3: ODST (I loved that game, others didn’t) shot off the footing for one more multiplayer mode, ready to be crammed in to what was already in place. The short-but-sweet shelf hit introduced us all to the wonderful concept of Firefight – one of those ‘endless enemies’ game modes founded by CliffyB in Gears 2 and carried over in CoD: World at War, modified for the Halo sheen and gameplay style. Even though the idea had been executed successfully before, Halo’s take felt like a new breath of fresh air for gaming, never mind the franchise. The classic Halo gameplay, combined with Bungie’s amazing mapwork and the tried/tested ‘heatwave’ idea was universally-agreeably a match made in heaven, and it managed to pull gamers back to the mode once the Campaign had run it’s length. If I do have to note, though, it was flawed as a first-timer – for example, nobody ever wanted to play by themselves. Where was that trademark customisation? Why could matches easily reek on for four hours? Fast-forward a year later and Halo: Reach had improved on the idea, adding some crucial additions to make this one of my personal favourite toppings of the cake.

Yes, Halo: Reach includes Firefight 2.0, and in my sole opinion, it makes the first one look like Ninjabread Man. Thanks to the introduction of Firefight gametypes, the mode can now be customized to suit any purpose, bringing a whole new Gaming Dimension* in to the fan-favoured mix. Want to set it for a round, a set, or multiple sets? Fine by the developers. Want to run around beserk with a Golf Club? Yup, you can do that too. Want to set everyone to be invincible and get some easy achievements? Unbelievably, you can actually do that as well**. It makes for some great chuckles, especially when you bring along three friends with big-arse hammers waiting by be planted in to Hunter backsides. One of the best bits? If you like your nostalgia, you can set it to Firefight classic to head back to 1.0 and endure crazy periods of time. It’s this flexibility that transforms Firefight in to something with endless replay value and utter fun, much more than ODST or any other game with a similar addition. It’s the only one which lets you whup-side aliens, too. Back of the net!

*See what I did there?
**This is called ‘Cheesing’, and makes the 75G-worth ‘Heat in the Pipe’ 1m points achievement laughably easy.

So far, all of the features of the game mentioned in this review have been implemented in other gaming franchises, albeit with not quite so much shininess. To finish the competitors off, Bungie has also included it’s final trump card; Forge 2.0. Like Firefight, Forge was a game-mode included in a past Halo title (this time, Halo 3) that allowed you to edit little map details to mix up the scales yourself. The mode was included as a bit of fun, and not actually as a full-on map editor. As time went by, Bungie saw that people started using the tools to their full capacity, alongside some sneaky technical tricks, in order to make full-on maps. Now blown away, the guys decided to cater for the map-makers with the first H3 map-pack, that included a little beast called Foundry. When Foundry was wiped clean, it became a large canvas for the improved building objects included, which inspired so much community dedication. Since then, Bungie wanted to revolutionise Forge in Reach, including all sorts of community tricks as general standard in order to help the ideas come flooding in. Reach now has Forge 2.0 as a result, a map-editor turned map-maker.

The amount of objects in Forge 2.0 to play around with is simply tremendous. When combined with a new open space known as Forge World, and improved tools such as easy object merging, Bungie has managed to ensure that their house rocks on long after they leave it. The controls can be flexible and they can be precise, with the effort level of switching between the two control styles (not literally, by the way) virtually equal to zero. That’s not to say that the controls themselves aren’t simple – they seriously are. When you pair this easiness of use with the brand-spankin’ new feature set of objects, fit for any purpose and usage style, then you know you have a winner. Forge World, as a consequence, has spawned a recent flood of innovative, creative, professional maps that are easily shared via Reach’s new tagging system Granted, the green-like, Forerunner art style is becoming stale fast, but you can count on Bungie to create a new map-making space as seperate DLC. REMEMBER, REMEMBER, THE 30TH OF NOVEMBER.

Talking of DLC, that’s what I’m just going on to ramble about slightly. True, it’s amazing how Bungie was able to fit all of this on the disc. However, if you STILL want more, it’s mandatory to note that the first Reach multiplayer map pack will be available by the end of next month. Looking at the official trailer, the maps don’t look much cop right now, excluding Anchor 9. Then again, I remember saying the same thing about Powerhouse back in the BETA days, so expect my claim to be royally rinsed. Sadly, no Firefight or Campaign DLC has been announced as thus far, but this is Bungie’s last Halo game – they want to go out with something new, bar nothing, so expect it on the horizon eventually. Furthermore, the trailer also details Forge-World objects being present on one of the maps, so I’m getting my hopes up for whatever the future has in store for this sci-fi epic.

Verdict

Halo: Reach is a wonderful box of awesome. It features more than enough to keep you going for five years, never mind one, helped partly by the immense replay value. In three years on the drawing board, Bungie has crafted one hell of a story, which has the emotion and human-like qualities to rival the entire Star Wars franchises. On top of that, ‘said’ developer has shown vast dedication towards the fans, building upon everything they have learned within the past decade (and somehow cramming many addictive toys on to a single physi-byte of media) to create something that will inspire imagination for many moments to come. Granted, CoD n00bs are annoying with that bloody n00b combo, and the graphics aren’t exactly on par with Crysis, but the gameplay definitively rules over, more so when eleven-nine strikes. Do the Earth a favour, and sell your old bangin’ car for this masterpiece. Don’t worry, I’ll be here to kick your ass online.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: