Long-awaited return imminent!
- K7

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halo: Reach

I apologize for the delay. Been playing the hell out of this game to find out as much as I possibly can about it. But, I have taken a break from the gaming and MLB Playoffs to bring you all Bungies final release in the massively popular and polarizing Halo series before they hand the Halo reigns off to Microsoft's in-house developing studio! I bring you, Halo: Reach! 

Title: Halo: Reach
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Bungie Software
Genre: First Person Shooter
Rating: M
Systems: 360

Halo. Like Counterstrike and Half-Life to PC FPS gamers, the Halo series has been quite possibly the most popular console FPS to come about since Goldeneye 007 for the N64. Ever since it's first appearance with Halo: Combat Evolved, this series has been a mainstay in college dorms for the better part of this decade, and now we are at the final chapter that is created directly by the folks at Bungie.
However, rather than continue where the series left off at Halo 3, this game is a prequel as it attempts to depict the events leading up to the first Halo game. Halo: Reach takes place on the titular planet Reach in what is essentially it's final days under human control, and as with most prequels to an already existing series, if one has played any of the original games, then we all pretty much know exactly what is going to happen overall in the end as the first game makes numerous mentions of the fall of Reach as the Covenant march on towards the activation of the Halos and the attack on Earth.

In terms of single-player game modes, Halo: Reach comes back with numerous fun options. For single player, Reach offers the Campaign mode for those wishing to follow along with the storyline of the Fall of Reach, as they attempt to fight back the Covenant as long as they can. There is also the return of Firefight, where the player can do their best to defend a point against waves of Covenant enemies for a set period of time, or until there are no more Covenant left. Both these game modes are also offered in multiplayer, along with the ever-popular competitive deathmatch modes of play where players can pit their skills against one another in a variety of match types.

The player begins the campaign as Number Six as he arrives with his newly assigned squad, Noble Team, as a replacement for a fallen member. As expected, everyone initially treats them with animosity and skepticism as your combat profile (as read to you by the leader of the team, Carter) depicts you as something of a lone wolf, when what they need is a member of a team. Eventually through numerous successful missions and acts of heroism, Noble Six slowly gains more and more trust within the team until considered one of their own. But, due to the fact that this game depicts the fall of Reach, and with the reports given from the first game and the official books of the series, no Spartans survive, and anyone can pretty much guess what happens to the team, and Noble Six, over the 2nd half of the game. That being said, the missions given range from simplistic firefights on the ground, to an insanely fun, and highly anticipated, space battle. This was done very well, as the ship controls were very well done, and while the fight itself was somewhat easy, I found myself at the edge of my seat in enjoyment blowing stuff up every which way. Unfortunately, there was only one space mission overall, and while the piloting mission was also fun, it didn't really hold up to the space version.

While the storyline is somewhat lacking, one might say “Oh! The Halo games are made for multiplayer! Who cares about the lacking single player when the game is good as a shooter against others!” Fair enough, so let's dig into what else the game has to offer. For those who know about Halo, the online multiplayer over Xbox Live is supposedly where the game shines. As in the previous games in the series, the multiplayer lobby system is fairly streamlined, and it offers numerous available modes of play, and the matchmaking system is done rather well. The waiting times to find a game tend to be relatively quick, and you can actually specify certain features for the game in terms of who you will get placed with. This is probably it's greatest improvement, as those who like to talk trash can find games with other trash talkers, and vice versa, as well as connection preferences, localization, and even level of gameplay. Having played the previous games, this is a fantastic idea. However, as with most automated systems, what may work in theory doesn't always hold true when it comes to reality, as others can simply change their own specifications to get into games where they wouldn't normally be found, and for those looking to simply cause trouble, it is actually easier to be done. That being said, multiplayer has been improved in the previous games, and for most who play Halo, this is welcome news. The only other downsides are simply opinion, as the matchmaking seems to be limited in which game modes it selects in random matches.

