Wednesday, October 27

In case you haven't played it: Halo:Reach Review (X360)

Halo:Reach is a game that requires little to no introduction. Many of you would have already passed judgement on the last instalment of the the Halo franchise to be developed by its creators, Bungie. To some extent I believe that's fair enough, as Reach is Bungie's response to close to a decade worth of innovation in console-based First Person Shooters. That is a slightly unfair assessment, as Halo has given more than its fair share, including worthwhile online multiplayer and vehicles that didn't handle like solar-powered forklifts. My biggest issue with the series however has always been level design. With the sole exception of ODST, I've never been able to make it through a campaign solo; co-op is not an option, it is the only option. With the last Halo single player campaign taking a step in the right direction, the new additions to the multiplayer formula had me believing that Reach could be not only the greatest game in the series, but also one of the best FPS games ever made. After 5 games across 2 generations, has Bungie refined the Halo franchise to perfection and put the competition to bed?

The Good
And so it begins - The single player campaign in Halo:Reach is by far the best in the series, and easily the best I've played this year. It may not have been paced as manically as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but there are so many quality set pieces, vehicle sequences and expository cut scenes that elevate this experience to the top of the pile. I'll concede that some of the characters are a little on the vanilla side, but you can't help but feel moved by the constant misery that you'll witness. Bungie have accurately portayed what I believe it would be like to be on the losing side of a violent and vital conflict. It is a worthy beginning to the Halo saga, and it makes some of the previous instalments seem almost minor by comparison.

Let's not forget about the action. The scale of some of the firefights is particularly impressive, and allow you to feel as though you're actually fighting in a war, not just extinguishing resistance on the fringe. There's tense conflict in tight spaces, and also grand open battles on land and in space. The space combat sequence is short, but the controls are tight and reminded me of the fantastic Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games. The new weapons are all fun to use, and the Armor Abilities feel essential. Jetpacks, Armor Lock, Hologram, Dodge and (finally!) Sprint allow for a new level of strategy that the series has been lacking for quite some time. Perhaps most important of all, the last level doesn't suck. I won't spoil anything, but I will confirm that you won't be racing across collapsing platforms on a Warthog, or driving in a straight line for hours in a Scorpion tank. Excelsior!

What a wonderful world - I initially found the use of colour in the Halo series to be somewhat of a distraction. I was used to greys, browns and blood red. Halo (and to a lesser extent, the Timesplitters games) showed that there was still a place for purple and teal in armed conflict. Halo:Reach is even more vibrant than its predecessors, and everything from the insides of a Covenant Corvette, to the plains of Planet Reach are brought to life with an expanded palette of colour. The new graphics engine also allows for more detail on your equipment, the environments, the vehicles and your enemies. While there are dips in the frame rate, very rarely does it distract from the beautiful vistas and busy skies above. The score is also of the high standard typical of the series, and is an effective aural accompaniment to the beauty and brutality on screen.

Consistently rewarding - Every action in Halo:Reach is rewarded. Whether you decide to spend a few minutes in the campaign, or spend hours playing matches in multiplayer; you'll earn credits that you can spend on unlockable armour parts in the Armoury.  You'll also increase your rank (however slowly) and work towards ambient achievements dubbed, "Commendations." There are also daily and weekly challenges that can involve anything from killing 400 enemies across single and multiplayer modes, racking up a certain number of kills in a single match or participating in multiplayer matches. You can now also earn medals usually awarded in multiplayer such as multikills, assists and close calls in the single player modes. I shouldn't forget that can also earn Gamerscore points as well. Everything you do in this game is consistently and meaningfully rewarded.  

If it ain't broke, fix it anyway - A solid suite of multiplayer modes return in Halo:Reach, and the new weapons, classes, assassinations and Armour Abilities make the action even more enjoyable. The controller layout which is consistent across both the single and multiplayer offerings has been tweaked slightly and similar to that found in other popular shooters. If you enjoy Bungie's brand of floaty physics, powerful melee attacks and varied weaponry, then Reach will deliver a solid, if familiar experience.

Buffet - I'm not done with Reach, and I'm not sure I ever will be. Apart from the campaign (which I am determined to complete on Legendary, solo), there's an extensive multiplayer offering, the fiendishly addictive Firefight mode which can be played alone or with company, and soon to be introduced: Campaign Matchmaking. The first map pack is also dropping next month, so there is even more fun to be had. Forge mode (I haven't used it as I lack patience and creativity) returns from Halo 3 as do extensive video editing options. On Saturday night I spent 2 hours watching a replay of a match where I performed the most spectacular sticky grenade kill. Never mind the fact that I got rolled for the rest of the match, but allowing for me to focus on 7 seconds of glory made the whole ordeal worthwhile.

The Bad
Prequel trilogy syndrome - A small gripe, but a gripe nonetheless; there are so many effective weapons that appear in Reach, and I must admit that I'm puzzled that devastating weapons like the Needle Rifle and Plasma Launcher were phased out of the Covenant arsenal. Perhaps that's why they eventually lost the war to the Chief. It's like the Droid Army from the Star Wars prequel trilogy: surely the Empire could have found a use for killer robots with shields?

The Ugly
Same old - While I have enjoyed the multiplayer offering of Halo:Reach, if you haven't been swayed by previous instalments, the incremental improvements on offer here will do little to change your opinion of the series. New modes like Invasion are great, but ultimately its the same dynamics with more players. My strategies haven't changed dramatically either; I still aim to wear down my opponents shield with the default weapons and move in for a quick melee hit. Despite a bevy of updates and improvements, I'm still just as shallow and annoying to players worldwide.

