Friday, September 17, 2010

Halo Reach Gameplay Review

"Remember Reach." This is the tag line for Halo: Reach, the direct prequel to the Halo trilogy about a team of Spartans and their presumed fate -- a last stand against the Covenant invasion of the human-colonized Planet Reach. Did I say, "Halo trilogy?"

Elites Are Back And Dangerous

Here's a better tag line: "Forget ODST." Last year's Halo game, Halo 3: ODST, was conceived as an expansion but clumsily formed into a full-priced retail release. It was not a bad game, but it was a lesser Halo game -- by design. Worst case scenario: You started to think Halo, and Bungie's interest in the franchise, was on the decline.

So, forget ODST. Reach is Bungie's final Halo game. Let's not sour this seriously sweet farewell.

Halo: Reach (Campaign)

So, hello! And welcome to Halo: Reach.

Titular Planet Reach

You are Noble Six. You are not -- anti-spoiler alert! -- Master Chief in disguise. Release those fears of a terrible plot twist right now. Aren't you ready to be your own Spartan? The customization options are limited to start (gender, paint job and some starting credits for a small accessory), but when Noble Six, your Noble Six, enters the opening cinematic, you're invited to drop the observer role and become a character in the Halo universe. And once you're finished with the Campaign, you keep on being your Noble Six across all game modes. It's a simple, but effective touch.


The Campaign is easily the series' best. The classic "against all odds" survival mission works to keep the pace mostly racing and brings you closer to the other Noble Team members, a cast of conventional heroes that fight alongside you: the Captain America leader, his badass right-hand woman, the "thoughtful" sniper (Asian, of course), the skull-faced cool guy (voiced by Jamie Hector; Marlo in HBO's The Wire) and the heavy weapons jock. Reach, being Bungie's last Halo game, is a setup for heavy-handed melodrama, but the plot is never that distracting. It's not much more sophisticated than a decent Saturday morning cartoon, but it fills out the framework of an excellent game and satisfies the broader franchise story arc. If you've been following closely, you're definitely in for some "Aha!" and "Haha" moments.
Jetpacking Is Awesome In Campaign

I actually zoned out for several of the cutscenes, simply because I needed a rest. The gameplay is that engaging. Bungie has built downright nasty AI that will, on the Heroic and Legendary difficulty settings, challenge and surprise in constant dances to the death. When a half-dozen jet-pack Elites descended onto my position, I ran! This was not "skipping" past the game -- it's no glitch -- it was surviving. The fact that this "fight-or-flight response" is a working game mechanic is an exceptional design achievement. And how about Bungie sticking with the throwback health pack? If you thought this was a mechanic that never should have been pulled out of the has-bin, Reach seriously challenges that notion. The necessity of health packs and their sparing placement keeps you exploring and moving through the game areas -- and not camping behind decent cover.

Bungie has overcome the pacing flaws of past Halo games by not dragging out the familiar on-foot and vehicle shootouts. You never crawl through corridors; you fight through battles, and when you come out on the other side, there's often a rewarding "mini-event" to play. About two-thirds through the Campaign, strapped with a jet pack, I came up on one side of a cargo port -- a man-made chasm with precariously placed platforms suspended across it. "Really," I thought, "Bungie's trying to do jet-pack platforming?" Yes, yes they are. And, as just a segment, it's a brief, exhilarating departure from the core gameplay.

The Campaign is easily the series' best.

Where the campaign does fall short is in its effort to portray ambient life on Planet Reach. The sporadic signs of wildlife are hardly indicative of a "living" gameworld and consistently come off as randomly placed objects -- like the forklifts you happen across or a duffle bag left in the streets of New Alexandria. Encounters with small bands of civilians (some of them militarized) are equally detached from any sense that Reach is (was?) populated by millions of people. In one part, you've been waiting forever for a cursed elevator, pushed together, backs against the wall, with a handful of Marines and civilians. Cue a pack of Brutes rushing the lobby. It's a little chaotic, sure, but multiply those civilians by fourfold, turn up the screaming and Bungie might have convinced me there's something worth saving more than my own damn hide.

It's a shame too, because Reach's improved technology and detail introduce a new high for Halo's typically okay looks. It's still no "10" in the graphics department, but if that's where you're looking to rate Reach, you're looking in the wrong place. There's a point where you're high atop a needle-shaped Covenant tower. You're on an outer, ringed platform near the tip of this structure. You could look out, evaluate the draw distance, note the quality of light bloom, but you're being charged by an Elite with his Energy Sword aimed at your gut. This is your dance with death. Me? I activated my jet pack and shot right up over him. Him? He went toppling over the edge in an entirely unscripted event. This was a top-ten highlight from my Campaign.

Multiplayer / Forge / Firefight

Call it a ballpark estimate, but I'm gonna say that of the total amount of time the average Reach player spends with the game, less than a quarter of it's going to be with the superb campaign. And for many of you, that percentage is going to shrink to a figure around, what, 5 percent? 1 percent?

"Halo," as in the basic multiplayer game, is a well established pastime, and Bungie hasn't messed with it much. Simple Red Team vs. Blue has been refreshed with new maps, weapons, vehicles and the Armor Abilities, in addition to the tiered objective-based Invasion mode. What will stand out, even during your playthrough of the Campaign, is the bank of credits you steadily accumulate as you play more Halo. Like the build-a-Spartan creation element, the credit system isn't novel, but it is instinctively addictive. So what if you can only spend it on your looks? It just feels good to earn credits.

