Tech News on G4
'Reach' a towering achievement
Sept 28, 2010
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
It's been quite a ride for the Halo series under the control of developer Bungie, but there is absolutely no doubt that from top to bottom, Halo: Reach stands as the best entry in the series.
Multiplayer has always been the bread and butter of any Halo title, and while the campaigns for each successive game have become better over time, they've all been more or less forgettable. 'Reach' bucks that trend, and puts together a story that lives and dies by the memorable characters on Noble Team. Even without the renowned Master Chief, 'Reach' manages to stay consistently gripping. In fact, the game is helped by the fact that there is no Spartan-117.
Of course, the multiplayer portion of 'Reach' is downright spectacular, but we'll get to that in just a moment.
'Reach' takes its name from the planet on which the game is set. It starts shortly before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, and without giving away any spoilers, the entire plot of Halo: Reach is a lead-up to the events of Combat Evolved, with a direct correlation between it and the subsequent Halo trilogy.
You play as Six, a new recruit for Team Noble, which is a special operations unit of elite Spartan soldiers. It doesn't take long for Noble Team to discover that the evil race known as the Covenant has landed on Reach, and before you know it, you're smack in the middle of a massive battle for the planet.
Though the plot and characters are more interesting than any previous 'Halo' game, the gameplay itself isn't about to change the minds of anyone who disliked the other titles in the series. You'll use many of the same weapons, battle many of the same enemies, and fight in many of the same environments as you did in previous 'Halo' games.
In essence, what Bungie did was take all the best aspects of the previous games, and cut out all the annoying stuff. The best example of this is - hallelujah! - the complete lack of the Flood in 'Reach'. That being said, Bungie inexplicably seems to have something against boss fights, and you'll see none in the campaign. They proved they could pull them off in Halo 3 with the Scarab battles, but ignored them completely in 'Reach' nonetheless.
There are a few tweaks to the 'Halo' formula, of course. There are secondary powers known as 'armor abilities' which allow you to do things like sprint for a short period of time, throw down bubble shields, or become invisible. There are a few new weapons, but some are gone before you can blink, never to be seen again. And there are a couple of flying missions to spice things up, and while in the grand scheme of things they do nothing new, like just about everything else in the Halo universe, these missions play out wonderfully thanks to rock-solid controls.
A lot of these additions aren't really important to the gameplay in the campaign itself, and seem to serve as nothing more than a tutorial for multiplayer. Still, it keeps things somewhat fresh.
The other wonderful aspect of the campaign is Noble Team itself. It's truly refreshing to be introduced to six members of an elite military squad who aren't spewing expletives and cliches every other minute. The characters are all likable, and though there are some overdramatic moments, they aren't of the eye-rolling variety; this is the fate of humanity after all, so of course there's going to be some more sensational moments.
The pacing of the game itself is well done, with large setpieces matched with plenty of more intimate moments. It's rare to feel emotion for video game characters, but if you get through the fantastic final mission and ending without getting at least a tiny lump in your throat, you must have a heart of coal.
The campaign certainly isn't epic in length, but that's a good thing for two reasons: first, it never drags on, and second and more importantly, once you're done the campaign, you can move into the multiplayer portion.
'Halo' games are instantly recognizable, and if you've played one, getting into a subsequent title isn't all that difficult. What Bungie has done with Reach, though, is amazing. It has made the game feel like 'Halo' through and through, but has added just enough tweaks to allow the game to completely stand apart from anything else in the series.
While all the usual suspects (Slayer, Oddball, Capture the Flag, etc.) are back in matchmaking, there are some notable additions. The greatest one has to be Invasion, a game mode that mixes the best aspects of objective and deathmatch and mixes them into one. Classic Invasion sees one team push forward to nodes on the map, while the other attempts to defend. Further nodes in locked sections of the map are unlocked if the attacking team can stand in the defended areas for a set amount of time. It all culminates in a CTF-type ending where the attacking team has to get a power core to a capture point. If the attacking team fails to push forward in the alotted time at any point, they lose.
There's also Invasion Slayer, which is a classic team deathmatch mode that goes up to 100, but certain points on the map can be captured for heavy weapons and vehicles. The weapons and vehicles get more and more powerful throughout the game, allowing the tide to turn even when a team is certain it has no chance of winning (taking control of a Scorpion can work wonders for a team!).
The aforementioned armor abilities are also a great addition to the Halo formula. You choose an ability after every death, so you're not stuck using one ability for an entire match. Certainly, your needs will change as you play - you'll find great use for the Drop Shield while defending a flag in 1-Flag CTF, but once you go on the offensive, using Hologram or Active Camouflage is likely a better bet.
The maps are, as expected in a Halo game, superb, with highlights including the Blood Gulch and Sanctuary remakes, 'Hemorrhage' and 'Asylum', respectively, and new additions 'Powerhouse', 'Countdown' and 'Boardwalk'.
The real beauty is that new maps are constantly coming out thanks to the expanded Forge mode, which allows players to make custom maps and game types. These can all be shared online, making it all a very LittleBigPlanet-esque experience, with plenty of creation and sharing tools for those who can't wait for DLC or are simply brimming with awesome ideas.
Firefight also returns and while it can be a lot of fun, and now supports online matchmaking (just like campaign), it still doesn't have that certain something that other versions of this mode have - we're looking squarely at Gears of War's 'Horde' mode, which still stands as the ultimate in team-based co-op.
Another huge improvement Bungie has added to the online portion of Halo: Reach is the levelling up system. The old system - which to this day we still don't quite understand - has been scrapped for something that is infinitely easier to wrap your head around. It's a credit-based system that sees you get points for doing well in a game. After each game, you see a progress bar at the bottom of the screen move up, clearly illustrating the fact that you did something good. Earn enough credits, and you'll level up.
Though this system is much easier to understand, it's still not perfect, as even from the get-go, it's not easy to level up. Unlike other games where the first few ranks are easily attainable, upgrading in 'Reach' simply isn't going to happen as fast for most people. In addition, you can buy new pieces of equipment in the Armory, but these do nothing to improve your character - it's simply to look cooler. Granted, this is good for keeping the game balanced, but it would be nice to have a few more bonus items, like the one that has you turn into a pile of confetti whenever you die.
There are a lot of extra ways to earn credits, and Bungie should be commended for making this aspect downright addictive. Each day and week, there are new challenges that are added - complete the challenges and you'll get a nice little chunk of credits. They can be anything from earning 30 assists in multiplayermatchmaking in a day, to playing 30 multiplayer matches in a week. If you're into the online portion of 'Reach', it won't be long before you're logging in each day just to see what the challenges are and how much you'll earn for completing them.
One could write a small novel's worth of additions and improvements to Halo: Reach multiplayer, but suffice it to say that it's a game that's certain to have a massive online following for years to come, and deservedly so.
The end product with Halo: Reach is one that serves as a culmination of one of the most prolific video game series of the last decade. With Bungie moving on to new things and leaving the 'Halo' world for other developers, it has quite obviously put its heart and soul into 'Reach'. It has proved that not only does it love the series itself, but also the voracious fans who have put so many hours into the world of the Spartans, the Covenant, and so much else, through the good and the bad.
It's a spectacular end to the Halo story from Bungie. Until the next game, Reach will stand tall as the ultimate game in the series.
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