Now, lets dig into the actual gameplay mechanics and the features offered in Halo: Reach. For the most part, it appears that Bungie has decided to mix what they thought was the better elements of all the previous games into Reach. The health system has gone back to what was found in Halo: CE, where the player has a recharging shield as well as a actual life bar. Deplete the shields to have the chance at causing actual health damage, deplete life bar, opponent dies. Avoid getting shot and stay out of combat to recharge the shields. Unlike in Halo 2, the shields do take a bit longer to recharge after leaving combat, so it offers a larger window of opportunity to defeat runners. This was probably one of their best improvements to the system. Controls are pretty much the same as the old games. One trigger shoots, other shoots grenades, buttons jump, switch weapons, etc. No need to mess with what works well.

Reach also offers a rather versatile cache of available weapons with many old faces, as well as some new additions. For those who played the original game, the Magnum now has the scope back on it, with all the stopping power of the original Halo, so pistol snipers rejoice! The Assault Rifle also makes a reappearance, but it now more of a spray and pray weapon for suppressive fire, with the added bonus of knocking scoped players out of the sights. Removed from the game is the Battle Rifle, being replaced with the DMR, or Designated Marksmans Rifle, to act as a bridge between the AR and the Sniper Rifle. A very nice addition to say the least as it offers players what is basically a quick headshot scoped weapon with a decent amount of stopping power and accuracy. The SMG has pretty much been eliminated from the roster. Their largest additions would be found on the Covenant side of things, where any fans of the old games would notice the removal of the Carbine and the Beam Rifle, which were replaced with the Needle Rifle and the Focus Rifle respectively. The Needle Rifle functions mainly like the old Carbine, but three quick successive hits cause the enemy to explode, a la the Needler effect. The Focus Rifle has the zoom of a sniper rifle, but requires the player to basically focus a beam of energy on their opponent if they wish to cause any form of real damage... before it overheats anyway. It can be fired quickly, but the shots are relatively weak for its purpose and are better off acting as a suppression weapon in conjunction with a team.

The greatest change from previous games is the new “A.I.” function. While the previous games had items available for the player to pick up and use, this game changes them to actual functions that can be used multiple times with a cooldown period. The player can only hold one at a time, but they can be used over and over again. However, they can be replaced if the player finds a different A.I. module. The available A.I. Modules that one can find are Sprint (yes, it's not a basic function now), Drop Shield (the old bubble shield from the previous games, now with added healing effect), Jet Pack, Armor Lock (locks player in place, disables weapons during effect, invulnerability, lasts until shields drain), Camouflage (cloaks while standing still, diminished effect with movement), and Hologram (sends a clone running to wherever the player targeted at activation). Each module has it's own specific function and knowing the nuances of each will help make missions go much smoother. Definitely have fun mixing and matching modules for multiple situations to find which ones work best for your own style of play. Jet Packs with a rocket launcher allows the player to rain death from above. Holograms cause enemies to turn around and chance the clone, leaving their backs wide open. See a tank dashing at you? Activate an Armor Lock and watch as the tank explodes as it would if it ran into wall made out of solid energy. Quite a fun addition.

The final point about the game is the character customization, and wow does this game have a lot available to you, albeit the vast majority require prerequisites to simply unlock them, along with the required number of credits to purchase once unlocked. Compared to the past games, this one does leave the rest in the dust in terms of customization. The player has various choices of chest items, shoulder guards, wrist guards, knee pads, colors, emblems, and most predominantly, the helmets. There are a plethora of base helmet designs, and almost all come with at least two additional variants utilizing detailed objects attached to them. The credits are obtained via playing the game across all game modes, and the player can earn little bundles of credits for achieving certain mini-milestones (x number of kills with a scoped weapon, x number of vehicle kills, etc) which help the credit count increase rather quickly. So, it's not too hard to obtain at least some semblance of what you want your character to look like.

