Halo REACH Multi-Angled Review
© 2010 Alex Baldwin
Halo Reach is both is both a joy and a burden.
Obviously a new Halo game is a reason to celebrate, with the core Halo games consistently maintaining a benchmark level of quality shared by few.
However, there is a downside for me. The more Halo games we get, the harder they become to review.
Should I be taking it from a Halo virgin’s perspective, or an experienced player?
Should it be compared with the previous games, or viewed alone?
Is more of the same a good or bad thing?
Does multiplayer outweigh the campaign, or vice versa?
Well I’ve chosen a compromise. Individually reviewed and scored within this article are the following:
Halo Reach Campaign
Halo Reach Multiplayer
New Halo-Player Experience
Veteran Halo-Player Experience
As each player is going into Halo Reach looking for something different I don’t feel an overall rating for Halo Reach can be justified. An ultimate rating would not reflect the experience of a multiplayer gamer uninterested in the campaign, for example.
With that out of the way, it’s time to kick off the Reach-a-thon with:
Halo Reach takes place prior to the events of the original Halo, filling in the story arc and linking to many references made in Combat Evolved.
Master Chief was the last Spartan soldier following the Covenant destruction of the planet Reach and subsequently the Spartan facility there. In this game, you get to experience firsthand this cataclysmic event from the initial infiltration of the planet through to the final destruction.
The most immediate thing I noticed was the emphasis on sandbox firefights.
This is a game that has very few corridors, preferring open spaces to conduct warfare in. Harkening back to the ‘Halo’ level in the now almost decade-old game, the vast majority of the time you will be presented with a large field dotted with buildings, rocks, trees and other objects while the Covenant lands in dropships.
More than ever before Bungie have seen fit to distance Halo Reach from other competing shooters such as the Call of Duty franchies and the Killzone series by focusing on what makes Halo what it is: open. You aren’t pushed down corridors or provided with obvious cover, instead you must think for yourself and largely can approach a situation from any avenue.
This is particularly useful in allowing the player to use their own play style instead of being forced to use what the game gives you. Charge in throwing grenades and swinging punches or find a nearby building and get up onto the roof for some sniping. Perhaps hijack an enemy vehicle, or even sneak in and out without anyone ever noticing you were there.
No other traditional shooter has ever provided this degree of situational freedom, and ensures every playthrough will remain unique while providing even more value to co-operative play.
Adding to this is the new equipment system, allowing you to have a single recharging tool for unlimited use such as a personal Bubble Shield, Vehicle-Disabling Shield Discharge, Sprint, Hologram to Draw Fire and the Jetpack.
The latter is by far the most fun, allowing generous freedom in zipping around battlefield and climbing onto structures with flawless control. It feels distinctly ‘Halo’, to the point that it’s easy to forget this is the first in the series to have it.
The weapons themselves bring back stylised old favourites with some new ones and modifications thrown in for good measure. While the assault rifle, plasma rifle, sniper and other expected favourites return, others such as the battle rifle have been replaced by similar-spec but distinctly different versions such as the single-shot tactical rifle.
Generally almost all weapons have a human and Covenant version. Overall the weapons felt distinctly punchier, but it is sad when searching for a preferred Halo weapon only to find it absent.
Vehicles have always been an iconic part of the Halo games, and while there’s nothing really shocking here they all work fantastically and the new additions make perfect sense. The rocket warthog will definitely be a multiplayer favourite, and a new multi-person Covenant blend of a warthog and ghost is welcomed.
There are several new experiences in the campaign, one of which is the widely-known spaceflight that works just as successfully as regular combat and provides some good variety. I won’t spoil anything else, but there are some new situations Reach will put you in.
The welcome return of the Elites is reason to celebrate, bringing back Halo’s most intelligent opponents with numerous new types and behaviours. Each enemy types has numerous varieties that now have significant visual differentiation beyond the usual colour change and create much more visually varied battle scenes.
Visually this has been taken up a few notches from Halo 3, particularly in the scale and enemy numbers. However, there are two small issues I have to mention: blur, and framerate.
Halo Reach uses a rendering technique that blends multiple frames together to provide more convincing motion blur, but it does have a trade-off in appearing to have ‘ghosting’ on fast-moving objects. It’s not a large problem and has been used in other games as well, but it prevents it appearing as pin-sharp as I’d like.
Similarly the framerate this time around can be unstable at points, dropping when looking in certain directions in a noticeable way. It doesn’t hurt the gameplay, but it is an issue I haven’t experienced anywhere near as much in previous Halo games. For reference, the game was installed to the hard drive when I played.
Overall, the campaign is a definite success and will inevitably be a co-op favourite for years to come.
However, a quite sudden ending does dampen the mood somewhat, and for anyone hoping for epic scenes to outstrip Halo 3 may be disappointed. I really can’t definitively say whether it’s better or worse than any of the other Halos, but it does take a more serious tone compared to Halo 1′s focus on mystery and awe, Halo 2′s all-out action and Halo 3′s epic events.
Halo 2 was responsible for defining the future of online console multiplayer, and it was only improved upon by Halo 3. Halo Reach marks a more significant achievement in providing perhaps the most feature-packed multiplayer ever to grace a shooter.
The matchmaking playlists make a return with a much better lobby voting system for automated maps and game modes, now able to be chosen out of 3 options (or vote for alternate options instead). However, if you have enough friends playing Halo Reach (and honestly, it’s pretty much a given that everyone on your friends list already is) then custom games is where it’s at.
