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Monday, September 27, 2010

Lets take a look at Halo Reach.

 Halo: Reach officially lands September 14, 2010, and it’s promising to be one of the biggest gaming events of 2010. The previous Halo titles have been huge hits and Reach, the last Halo game to be developed by Bungie, looks like it will follow suit.
The initial reviews of the games are out and–no surprise–they are positive. 1up.com gave the game an A+, Kotaku said it’s “unquestionably the best of the Halo games,” and even USA Today called it a “fine finish”. MetaCritic has rated the game at a very strong 93, putting it near the top of all games on the Xbox 360. So, yes, it’s standing up to expectations and the Bungie team is showing no signs of Halo burnout or that the game was rushed out (Halo: ODST was released less than a year ago).
I got my hands on a retail copy of Halo: Reach and wanted to put down some early thoughts. I was considering a full review, but check out those links above–I think they really speak for the game. Plus, I’ve only played the retail copy of the game, while some reviewers have been playing early/preview/review builds for months now. Finally, while Reach promises to have a great single-player campaign, this game is all about the multiplayer and that’s something we won’t be adequately able to judge until swarms of people start playing.
Luckily a few thousand people were on the servers before the game officially launched so I was able to get a taste of the multiplayer action as well as a deep dive into the solo campaign.
I don’t think much of an introduction is necessary, but here goes. Halo: Reach is a first-person shooter that takes place just before the original, Halo: Combat Evolved. The Covenant (evil aliens) are taking over the planet of Reach where there happens to be a human colony. As part of Noble squadron (an elite special operations unit) you have do what you can to help out. As Spartans the small Noble team can actually make a huge difference despite the alien onslaught.
Someone asked me about Reach after I played it for the first time I said the first thing that came to mind, “It’s definitely Halo.” I think that sums up the best and worst parts about the game. As the reviews noted, it quickly becomes clear that this is a great Halo game, but the while playing you won’t ever forget that this is Halo. If you love the franchise and want more of it, strap yourself in for a great ride. If you can’t take any more floaty jumps, super pistols, or sticky plasma grenades then you might want to wait for Black Ops to arrive.

I’m not going to spoil the story, but I’d consider it the best of the franchise. It’s your typical space marine stuff–generally you saving the day when no one else can–but it’s interesting and it moves along quickly. The characters don’t seem particularly deep, but you get to know the Noble squad and at least understand why they are different from the rest of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) forces. Your character, Noble 6, is one bad dude, so it is plausible that he can kick some Covenant butt when called upon, often acting as a one-man army.
My favorite part of the Halo games has always been the settings–Earth-like planets that are similar enough to ours to resonate with Earthlings, but different enough to be incredibly cool. You can’t beat the ring-shaped planet from Combat Evolved, but Reach definitely has its moments. There is enough outdoor combat time that you can really appreciate the setting and the open-space battles.
As far as mood and ambiance goes I’m not sure that this is the strongest Halo, but I wouldn’t consider this a weak area. It follows the Halo formula of traversing a stage and then a build up to a large battle, followed by lots of explosions and awesome music, but the scenes weren’t able to grip me as they did in the past. Maybe the music has changed or maybe I’ve changed, but as much as I enjoyed the large battles I felt more like I was just getting through them, avoiding the fuel rod gun blasts that killed me last time, not relishing the fury of battle. Maybe it’s all the game’s one-hit kills (which lead to replays) that causes this feeling for me…
The solo campaign, on the whole, is fun and diverse (now with more vehicle missions!). There are lots of different settings, various ways to approach most fights, and lot of weapons to choose from. You’re almost always fighting with a few comrades, which really helps move things along while sharing some of the workload (even if they are terrible drivers). I’m actually looking forward to playing it again, on the harder difficulty level, which is not usually something I want to do with an FPS game. Next time around I’ll be sure to mix up my weapon selection using different ability perks (maybe some more shield and less jet pack), and be a bit more strategic about charging into firefights. I’m definitely going to try to be more stealthy and hang back, killing enemies from afar, relying less on the machine gun.
If you are reading this before you play I would say this: Normal difficulty is a bit easy. I don’t mind the easiness, but it does allow you to get a bit sloppy in your playing. It’s fine if you want to get through the game with some challenges but no frustration, but, as the game points out, Heroic is the real mode to play it on. It let’s you get a better feel for the tricky AI, even if you might think the game is cheating now and then.


Whenever you are playing Halo: Reach (online or solo) you are gaining credits, basically in-game money. These are used in the Armory to upgrade your Spartan’s armor. Upgrades are expensive and they are experience-based, so you need to achieve a certain rank before you can buy, say, the coolest helmet, even if you can afford it. I haven’t played with this too much but I have noticed that the armor upgrades are not quantified in any way, so I’ve been hesitant to spend my credits. One shoulder piece might look cooler than the others, but is that the only reason to choose it? If it’s heavier will it slow me down? Will it just look better or will it actually improve my armor? I wish Bungie had put out an Armory FAQ.

As I noted above, the game’s multiplayer is active, but it will take some time before anyone can really get a feel for it. In the few hours I’ve spent with it so far, it feels a lot like the Halo of years past. The matchmaking is better than ever before and there are more modes than in, say, Halo 2, but if you hop into TDM you’ll get that same great experience. The matchmaking wasn’t so good (at least yet) that my team didn’t get totally trounced at times but it tends to keep things fun, and there is a lot of stuff to do with your friends so I have little doubt that Reach is going to have a really strong multiplayer presence. I don’t think the Armory system gives me anywhere near the same desire to earn experience as I had in Modern Warfare 2, but I fully expect to spend a considerable amount of time playing online, at least for the next few weeks.
Reach is, in many ways a best-of Halo, which is only fitting given the fact that Bungie says they are moving on. I’ve enjoyed almost all the aspects of the game, and I’ve been impressed with its sound, graphics, polish, and depth, even considering how high expectations have been. All the shortcomings I’ve found with the game–the formulaic cycle of events, the recycling of enemies, the annoying one-hit-kills, for example–are something we’ve come to expect from the franchise so they should be factored in before you buy this game. And, with that noted, I can’t see anyone really hating this game–it’s just too good. Even if you don’t like FPS games or you don’t like to fight aliens, there is still a lot of great things you can take away from your time with Reach.
So whether you’ve played Halo before or not, I’d recommend giving this game a shot. You might not want to replay it so you can beat it on Legendary or drop 100 hours in multiplayer mode, but it’s a very well done game that follows through on the high expectations.

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