What it is
The latest title in Microsoft's ongoing series of (mostly) first-person shooters, Halo: Reach 93 serves as a prequel to the events depicted in the original Halo game. Reach is also the last Halo game to be developed by Bungie, the studio that created the series.
Set in the human planetary colony of Reach during the year 2552 (just weeks before the first Halo takes place), the new game centers on an elite fighting force known as Noble Squad, of which you are a new member. You and your fellow Spartans must try to save the colony by fighting off an assault by the evil Covenant. As you might expect, things don't end well.
While Reach was easily one of the most-anticipated 2010 titles for the 360, early reviews indicate that the game appears to be living up to even the highest expectations; to put it simply, most reviewers love the game. Let's take a closer look at what critics are saying about the latest Halo installment.
How it compares
Where it ranks
The overwhelmingly positive early reviews for Reach place it near the top of all Xbox 360 titles released so far this year, though the new game is only the fourth best-reviewed release in the Halo series. However, Reach is receiving far better reviews than last year's pair of minor Halo titles.
|5||Halo 3: ODST||2009||360||83||7.2|
|1||Mass Effect 2||Electronic Arts||96||9.0|
|2||Red Dead Redemption||Rockstar Games||95||8.9|
|t.4||Super Street Fighter IV||Capcom||91||7.8|
|t.4||NHL 11||Electronic Arts||91||8.8|
|8||Plants vs. Zombies||PopCap||89||8.9|
|t.9||BioShock 2||2K Games||88||8.4|
|t.9||Battlefield: Bad Company 2||Electronic Arts||88||8.8|
Differences and similarities
While the game is certainly similar to past Halo titles (perhaps too similar in places for some critics' tastes), there are some relatively minor changes, including:
- No dual-wielding of weapons
- Elimination of single-use Equipment power-ups
- Players may now obtain special armor-based upgrades, such as jet-packs, hologram-generated decoys, and sprinting capabilities
- Players may also customize their appearance by earning credits as they play
Reach also includes an improved version of the Forge level editor that was introduced in Halo 3. Of course, this being a prequel, one thing that the new game lacks is Master Chief, the protagonist of the three major games in the series. Not only must you play as a new, nameless soldier, you must fight as part of a larger team of six; in fact, you're never alone during the campaign, as you always have at least one fellow Noble Squad member at your side.
Of course, the change that has most people excited is that during one (too short) sequence, you'll be fighting in outer space, rather than on the planet -- a first for the Halo series.
How it advances the story
Most reviewers feel that Reach does a much better job with storytelling than its predecessors in the series.
"There's more dialogue, cutscenes and story presented than in previous titles, and Reach easily has the most character development ever seen in a Halo title -- to the point that I grew attachments to the characters and genuinely felt sad at a number of events that happened over the course of the campaign."
"The Halo trilogy's story has been impeded by both inconsistency (a curious mix of either over-explaining or obfuscating dialogue), and by becoming a fan-only affair overflowing with series technobabble a la Star Trek. Reach rectifies this 'inside baseball' feel by telling a broader, more accessible story that doesn't require knowing tons of Halo terminology beforehand."
1Up, however, also finds that having too many characters means that "doesn't leave much time for character development or interaction."
Some critics are also impressed that the game manages to pack in a lot of tension and suspense in spite of the fact that players enter the game knowing exactly how it will end.
"It’s a great surprise that a game with a not-so-secret ending manages to unspool the greatest Halo yarn yet. Despite going in knowing Reach will end with humanity on the brink of extinction, the game still consistently nudges players to the edge of their seats. This is due in no small part to a much more emotional, human-driven story than we’ve ever seen unfold in the series."
Yet other reviewers find the emotional aspect of the game lacking.
"All the characters in Halo: Reach are one-note Johnnies, all swagger and no depth. That’s always been the problem with the Halo games: There’s no soul beneath the helmets."
"Unlike Halo 3: ODST, which focused heavily on character development and gave us team members with distinct personalities and motivations, here in Reach, there is very little reason to care about any of the team members. Even in death, it is difficult to care about the virtual characters on-screen. Though the game hints at some depth to the personalities, it is never revealed in-game, and that's a shame."
How it plays
Though the single-player campaign (which can also be played cooperatively by up to four people) is relatively short (about 8-10 hours of gameplay), it may be Halo's best campaign yet, and it seems grand in scale. Familiarity with past games in the series is also not a prerequisite; newbies should be able to jump right in and enjoy Reach.
"Though past Halo games were filled with repetitive landscapes and circuitous, difficult to follow plots, Halo: Reach does not suffer from these problems."
"When I look through the Reach mission list, I don't immediately groan on any of the mission names. Instead, I remember highlights both epic and amusing."
"The Campaign is easily the series' best. ... Where the campaign does fall short is in its effort to portray ambient life on Planet Reach."
"Reach’s cinematic pacing ... mak[es] you feel as though you're experiencing a true epic rather than a smaller scale ODST-style spin-off."
But not every reviewer found Reach's campaign to be superior to those of prior Halo titles.
"You can't escape the feeling that Reach is a sequel to ODST and not a prequel to Halo. ... Again, the story has a single, fan-servicing connection to the previous Halo trilogy and, again, everything until that point is spinoff – exciting yet ultimately non-essential to the larger saga. Again, you will miss Master Chief. ... If you're in search of an amazing single player adventure this fall, and don't plan to spend that much time competing online, then you'll probably be somewhat disappointed with Halo: Reach."
