Halo fans for years now have been patiently waiting to revisit the original Combat Evolved experience. Could Bungie duplicate their original efforts in upcoming sequels? Depending on who you ask, not quite. Almost plagued by the herculean offerings of the original title, follow ups have had a hard act to follow. Adding more fuel to the fire, Halo 3: ODST with it’s lackluster DLC-like campaign and beefy price tag did a solid job cementing doubt that the Halo franchise could ever regain its former glory.
Nevertheless, as many wise men and women have pointed out, sometimes you have to look back at your roots to understand how far you can really go or in Bungie’s case, those original convictions and disciplines that fostered Halo: Combat Evolved.
Enter Halo Reach.
As a prequel to the original Halo, Halo Reach solidifies the Halo experience and legacy with room to spare. Staying true to the essence of the series, Bungie has orchestrated their greatest achievement to date. Halo Reach is a triumph and frankly another reason you should own an Xbox 360.
Halo Reach is all about the ride. Whether you tackle the campaign on your own or go at it cooperatively with your buddies or dive head first into the meaty multiplayer modes, the package has all the bells and whistles that will have you coming back for months. At the center of Halo Reach, like the popular film 300, with it’s action-packed sequences, testosterone driven courage and heartfelt story stands the ultimate soldiers known as Spartans. And like the movie, the Spartan soldiers are the elite, the men and women who stare death in eyes as if to say ‘I will destroy you‘ without flinching.
As a nice added touch, Bungie allows players the option of customizing their character. From your helmet, left and right shoulder guards, knee emplacements, clan emblems, wrist and forearm guard colors, you go into battle looking stylish. And there is also the ability to upgrade your wears to even more cool gear as you gain more points as this applies online and offline.
You play as Noble 6 or as your call name suggests. Now a part of Noble Team, you and your band of elite specimens are sent out to protect and defend the planet known as Reach. Your initial objective: locate the distress beacon.
Halo Reach oozes with high production value. You feel like you are on a living, breathing planet. Vegetation moves realistically throughout the landscape and during many firefights I caught myself looking out at the incredibly detailed mountain ranges and graphical fidelity of the bright color palettes formed by the clouds which seem to always be in a constant state of movement. The overall presentation almost dwarfs you as a player as you definitely feel a part of this monumental war to rid the planet of the inevitable planetary invasion.
As you play the campaign you immediately become a fan of the Spartans if you weren’t already. However, Halo Reach grabs you with it’s pure and unadulterated gameplay. Today, many shooters offer cover systems, blind firing, fully destructible environments and high-tech gadgetry. You name it and most shooters have added it to their experiences. And while all these new additions to our shooter experiences are great, Bungie stays true to their formula and focuses their attention on the most important factor: having FUN.
There are no fully destructible environments, cover systems, blind firing or anything of that nature in Halo Reach. However, as soon as you pull the trigger of your standard yet modified MA-37 assault rifle, all your Halo blood vessels begin to rush to your skull and you know you are in the Halo universe. Remember playing the original Halo and feeling like the odds were almost impossible? Well, that is Reach only times 10. This time you are joined at the hip with other Spartans who love what they do for a living and that’s kill the enemy.
During the game’s engaging firefights, it is common to hear your AI controlled partners bark out commands and warn you of any immediate and nearby dangers. There may not be a cover option but on many occasions you will see your partners ducking for cover and reloading there weapons while moving into position to flank the enemy hoping that you utilize their position to gain the much needed advantage. Also, as the game progresses your team begins to show a lot of trust in you as a soldier. So, from time to time with certain combat performed maneuvers and enemy kills, your team will verbally congratulate your efforts bridging that emotional bond.
Adding to the emotional sense of the experience is the game’s voice acting and amazing soundtrack. Whether you’re speaking with Kat, the female Spartan or Jorge, the brute carrying the gatling gun, each character offers a diverse and compelling narrative with the absence of corny one-liners. Each Spartan has their own distinct accent followed with meaningful dialogue. There are no wasted moments in the storytelling. As much as each Spartan displays their battlefield superiority and prowess, Bungie does a masterful job conveying their human side as well.
These Spartans are not robots, they are very much human. As the game built up and enemy numbers began to rapidly accumulate, our emotional buttons were beginning to be pushed quite a bit as the tear jerking soundtrack was one of the best we have ever heard in a video game. Yes, thankfully I survived the embarrassment of squirting a few tears. However, during certain times of the game we were reminded of movies from the past such as Platoon. Remember the emotionally powerful scene as William Dafoe falls to his knees and lifts up his hands knowing his end is near as the piercing soundtrack cuts at your heart? Yes, it‘s that serious. In Halo Reach the soundtrack, like the planet, is a living breathing organism driven by the games set piece scenarios creating an unbelievable mood throughout the campaign – It is truly groundbreaking.
Adding to the mix and new to the series, Bungie gives players a nice galactic rogue squadron aerial combat level that is probably the least fulfilling aspect of the whole game. Nevertheless, as soon as you land your spacecraft and receive your orders which involve dispatching a fleet of hostile aliens aboard their ship followed by being thrown from the same ship back to planet Reach, you quickly understand that Bungie is taking their last Halo game extremely serious.
Halo Reach is spread out over 10 levels, each offering robust action filled sub-levels. Our first play though, which was played on the normal setting, took right around 8 hours and 47 minutes. However, on the heroic or legendary settings even a skilled player could take up to 12 or more hours to complete the campaign.
With this review being centered solely around the game’s single-player campaign, Halo has once again climbed back up top to share a place among today’s best shooters by offering superior production value in almost every aspect of the Reach experience. The game is nothing short of amazing.