The Halo community - I've previously touched on this, but for some reason the average player appears to be twice as immature as the closest four year-old. Homophobia and purile banter is king amongst the majority of your contemporaries, and this does manage to detract from the experience. I suppose it's unfair to level this criticism against the game, as it not the fault of the developer; but you should be warned that you will be privvy to some regrettable, often hateful conversations when you play this game online.

9.0/10 - Halo:Reach is one of the best games to be released this year, and is easily the greatest instalment in the Halo franchise. The single player campaign is not only a worthy beginning to the Halo saga, but also a compelling and moving tale of courage against insurmountable opposition. The multiplayer is as strong as it has always been, but the experience is starting to become somewhat stale, especially in the context of the current console FPS landscape. Reach offers weeks, months, even years of sustained play; so if you're looking for a game to tide you over for a prolonged period of time, consider this an obvious choice.


  1. A bloody good write-up, sir. I hold Halo dear to my heart, despite not having any sort of console shackled to its compatibility. Funnily enough, I played the bejeezus out of Halo CE on PC for a while and have recently acquired a full boxed copy of Halo 2 PC for when I get my upgrade at the end of the year. Despite the haters, Bungie know how to make a multiplayer experience. Halo 2 is timeless. All in on Lockout, brother. All in.

  2. Thanks mate. When I first got a half-decent PC, I downloaded the demo for Halo and tore through it multiple times. I've enjoyed each instalment, although I must admit that I have not played Halo Wars.

    I agree. Bungie do know how to make a compelling multiplayer game, that's for damn sure.

  3. Really glad I'll be able to enjoy their next game, whatever it turns out to be.

    Nabbed Blacklight: Tango Down from the US PSN store as well as the NFS Hot Pursuit demo...haven't played NFS yet, Blacklight is damn good though. Exactly what I was looking for in a faster FPS experience. Played MW2 the other night for the first time ever - first time ever for a Call of Duty game, actually - and I thought the multiplayer was alright, but not my cup of tea. Blacklight is great fun, if a little rough.

  4. Sambo should be the first to tell, but the original Modern Warfare was far better than MW2. The sequel focussed too heavily on Killstreaks in my opinion, and the action became far too busy. In the first game (and in W@W), the preset streaks and better maps made for a far more balanced and enjoyable experience. I was interested in Blacklight: Tango Down, but not because of how it played. The distributor opted not release it initially in Australia claiming that the Classification Board refused it a rating. Turns out they never actually submitted it for a rating, and they just didn't care to release it in Australia (initially. It's available now).

  5. Is Blacklight available now? I haven't seen it.

    But yes, Taz, I recommend that you give COD4 a crack. The game focuses more on actually having skill with aiming, as opposed to getting 5 kills with your noob tube and commando, than hiding and launching the predator, then hiding while you harrier (which is rewarded at 7 kills) rapes, then pulling out a little lap top and raping with a chopper gunner or AC-130 (awarded at 7).

    I am keen for Black Ops though, as the kills earned from a kill streak do not stack towards your next kill streak. This means, if you want the higher streaks (I think the highest is 11), you have to get those 11 yourself. I think this will result in the re-emergence of the UAV being used by a lot more people.

  6. I would check out the original MW, but there's simply too much to play and time is on the decline. Blacklight has filled the void for 15USD, and it has this wonderful slightly arcade cyberpunk Counterstrike feeling going on. Plus, it's something that *somehow* automatically clicked with me, so it's nice to be able to hold my own in a FPS that isn't Bad Company.

    Oh, and tried out Hot Pursuit. Hmmmm. Went from "Holy Hell, this will be awesome!" to "Oh. Well. I see." Didn't really do much for me. The handling is more NFS than Burnout, obviously, but despite this, it's just not very fun. Indeed, demos are more often than not a piss-poor metric for the full game, but racing games are one of the few genres that can showcase everything they have with a single track demo.

    Suffice to say, not all that hot on it...but to be honest, I haven't been hot on a Criterion game since Burnout 3. And even then, Burnout 2 was the highlight for me - so clean, so uncomplicated. Everything after Acclaim went under kinda got a bit Doritos-n-Dew.

  7. Burnout 3 is my (and Carly's) favourite racing game. I loved it how you could crash and not be automatically penalised. It all went pear-shaped with Revenge though. Let's make it edgy by adding a screamo soundtrack and lots of black around the edges in menu screens.

    Blacklight is available on Xbox Live in Australia, not sure about PSN, Sambo.

  8. Yeah, Blacklight hits Aus/NZ PSN on the 3rd of November, if I recall correctly. It's got a few issues with matchmaking and a little lag here and there...but they're saying fixes are on the way.

    And yeah, Revenge...that was, in my opinion, shit. The traffic checking?! That's what made Burnout 2 so fun - dodging traffic whilst chaining burnouts. Revenge is the emo child of the Burnout family. Burnout 2 is the quiet achiever that went on to college and graduated in bio-sciences. Takedown got an apprenticeship on a NZ Zorbing slope and made millions. Paradise is the tarty younger sister who put it all on show and managed to get a syndicated column in a number of trashy magazines across the country. And nobody knows where the oldest one went. Somewhere in Europe, they say.

  9. Likes this^

    The lack of an on-screen map/GPS in Paradise rendered it near unplayable after a while. Every race I had to pause 15 times to make sure I was going the right way. If Red Dead Redemption can have GPS, so can Burnout Paradise!

  10. I do like the Burnout series though, but I must agree with the Trit Dawg on this one Taz, 3 was awesome!