"The single-player campaign feels like a rehash of old ideas rather than an exploration of something new."
Nearly every critic agrees, however, that the combat -- including "some of the most breathtaking battles in series history" in the words of GamePro -- is the high point of the new game.
"Reach distils what made Halo such a trailblazer in the first place: the combat is extraordinarily good fun. ... It's exciting, emergent stuff, fuelled by the decisions you make over your tactics."
However, combat is a bit too familiar for some reviewers.
"The combat is very similar to previous Halo games, and I feel like the last level or two drag a bit when compared to the rest of the game."
Reach is also very, very challenging. Many reviewers are finding that the game's improved AI makes for a much tougher opponent this time around.
"This game is tough. I can usually beat a Halo game at the very least on Heroic difficulty, but I found myself struggling to get through just the first major firefight."
"The AI is fierce, vicious and no longer a pushover. And no, playing four-player co-op won't help you out in Legendary, either; the game will scale difficulty based on how many people are playing. "
"While I died frequently during the campaign, I was usually frustrated more with myself than the game; it reminds me of Demon's Souls of all things, in how pure player skill is usually the cause of death rather than cheapness in the game. "
"The AI continues to astound; it may not always be believable, but it's never predictable, and it keeps you on your toes more effectively than any script could."
The latter publication, however, does have a complaint about the game's enemies, noting that "the Covenant armoury has become an unfocused, over-developed mess." Worth Playing also feels that "the game cheats with ammo" by unfairly giving your opponents more than it gives you; that publication is also one of the few to actually complain about Reach's AI:
"Reach suffers from some pretty poor AI, both on the Covenant side and on the UNSC side. Your teammates will often make some inexplicable moves during combat."
Unsurprisingly, it is with multiplayer modes that Halo: Reach really shines. There are new multiplayer modes and new maps, and many of your favorite modes return from previous versions, with so much customization available that the game becomes, in the words of GamePro, "one of the best deals since Wendy's Dollar Menu."
"All told, the multiplayer suite is one of the best ever."
"Reach’s online component is, frankly, an embarrassment of riches, putting even the biggest and best shooters out there to shame. ... It has resisted the temptation to include Modern Warfare-style player progression, instead relying on fun, balance and skill."
"Halo: Reach lives or dies by its team battles and free-for-alls. Not surprisingly, they’re still awesome."
The best part of multiplayer? The Firefight mode first introduced in ODST but greatly improved here.
"One of my favorite things about Reach is all the customization offered by Firefight. You can't change the environment with Forge in Firefight, but you can tweak every single setting. The first thing I did in Firefight was change the settings so that I moved super-fast, turned down the gravity all the way, and used just a Gravity Hammer against nothing but Grunts. Your custom games can be shared with others and now that there's matchmaking, Firefight is going to get so much more playtime than it did in ODST."
The new "Armor Abilities" are also a welcome addition to multiplayer.
"The jetpack is the most exhilarating addition to Halo multiplayer since the man cannon, lifting you off the ground and enabling you to not only snipe (or be sniped) from hundreds of feet in the air, but also to reach useful, hard-to-find areas and weapons."
Bungie will also create and post (via Xbox Live) daily and weekly challenges, giving players even more reason to return to the game again and again and demonstrate their skills.
How it looks and sounds
The game's new engine seems to be a hit with critics, who have nothing but praise for the way the game looks (aside from some minor complaints about frame rates).
"[The] eye-popping presentation ... brings a new expansiveness to the Halo universe. Sweeping vistas, waterfall-dotted cliff faces, and battlefields whose combatants look like specs from afar, continually remind you of Reach’s ambitious scope."
"Reach might give away some frame rate here and texture detail there to more scripted rivals, but it is a stunning-looking game, with a huge tonal range and a a great eye for dramatic staging."
IGN calls the game "gorgeous" while also finding it a delight to listen to:
"Marty O'Donnell, the lead sound guy at Bungie, has once again delivered an epic soundtrack that is so good that it elevates the entire game."
The vocal cast, which includes a cameo from Nathan Fillion, also shines.
"Noble Team is especially full of quality voice actors."
"Bungie has managed to do something that eluded George Lucas years ago: create a prequel to a beloved sci-fi series that not only simply works, but is at times better than the installments it precedes."
"This is Halo’s Greatest Hits. A blistering, breathless crescendo to a decade’s worth of work. "
"The best Halo entry yet."
"Halo: Reach is everything a Halo fan has ever dreamed for. All that was lacking from previous Halo games is here and then some. This is Bungie's love letter to their fans and they've definitely gone out with a bang."
"Even if you've grown tired of the Halo formula through the years, I'd still recommend this game to you. It's just that good."
"What [Reach] doesn't do is redefine single-player like Halo did, multiplayer like Halo 2 did, or the network game like Halo 3 did. To be fair, it doesn't need to; that work is already done. That it can't stir or excite in the same way as those games, try as it might - and boy, does it try - is a bigger and more perplexing disappointment, but still small beer next to its accomplishments."
What do you think?
What do you think of Halo: Reach, and how do you think it compares to previous Halo titles and to other Xbox 360 games released this year? Let us know in the discussion section below.