I hadn’t really played a Halo game since 2. I never really got into 3 from the little I played of it (although I bought it recently, so hopefully I can change that), and completely missed out on ODST and thought I was going to miss out on Reach, too. I’m glad I didn’t. Halo: Reach might be Bungie’s last Halo game, but it’s also the perfect jumping on point for the series.
The game takes place before the original Halo game, on the planet of Reach. Noble Team, six Spartan super-soldiers, are initially dealing with what they think is a human rebellion, but quickly find out that the Covenant are starting a full-scale invasion. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Reach gets destroyed. You know from the very start that fighting the Covenant is a hopeless battle, and yet, you have to do what you can. The game also doesn’t get too bogged down in cutscenes, generally only having them at the beginning and end of each level, and letting most of the story flow in gameplay.
A minor grievance: Subtitles. For some reason, they only show up in cutscenes, not in game. This is very unfortunate. Several members of Noble team have very thick accents, and there’s generally a lot of shooting going on, so it can sometimes be hard to hear dialogue. Also, this may just be my beta copy (not Reach beta, but Xbox Live beta), but the subtitles would randomly turn off when loading the game again, and in one case, my Spartan switched from female to male. Just odd, and not a major portion of this review, but it’s worth pointing out.
This does have the unfortunate event of making the game a bit of a slow starter. Although it gets you in the action pretty fast, when you’re just fighting Covenant in grassy fields or inside military bases, it doesn’t feel like anything special. Once they really start destroying things, though, the game gets a better scope. I think it also helps that it changes to more interesting levels, starting with Long Night of Solace (recently made available in demo version), which has you piloting a ship in space. Radically changing gameplay like this can sometimes have bad consequences on the game, but it works because Halo’s always been big on vehicles and it’s just a really fun level. Afterwards, you get sent to a series of city levels, which I found were just a good atmosphere. The game does hit a bit of a bad spot on the final level, where it overwhelms with enemies that have powerful levels, and it was absolutely terrible about giving me checkpoints. It starts to peak over into frustration, but it’s worth seeing it through to the end.
Having skipped two games in the series, it’s hard to judge on the gameplay, but I’ll point out new things to me. The health system from the first game is back. It’s actually works nicely. It gives you a better judging of how dead you’re going to be when your shield goes down, and the game gives you a fair amount of health packs. It also regenerates it to 3 levels (full, medium, and low), so it doesn’t have too much of an effect on the gameplay. The weapons seem really varied. It’s lost the dual-wielding from 2, but to compensate, it seems like there’s more weapons on each side. Every weapon has its ups and downs, so there’s enough room to play with your favorite weapon loadout. I’ve also always like how the god-weapons are balanced in multiplayer. The sword can kill you in one hit and the user can leap with it, but it’s also very killable. It’s not like whoever gets the sword instantly wins the entire match single-handedly. Since 2, they’ve also added in special abilities that you can get, like sprinting, doing evasive rolls, or the very popular jetpack. It adds a lot to the game, and I found in multiplayer several times where I said “Y’know, this just isn’t working, let’s try one of the other abilities”.
I keep talking about multiplayer without talking about it, which is a shame. The single player of Reach is fun. The multiplayer is where the game completely takes off. It’s frantic, addictive, and a whole lot of fun. I think the biggest advantage is the sheer number of gametypes it has. You have your standards, like capture the flag and team deathmatch. But you also get so many other gametypes, like Living Dead, where the players are split into sword-equipped zombies and shotgun-equipped humans, and Rocket Race, where teams of 3 ride around in rocket-launcher-equipped Warthogs while trying to get to designated points on the map. My favorite is Headhunter. You kill the other players and get skulls, and then have to take them to certain spots. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting a huge collection of skulls before turning them in. I also really liked Firefight, a co-operative gametype where you fight against waves of Covenant. It could’ve been repetitive, but there’s a good number of maps for it, and other variations, like having everybody equipped with melee weapons. If I had any complaint about multiplayer, it’s that there’s no pure random matchmaking type. Sometimes I look at the huge number of types of matchmaking and just don’t know what I want to play. I’d love a way to just say “Give me anything!” But that’s a small complaint when I could gush about how much fun multiplayer is forever. They add community maps to matchmaking. When does a console game ever do that? There’s always a ton of people on. You can set up a psych profile, which makes it more likely that you’ll get paired with people who play like you. This is the kind of standard that most multiplayer games simply can’t match to.
Come to Reach for the single player. It’s a fun experience that really starts to show its real power in the final half. Stay for the multiplayer. It’s the real meat of the game, and if I was going to say one reason to get Xbox Live Gold, this would be it.