If your Noble Six is the needle, the credit system is the thread stringing together the disparate modes of play. You earn credits for anything, seriously. I popped into the Forge World (an intimidating, ginormous empty map in which you create your own variations of the game) and lay down a Falcon with ease -- the editing controls are straightforward, despite the toolbox being a bit overwhelming. I switched to "play" mode and hopped into the helicopter, flew around the still empty map for a minute, and then quit out. To my surprise, I earned a little pocket change. Awesome!

The credit system is what's going to encourage you to explore and even contribute to this exceptionally deep game. From standard multiplayer playlists (my vote's for SWAT -- love that Designated Marksman Rifle!) to absurd custom game-types; to the sandbox imaginarium of Forge; to Firefight, there's so much to play with, and it's all rewarding, literally, on a very base level. And oh that Firefight! I urged you to forget ODST, but I never meant to imply that you let go of Firefight.

The Firefight you know was a demo. The Firefight you're going to know is a fully blossomed mode -- with complete customization options and Matchmaking support -- which reminds us how much fun Halo can be when played together against the best AI in the business (though you can play against other humans now, too). I've never enjoyed chaotic "all rocket launchers" multiplayer matches -- in any game. But add a jet pack to that format and waves of Covenant? Say it with me this time: Awesome.

Bungie has left us with a shit-ton to enjoy; not to mention the developer's planned, ongoing daily and weekly challenges to earn extra credit. There's more than enough content on the disc and tools to tweak that content in subtle and unexpected ways for the community to thrive without its maker. Rest assured, with this fourth [wink] Halo game now ours, we should let Bungie leave the franchise in peace.

There's an art to iteration. ODST could have been a clever little shimmy, but it came out a misstep. Reach brings us right back into the dance that hooked us nine years ago, introduces some cool new steps, and leaves us twirling in enchantment as Bungie graciously bows out. Just keep twirling, Spartan.



Halo: Reach, developed exclusively for Xbox 360 by acclaimed developer Bungie, is the blockbuster prequel to the best-selling Xbox franchise of all time. It represents the culmination of Bungie's 10 years of experience crafting groundbreaking Halo games that have raised expectations for what can be achieved in a video game. In Halo: Reach, players experience the fateful moments that forged the Halo legend. It's the story of Noble Team, a squad of heroic Spartan soldiers, and their final stand on planet Reach, humanity's last line of defense between the terrifying Covenant and Earth. This darker story is echoed by grittier visuals amid a backdrop of massive, awe-inspiring environments. Characters, enemies and environments are rendered in amazing detail by an all-new engine designed to deliver epic-scale encounters against the cunning and ruthless Covenant. Once the campaign is over, the battle continues online with an unparalleled multiplayer experience that expands on the award-winning suite of features that helped define the Xbox LIVE
module of Halo Reach. Matchmaking is nothing short of awesome, in my opinion, because there is so much versatility and new and exciting gametypes. Slayer has become a lot more fast-paced and explosive, due to the loadouts] and has become one of my earliest favorites. It's early in the game, but I predict that Bungie's Halo Reach will outsell Halo 3 in total sales and be relevant for the next five years in the Gaming community.As for the gametypes that Bungie came up with, nice job. Firefight is so fun to play and earns you dome nice credit while you're bashing Elites and racking up the BMR kills. This is going ot be a fan favorite in the Halo universe.because every gamer likes offense defense and having the opportunity to be an elite with an energy sword and camo, then a spartan with armor lock and a DMR. This gametype has great acoustics as well that really enhances the gameplay and intensity. Overall, Firefight will always be  fun gametype to play. As For Team Arena and solo arena this is a great sector of gaming that Bungie added to Halo Reach for CTF and slayer to display your true skill, while the other gametypes are more like special gametypes where the pressure is off. Another great gametype is headhunter which is the most strategically enhanced gametype which requires you to go big or go home. The people that have the largest bounty often do get headhunted but a loadout can change all of that in a hurry. Just turn on your power guard and keep a shotgun, energy sword, or some other kick-ass weapon handy and you got yourself a walking convoy. This gametype takes a while to truly start to get good at but once you get your gamer hyper focus zoned in, you'll do just fine.Finally, as for stockpile , invasion, and team attack [assault gameplay].Stockpile a bit too jumpy for me and the loadouts don't help the overall experience but it is so action-packed and you have to split up into offense defense groups to truly be successful. Your loadouts are your best weapon in this gametype where you're either trying to sneak stealthily into an enemies flag base with stalker, or sprint to try and intercept the opposing flag carrier from scoring, or deploying a drop shield for your teammate with their flag to make it back to your base safely. Invasion definitely is a favorite of mine because of the awards that you receive when you do start to get on a killing spree or near the end when the opposing team has the objective close to their base and you get handed a sniper rifle.Invasion definitely is the most enjoyable objective gametype because of all of the weapons and vehicles that are available. Team  attack is pretty cool as well and definitely is fun to experiment with all of the different loadouts and playing as An Elite Then Spartan. So far, I do believe that Spartans have the advantage in battle because of their superior health and better player control. When  I played as an Elite, it didn't seem right except if I had a energy sword. I had trouble finishing off enemies and I died more often. Overall, the gametypes in Halo Reach has it all and if  haven't tried firefight yet, please do so now.Halo Reach The Best Game Of All-Time And Definitely The Icon For hardcore gamers everywhere.


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