Halo: Reach has its moments. Battling hordes of brutes on a military facility being rained down on by plasma artillery, Banshee fire and epic rain are some such moments. Seeing your AI-controlled teammate gaze away at the nebulas while you’re desperately fighting off a fresh batch of Elites is, unfortunately, also a Reach moment. The faults and strengths of Halo: Reach, Bungie’s last push in a monolithic series that has become an icon for the gaming industry — are already generating plenty of debate on whether or not the game matches up to its hype.
The campaign is essentially a series of large environments with AIs strategically littered around to be a pain in the ass to you and potentially three of your friends in co-op mode. The environment of Reach itself is a critical component to the game-play experience and forces you to make good use of it against enemies that certainly do. If you actually want to be rewarded for strategic thinking and cautious play, however, aim for a higher difficulty than normal. It might prove dull for a follower of the Halo series and anyone intuitively familiar with shooters. On Heroic, I felt like I was really sticking my neck out every time I leapt out of cover, and that can be a refreshing touch of realism for the demanding gamer. Overall, the game-play mechanic feels as solid as ever, and the space dogfight mission fitted into the campaign makes up for some of the repetitiveness … not to mention it’s just plain awesome.
The plot is epic through its relation to the series, even though it begs for more intensity at times. Reach makes it difficult to care for the character and have a more immersive experience. No doubt, you feel like a badass. Progressing through the story, you get a sense of being on the brink of war, having a purpose as a crucial piece to a planet-wide game of chess. However, your character completely lacks personality, which, even if it was intentional, can be unconvincing. For a story that wants to emphasize the uniqueness of its secondary characters, they feel like dead stereotypes. Combining that with the overall uselessness of friendly AIs in combat, it feels pretty lonely on the battlefield unless you’ve brought a friend. The story does its job in context of the Halo series, but most of it is in the presentation.
Reach’s strength is in numbers – and by numbers, I mean 16 players, seven armor abilities and many hours of online gaming. Although I had a limited amount of time to test its depths fully, I felt multiplayer had plenty to offer and always maintained its balance. The new armor abilities that Reach introduces provide some variety to the classic grenade-rifle-CQC recipe – some of the more remarkable ones include short-lasting invulnerability, holograms and jetpacks. Stealth kills, which involve running up behind an enemy player and watching you dish out a set of lethal moves from a third-person perspective, is probably my favorite addition to the multiplayer experience. The customization aspect is purely decorative – it makes for great eye candy, which is utterly useless in multiplayer since the details are hard to pay attention to with all the frantic action.
Reach is certainly not a revolution. It is Halo 3, but more polished and aggressive. I couldn’t help but feel that some of the stylization is borrowed from recent FPS trends, which isn’t a bad thing. The campaign is a worthwhile experience, but it doesn’t stand on its own, and online play, despite its strength and a few additions, is nothing new. If you love Halo, Reach is everything you could hope for – a culmination of all that is