Ever since the debut of Noble Team at the 2009 Spike TV Video Game Awards, Halo fanatics everywhere have been clamoring for what appeared to be the anti-climactic final chapter of humanity’s desperate struggle against the Covenant.
Just like its predecessor, Halo 3: ODST, Halo Reach takes place at a point in the Halo timeline where players already have a general idea of what’s going to happen and how the game is going to end. In spite of this, Halo Reach grabs your attention very early on and doesn’t let go until the very end. (or the very beginning, if you prefer)
As a huge Halo fan, the thing that stood out the most to me in Reach is the amount of fan service that Bungie packed into the game. Everywhere I turned, memories of the past four games were evoked. Characters, achievement names, level design and almost everything in the game spurned some great memory from a past Halo game. The music in particular was so seamless and wonderful that it almost went unnoticed, yet it sparked that old familiar feeling. However, Reach isn’t just an old hat.
The biggest selling point of the campaign is that Reach is the main Spartan breeding ground of the Halo universe; you’re playing as not just one Spartan, but with an entire team of them. Noble Team is a group of six Spartans, with your character acting as a last minute replacement for the sixth member. Your name is actually just “Six,” but I think it’s a little better than being dubbed “Rookie,” as was the player character in ODST. You and the rest of Noble Team are at the tip of a continually escalating struggle to save the planet Reach.
Being the fifth game in the immensely successful series, or sixth if you count the RTS aberration that was Halo Wars, Reach does not stray far from the tried and true Halo formula. The biggest change is the addition of classes to multiplayer, which boils down to a different type of armor power depending on the class you choose. Most of the armor powers augment your movement in some way, while others allow you to briefly shrug off attacks or fool other players with invisibility or a clone of yourself. This adds another layer of strategy to games, particularly team games with players who play together on a regular basis. However, classes are really just a more thoroughly implemented version of the equipment system introduced in Halo 3.
There are a handful of other minor changes as well. The controls were changed around once again, but this time it was a seamless transition for me. Enemies seem just a little bit smarter, more frequently avoiding my attempts to run them over, as well as using their overload attack to briefly disable my Warthog. Going hand-in-hand with the AI improvements, Reach is the most challenging Halo of the series. The increased difficulty comes mainly from a few more enemies than usual, again working in tandem with the improved AI.
Holding the melee button when attacking from behind triggers an assassination: a gratuitous display of Halo awesomeness. By far my most thrilling multiplayer moment was using sprint to chase down another player from behind. He had a jetpack and began to take off while I was sprinting after him. I caught up, jumped into the air and used an assassination on him while he was in mid-air. The only thing that could have made it better would have been seeing the look on his face.
I don’t have a lot of complaints about this game. The graphics are not much better than the last two Halo games, and in 2010 the Halo engine is beginning to show its age compared to other AAA titles on the market. However, the game is no worse for the wear. The armor customization system is more fleshed out in Reach, but it is still superfluous and is mostly just for bragging rights.
Reach won’t convert anyone who already dislikes the series, but it’s obvious that bringing in new fans wasn’t on the agenda. I consider this game Bungie’s apology for the sub-par effort that was Halo 3: ODST. Reach is the culmination of over a decade of Halo, and it couldn’t be a more fitting conclusion, as Bungie has topped themselves one last time.