Jeff Markiewicz On October 4, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Halo Reach is a prequel to the Halo trilogy and will be developer Bungie’s last title in the franchise. Halo hardly needs much of an introduction as it has been one of the most influential game series in gaming since its inception at the launch of the first Xbox in 2001. Halo 1 started the seed that made first-person shooters the best selling genre on consoles and practically single handedly made the Xbox a success. Halo 2 set the industry standard for matchmaking. Halo 3 upped the ante with films and a level editor called Forge. Now we have Halo Reach and its Bungie’s swan song to the series they’ve worked so long and hard on. We already know it’s going to be good, but can it finally top the masterpiece that is Halo 1?

Halo Reach is set directly before the events of Halo 1 on a planet called Reach. You play as a new member of Noble team, Noble 6. At the beginning of the game, you’ve have lost communication with one of the colonies on the planet and you’re sent off to investigate. This starts your wild ride to try to save the planet from the Covenant invasion. As indicated before, you’re not alone anymore. You’ll now have a full team of Spartans to back you up, each with their own personality and specialties. If you’ve played ODST, you’ll know Bungie can pull off good characters but here, you just don’t get much attached. You’ll learn a couple by name but you never start to care about them unfortunately. The story has some high moments and has an important tie-in with the trilogy but is never as epic as the prior titles or pull off characters like ODST. It’s a worthy ride through to the end. The gameplay ensures you’re going to play it more than once but without the anchor of the characters, a lot of it doesn’t have the weight it feels like it should.

The massive success of Halo is due to its amazing gameplay. It squished sandbox gameplay into a linear format and what you got was incredibly dynamic and varied gameplay that was supported by great artificial intelligence and a perfect control scheme. Halo 2 took this to the next level with adding online and then Halo 3 fluffed out the periphery. Halo Reach continues this tradition executing to near perfection. Right from the point you take your first shots in the game, you’ll immediately know something is different. The weapons feel a lot different than the previous four titles. They feel more grounded and meatier. In the campaign, this works to perfection. Fits right in with the tone of the game and feels right. In multiplayer, it’s a different beast. They’ll feel weaker than they’ve ever been and getting kills will be a huge chore. After the initial break-in period, it starts to feel good and you’ll be getting kills left and right. The next thing you’ll notice is that there are no more ability pickups and you select your load out before you spawn. The ability pickups are now armor abilities which can be used over and over with a short cool down period in between. Some of them are old abilities and others are new. You have sprint, invisibility, armor lock, and shield. The shield is actually a hybrid of the bubble shield and the healing aura from Halo 3 which is pretty cool.

While there are no standout levels that top the series best, the campaign is great. Bungie knows what works and has done it near perfection. There are no dull or repetitive missions anywhere in the game. The levels are open enough that despite being fairly linear, your path through them can be wildly different from one playthrough to the next. The AI is dynamic and smart enough to take you on no matter which way you come. It really brings back the joy that existed in the first Halo, which means you’re going to keep coming back for more. Ever since Halo 3, anyone who has played the series before should play on heroic difficulty and that remains the same here. It’s the perfect difficulty. Going it alone on legendary is practically suicide but what makes Halo so good is that when you die it’s not due to something cheap. And the gameplay is open enough to approach every situation from a multiple of different angles so it always remains fun.
One of the primary tenets of Halo titles is the replayability and this has always been supported by an open mission structure and amazing enemy AI. Well here is more of the same. Fighting the covenant is as fun as it was back in the very first Halo. Every time is different. They will actively flank you and work together. If you’re not thinking they can be quite deadly. There are no Flood and the Elites now take back a primary role from the Brutes. Your allies unfortunately do not benefit from such fine honed intelligence. You’ll frequently see them not firing at the enemy or just walking past them. They don’t help out that much. AI driving is just as bad as it was in the previous titles if not worse. It’s like bringing a senile grandma who drives half the speed limit to a warzone; you’re just not going to do it. The Noble team members are all invincible so at least you don’t have to worry about babysitting them but it would feel better if it felt like you were part of a team.

