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?
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.
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?
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.