Now you can tweak almost every aspect of the game into something completely unrecognisable with pages and pages of options to create your own masterpiece. There are more than enough settings to allow for thousands of different game types to be created, and chances are you and your friends will create some memorable favourites you’ll be playing for years to come.
Now, to be honest, the Halo Reach Beta didn’t win me over. I wasn’t feeling it, and while I had some fun matches it didn’t have the never-ending enjoyment value of Halo 3.
Luckily the final game has that and more, making me convinced Halo Reach will be entertaining gamers online for years. The beautifully designed maps display Bungie’s practised hand at creating some of the most memorable and enjoyable multiplayer environments I’m sure I’ll get intimately acquainted with over the years in hundreds of matches.
While the initial map selection may appear slightly small next to your DLC-outfitted array of Halo 3 maps, that’s exactly where Forge comes in.
In Halo 3 Forge introduced detailed editing and placement of resources and objects throughout any of the pre-made maps, allowing some fantastic variants to be constructed but also occasionally frustrating when a limitation was found.
With the success of this, Bungie evidently listened by providing the Foundry map as DLC that gave a much more open space to play with and more useful layout-based objects.
Now in Halo Reach we’ve got Forge World, a significantly larger map of islands, cliffs and grassland to build in with actual building structure parts to make something much more unique and from-scratch while maintaining the real-time multiplayer editing and user-friendliness.
There is much more precise control in object placement and locations, as well as the far better ability to freeze objects in place instead of relying on the physics.
Additionally the object limit has been upped as the new engine flexes its rendering muscle and should provide an endless stream of (Free) new maps to play with. Keep an eye on the Bungie favourites to see some of the best and download in seconds.
Theatre mode is back, and is one of those things that it’s difficult to believe was only really popularised by Halo 3 only 3 years ago. With the resurgence of machinima (in-game video creation) around Halo 3 it’s only set to expand further with Reach, and of course screenshots are back as well.
One big surprise for me was the amount of armour customisation included, allowing numerous different types of each armour segment to be chosen to stand out online. Each piece can be unlocked through the spending of in-game credits, earned through playing the campaign and multiplayer and calculated based on your performance.
As you’d expect there are several pieces that would require an estimated 10,000+ multiplayer matches to earn enough to buy, but it should ensure there’s a great variety of armour and not just the Halo 3 issue of everyone using the ninja armour.
While I would have liked the ability to colour each of these pieces individually, the primary and secondary colour scheme system of the past Halos worked then and still works here. There’s also the surprise of allowing you to choose your voice for Firefight or even armour effects such as exploding confetti when you die in multiplayer, but these are suitably expensive and I’m sure no-one will have them for a few months at least.
As mentioned Firefight is here from ODST and this time around follows the trend of the Custom Games mode in allowing a huge number of tweaks and settings to create your own version. If there’s one thing Halo Reach has demonstrated it’s the sheer volume of customisation possible in the multiplayer that no other shooter can yet match, and I suspect won’t for some time.
NEW HALO-PLAYER EXPERIENCE
Despite this, it’s clear the campaign of Halo Reach has been designed with the assumption that the player already has some background knowledge of the wider universe, with little explanation provided of major elements such as what the Covenant or Spartans are.
As a result, it’s difficult to recommend the campaign as a starting point for new players, who would be much better off picking up a copy of Halo for PC or Xbox (yes, it’s compatible with Xbox 360) first if story is your thing.
On a multiplayer front, Bungie have succeeded in preventing the incredible wealth of options from overwhelming the newbie player.
The simplicity of Matchmaking ensures you’re only ever 3 presses away from a full game, with the playlists each containing numerous similar modes and maps from simple deathmatch playlists (known as Slayer) to large-scale objective modes.
It’s very streamlined and intuitive, allowing anyone to quickly jump in without having to mess around with settings and choice overload. Once you’re comfortable with the modes on offer you can step up to custom games with friends or Forge mode from some experimentation.
Overall new players are well catered for in Multiplayer, but the Campaign makes no bones about expecting some experience with little help in learning how to use equipment, switching weapons with allies, vehicles and other staples. Luckily chances are most people on your friends list will be eager for some co-operative play in the campaign and will be more than willing to teach you the ropes.
New Halo-Player Experience: 8.5/10
VETERAN HALO-PLAYER EXPERIENCE
The jaw-dropping amount of customisation in multiplayer and personalisation cements this as an online game you’ll be playing for years with the always just-out-of-reach armour pieces to unlock and medals to earn.
Forge’s upgrade allows far more control than ever before, and even a quick glance through what players have already created in little more than 24 hours on sale shows gems such as a recreation of the Pillar of Autumn (exterior and interior) and a large Mario Kart-esque mongoose racing tracks in the sky.
While the campaign does contain a few surprises, its main purpose is tying some of the threads together and providing some unexpected origins of things taken for granted in the previous Halo games.
The focus on wide open field of battle give this immense replay value and almost the expectation that you’ll be going at it with 3 other players riding along, presenting you with numerous options, routes and tools to formulate your own approach and tactics.
Halo Reach is quite possibly the most content-packed and tweakable shooter you’ll ever buy this generation, and will be an inevitable addition to the debate over which Halo is best.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a Halo game, or even another first-person shooter, you need Halo Reach.
Veteran Halo-Player experience: 10/10
© 2010 Alex Baldwin
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