In addition to a rank-based leveling system, you now pick and design your own Spartan which you’ll play as Noble 6. You can be male or female and choose your colors. As you play single player and online, you’ll start to earn credits from which you can purchase different armor pieces. Despite being only cosmetic, it’s a nice drive to get the next piece and personalize your Spartan. Some of them include different effects like the grunt party effect when you die or a flame for your head. The later is kind of cool but it’s easy to foresee that the grunt party may overstay its welcome. Overall though it’s a nice and welcomed addition to the Halo franchise.

Forge has been revamped to be much easier this time around. Instead of always adhering to the games physics and spending forever positioning pieces you now have several options on how you want to place objects. The default and most useful is called phased. Here you can place an object anywhere on the map and it will stay there. It can be through another object or sky high in the air. One of the developer videos seemed to indicate that there would be a snap feature to make putting things together even easier but it’s not here. Instead you can slow down things to make super fine movements by pressing down one of the thumb sticks or go in and edit the coordinates. There are tons of new objects and even buildings that you can put together. So basically there are still a lot of nuances to learn and for most, you’ll have to sit out and wait for the maps to roll in but with the improved tools, I can’t wait to see what people come out with in the coming months and years.

Clearly Forge is amazing but right now it still suffers from the same problem it had in Halo 3, accessibility. Since I am horrible at making things, my only benefit from the feature is to play these amazing creations but unless I have a ton of friends, they are useless. There is still no Forge playlist for matchmaking. Finding good maps on your console is ridiculously hard since all you have is categories for most downloaded and most recommended. Then when the list of maps comes up all you can see is their name, which map they’re built on, and 3 descriptive tags people gave them. For some reason a large majority of them were “gay.” If you can find the online website for the maps, it’s quite nice with a Like based system and actual reviews. The only thing missing is screenshots that show what it sort of looks like so downloading maps is still somewhat of a guessing game but incredibly better than the console experience.

If you’ve played Halo online before, you know generally what to expect here. The slick interface and presentation of the previous titles is here and works as great as ever. Right when you enter the multiplayer menus, you can see all of your friends that are online and what they are currently doing. Navigating to the playlist you want to play happens in mere seconds. Instead of just prioritizing things like similar ranks you can now set a “Pysch Profile” for your ideal teammates. Here you can set how chatty you want them to be, motivations, and demeanor. Once you get matched up in a game, instead of simply having the option to veto a map now, you have your choice of three games as well as to start a new vote. It works really well and you can be guaranteed that the majority want to play that setup. Unfortunately the biggest issue with this setup still remains, people leaving games. It makes no sense that if someone drops at the beginning of the match, before it starts, to not grab another person. If you leave enough games, you’ll get banned from matchmaking for a short while but if your team is getting spanked, people will still take off in droves. It would be nice to modify the gametype or just end the game if a team is getting dominated. There is no reason if the score is 47-22 to continue the match to 100 kills and not stop it at 50 or start a new round. But this is Halo, at times you’ll love it and others you’ll hate it.

Usually I really enjoy Halo online for about a month and then they become unbearable to play since everyone becomes some sort of Halo master ninjas and I have no chance but here it was reversed. I started off the first few games hating it. This is due to the new weapon feeling and control style. Surprisingly this is the hardest Halo yet to pick up, play, and most importantly succeed. But once get you over the hump; it is our beloved Halo once again. A pure joy to play and if you have any friends, it’s even better. Lag is not a problem other than in campaign cooperative play and even then its more of an issue with a person’s connection than with the game. I’ve played several games with 4 people and no lag and others with 3 and quite a bit. With just two people it seems like even with a poor connection, it’s always a good game. It also doesn’t feature any drop-in support so if you get dropped or are in the middle of a level, it’s going to take a while before you can rejoin unless they quit specifically for you.

All of the traditional Halo gametypes return like deathmatch, team deathmatch, oddball, capture the flag, king of the hill, race and their variants. This time around there are some really interesting new gametypes like Stockpile, Headhunter, and Invasion. Stockpile has you retrieving flags around the map and bringing them to your capture point. At the end of a countdown timer, all flags in the capture point are collect and the flags reset. In headhunter, whenever someone dies, they drop a skull. Pick up the skulls and take them to a collection area to score points. The last is Invasion and the largest in scope of all of them. It takes the typical assault/defend gametype and makes several nice changes. First there are multiple objectives on each map that go in sequence. Completing an objective will unlock another tier for load outs. You are also paired with a teammate who you will spawn beside if you so choose. It works decently well but doesn’t have the depth or detail that games like Team Fortress 2 possess.