Overall, a decent sendoff for the Halo series for Bungie as they place the series into the hands of Microsoft's in-house development studio. They definitely improved upon the game from Halo 3 in terms of weapons and storyline, but a step back in terms of storyline from Halo: ODST. Multiplayer is still the best part about this game and the character customization gives players something to do in the meantime between multiplayer matches. Otherwise, just another competent shooter made mainly for fans of the series.


Whew, that was a long one. With that out of the way, let's go into some numbers.

Storyline: 7.5/10 – While not really too bad in terms of a storyline in general, the game never really stood out in terms of actual immersion into the story itself. Being a prequel, it does suffer from the similar fate of all prequels as you can easily guess what is going to happen in the story. While minute details of how the end result came to be may be a surprise, it still has the cloud of omnipotent knowledge of simply waiting for the inevitable. Granted, the cameos of characters from the other games is rather nice, and it does at least tell the story well enough, the lack of immersion and somewhat predictable events does hurt. Overall though, not the worst of the series, but mostly ho-hum.

Graphics: 9.5/10 – As with the logical progression of graphics in games, compared to the previous games, Reach completely blows them out of the water in terms of graphics and visuals. Bungie definitely did a lot of work on this game as they attempted to unleash as much power as possible from the available hardware, and it shows. The backgrounds are absolutely beautiful, the weapons are greatly detailed (I do love how the HUD appears on the weapon's screens themselves), and the character designs are insanely well done. Being able to show off the individual details of the customizable character outfits is a big plus in my book, and Halo: Reach pulls it off.

Controls & Gameplay Elements: 8.25/10 - The controls work well, and no real complaints, so it gets full credit there. The gameplay elements, though, are hit and miss. While there are many elements of the game that were improved, such as with the HUD, health system, and most of the A.I. modules, some elements did take a bit away from the overall enjoyment of the game. The removal of Sprint to an A.I. does seem rather unnecessary, especially given the size of certain maps. While I can understand the reasoning (the suits are heavy and are older models compared to Master Chief), it still just feels more like a hindrance and causes nothing more than a waste of time. When there is the availability of other modules, Sprint is usually the one tossed to the wayside in favor of a better option overall. Other than that, the game modes and the character customization are rather fun.

Sound & Music: 8.75/10 – Reach, as with most of the Halo series, comes complete with a rather well done symphonic soundtrack, but unfortunately most of it gets lost in the sounds of the gunfight. While the theme isn't as beautiful as it was in Halo 3, it does it's job very well, and no complaints coming from me in terms of the score itself. The sounds of the game are also pretty well done, and the attention to detail is pretty apparent. Case in point, Bungie did their homework in most cases. Firing underwater results in a muffled sound, and you have a hard time hearing most of the explosions in space. While not completely accurate, you can definitely detect that they wanted to keep things somewhat accurate, even in the Halo universe. Another nice little detail is that the Covenant forces do not speak English anymore! When an alien creature roars at you in a completely different language definitely has a more intimidating effect compared to one that yells at you in words you can understand. Big plus there.

Replayability: 8.5/10 – Well, this is probably the element that mostly depends on your own opinion. If you are a fan of multiplayer and FPS games, this game should be a long-lasting source of fun. However, if you are more of the single-player type who enjoys finding all that the game has to offer, it may not be as much fun since many elements require multiplayer to unlock. Things tend to be easier to do when playing with others, as the credits system for the character customization increases according to kills, victories, and mini-achievements, which seem to be much easier to obtain in multiplayer. However, the game still offers a lot to find with regards to Easter Eggs and gamerscore achievements, so it is still somewhat worthwhile to stick around unlocking things after the first playthrough. That being said it still is definitely geared more towards those who enjoy playing online with others.

Overall: 42.5/50 = 85/100 = B to B+ depending on multiplayer preference.
Reccomendation: Fans of the series should get their thirst quenched for the most part. Most who get this game probably picked it up for the multiplayer, and as such, they shouldn't be disappointed. It is definitely a step up overall compared to the last couple releases, and worth checking out at some point in time.

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