Friday, 8 October 2010

Game Review - Halo Reach

Formats: Xbox 360

I'm sure by now almost all of you have read a review for Halo: Reach. You've heard all about Bungie's “perfect love-letter to the fans” and seen the 10/10 scores. I am not here to add my voice to the crowd, however. Now before any of you start sending me hate mail or hurling bricks through my window, hear me out: Halo: Reach is a good game. Just not the perfect Halo game.

That's not to say that Bungie haven't made improvements to the series. The graphics have been refined, built once again from the ground up. While it still has that definitive 'Halo' feel, everything has a grittier, more realistic look. The character models have been redesigned and improved, the new-look Jackals and Elites amongst my favourites. Your fellow Spartans also look fantastic, especially during the cut-scenes (a vast improvement of those seen in ODST, which to me looked like 'The Sims in Space')

The improvements Bungie have made extend beyond the visual. The addition of new weapons and armour abilities (which replace the equipment system of Halo3) really opens up the gameplay, giving the player plenty of options on how to approach any given situation. Some abilities are more useful than others, but I get the feeling that they all can be used effectively once you can figure out the trick to each of them, The new Needle Rifle quickly became my weapon of choice, combining the precision of the Battle Rifle with the explosive power of the Needler. Awesome!

However, as I implied in my first paragraph, it's not all sunshine and roses. One of the strongest elements of the past Halo games has been the campaign mode, a story-driven roller-coaster ride, filled with dramatic set-pieces and incredible vistas. From the feelings of discovery and horror of Halo: Combat Evolved, to the themes of religion and revolution in Halo 2 and the desperate struggle to the finish line of Halo 3, the entire series is peppered with memorable moments. Halo: Reach seems to be the most muted of the whole series, even more so than the noir-inspired ODST. For those who don't want to spoil the campaign mode, the following paragraph contains spoilers!

Given the backdrop of Reach, I really expected more from the campaign. Telling the story of the fall of humanity's last defence against the Covenant Armada, the home of the Spartans, and resting place to a wealth of Forerunner artefacts, Bungie had plenty of material to work with. It is a shame, therefore, that the campaign fails to impart the importance of the scenario. Noble team, an elite squad of battle-hardened Spartans, is so full of clichéd and cardboard characters that even Master Chief seems charismatic in comparison. Upon encountering the Covenant for the first time, a moment that spells almost certain doom for the human race, Noble team treat it with such nonchalance that it seems of no consequence. When the Spartans meet Dr. Hasley, the creator of the Spartan project, they act as if they barely know each other. It was at moments like these that I felt Bungie really missed an opportunity to create a compelling single-player campaign.

Aside from the lack of story (the entire game seems to be a series of 'go save those dudes' or 'go blow up that thing' missions) the campaign mode also seems to be missing the trademark 'Halo moments', like the edge-of-your-seat driving finales and GIANT ROBOT SCARAB FIGHTS (the heavily publicised space battle was far too short and simple). The final mission was a particular disappointment, with the game's ending creeping up with little to no crescendo.

However, I realise that Halo: Reach's campaign mode will represent only a small percentage of the games value to many of you. The multiplayer experience is the most complete yet, featuring the Firefight mode from ODST and new Invasion and Headhunter gametypes. The ever-escalating action of Invasion is an interesting addition, with matches starting off with assault rifle skirmishes and ending with full-on tank battles! Forge mode makes a triumphant return, now with even more options and players can even customise their in-game avatars to a greater degree.

Bungie really go all out to ensure the Halo community thrives, and Halo: Reach is no exception. On top of the features that were present in Halo 3's multiplayer, Bungie have added daily and weekly challenges, achievements, commendations and season ranking systems that guarantee that players will always have something to work towards. My only complaint concerning the multiplayer component is that the file sharing system seems more unwieldy than before.

The improvements in the game's multiplayer and core gameplay make this review somewhat of a compliment sandwich. There's no denying that Halo: Reach is a good game and online gamers will be busy for a loooong time, but those who play Halo purely for the campaign will be disappointed. Bungie may have been trying to end the series with a bang, but the perfect Halo game still remains out of reach.

Lukao gives Halo: Reach 7 GIANT ROBOT SCARABS out of 10

Lukao, CeX UK Contributor
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