The other major gametype that has come over from Halo 3: ODST is Firefight. Complete with matchmaking this time so it’s actually useful for those without many online friends. It’s pretty much the same as before except that there are a couple variants that include rocket launchers and sniper rifles. The biggest variant was actually disguised in the beta and is generator defense. Basically you have to protect the generators from the onslaught that comes. There is also a single player version of this mode called Score Attack in which you try to score the most points on the map. In the corner shows the next highest score on your friends list and is a blast.

Online is a blast as always and if you’ve played Halo online before, you know exactly what to expect here. People still drop. Some playlists aren’t perfect but Bungie is working on fixing them so everyone gets to play what they want. Forge still doesn’t have its own playlist so it’ll remain useless for most. Campaign cooperative play matchmaking was held back and will finally get launched in a couple weeks. To get the most out of Halo you need friends but Bungie has closed the gap significantly. The game is Halo and if you’ve enjoyed the previous titles, the new improvements are great.

The graphics engine appears to have gone through a complete redo. The graphics are amazing and some of the best the 360 has to offer. The style is the same as the previous titles but the amount of detail has been ratcheted up a couple notches. The weapons look amazing. The levels are well crafted. Some of them are even partially reused but they are redone with such care that it’ll take a while to realize that’s where you are. It seems you’ll rarely get claustrophobic in this game as a lot of the levels are open and have multiple paths to navigate through them. It’s definitely a game that you can replay and see and experience a lot of things different. The biggest issue that’s surprisingly even apparent in the opening cutscene is frame rate drops. In combat, it can get incredibly hectic and very rarely slow down but in some cutscenes it can become quite apparent. Overall though, it’s a beautifully crafted title.

If you’ve played any of the previous Halo titles, you know the sound design is top notch and for the most part, it’s the same greatness as before. The guns sound meaty and fit in well with the new tone. Everything sounds just right. Even the near silence of space sounds great. The voice acting is well done. The biggest disappoint is that the music just isn’t as great as in the prior titles. There are no bad songs and compared to the sea of other games, it’s quite excellent but it doesn’t have any real standout songs like the prior games that had you go out and purchase the soundtrack. It is sort of a mix of old Halo and the new ODST sounds but doesn’t best either. Overall it’s great, the music dips a little bit in quality but it’s still top tier in gaming.

Bungie’s final Halo title goes out with a bang. With over a decade working on the series, they know exactly what works and what doesn’t. The gameplay is as best as the series has ever had. It’s not a perfect ride but it appears it’ll fit right in behind the first title in the ranking of the series. The story while not as epic as the prior trilogy fits quite well into the Halo franchise. The character development could be better but emphasis on story has never been Halo’s strong suit. The online component is expertly crafted as always and now you can access Firefight in matchmaking and soon you’ll be able to do the same with the campaign. Unfortunately Forge still lacks a proper playlist which is disappointing considering how awesome the maps look already. Graphics look phenomenal and finally feel true to this generation rather than an updated Halo 2 engine. The sound feels great and more down to earth and realistic this time but the music suffers a little bit with no standout tracks. This is Halo at its finest and if you’ve played it before, you know what to expect. Bungie has delivered on all fronts. Get it now.


The periphery supporting the gameplay certainly has its issues but the core gameplay is simply amazing. The artificial intelligence ensures every experience is different. The mechanics ensure that it’s always fun. Story could be better, online could be better but overall this is Halo at its finest.


The game looks beautiful no matter where you look. The levels are crafted well from both a gameplay aspect as well as looks. Characters are well animated and look great despite all the different permutations that exist. Some slowdowns occur in cutscenes but rarely in gameplay despite some very hectic and chaotic scenarios.


Sounds awesome through and through. The weapons have had a nice makeover and sound much more down to earth and realistic now. Voice acting is top notch as always. The music drops in quality a little bit with no real standout tracks that make you purchase the soundtrack but is still top tier in the realm of other games.


Halo is the same as it has always been, an awesome experience. The single player is near the series best. The online makes some of the games features more accessible and new gametypes are awesome to play. The graphics are stellar. The sound design is top notch. Bungie’s final Halo goes out with a resounding success.

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