Halo: Reach: Inside the Reviews

  • Comments: ↓ 54 user comments
  • Publish Date: September 13, 2010

What it is

ImageBungie goes out with a bang

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.

Comparison of All Halo Releases (Microsoft Platforms Only)
  Title Year Platform Metascore User Score
1 Halo 2001 Xbox 97 8.1
2 Halo 2 2004 Xbox 95 7.9
3 Halo 3 2006 360 94 7.6
4 Halo: Reach 2010 360 93 tbd
5 Halo 3: ODST 2009 360 83 7.2
6 Halo Wars 2009 360 82 7.4
2010's Best-Reviewed Xbox 360 Releases (Through Sept. 13)
  Title Publisher Metascore User Score
1 Mass Effect 2 Electronic Arts 96 9.0
2 Red Dead Redemption Rockstar Games 95 8.9
3 Halo: Reach Microsoft 93 tbd
t.4 Super Street Fighter IV Capcom 91 7.8
t.4 NHL 11 Electronic Arts 91 8.8
t.6 Bayonetta Sega 90 7.7
t.6 LIMBO PLAYDEAD 90 8.7
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."

--Destructoid

"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

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."

--GamePro

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."

--Wired

"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."

--Worth Playing

How it plays

Campaign mode

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."

--IGN

"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."

--1Up

"The Campaign is easily the series' best. ... Where the campaign does fall short is in its effort to portray ambient life on Planet Reach."

--Joystiq

"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."

--GamePro

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."

--Games Radar

"The single-player campaign feels like a rehash of old ideas rather than an exploration of something new."

--Worth Playing

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."

--Telegraph

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."

--Giant Bomb

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."

--Game Revolution

"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. "

--Destructoid

"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. "

--1Up

"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."

--Eurogamer

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."

--Worth Playing

Multiplayer modes

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."

--IGN

"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."

--Telegraph

"Halo: Reach lives or dies by its team battles and free-for-alls. Not surprisingly, they’re still awesome."

--Wired

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."

--Destructoid

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."

--Games Radar

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."

--GamePro

"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."

--Eurogamer

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."

--IGN

The vocal cast, which includes a cameo from Nathan Fillion, also shines.

"Noble Team is especially full of quality voice actors."

--Giant Bomb

Final comments

"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."

--1Up

"This is Halo’s Greatest Hits. A blistering, breathless crescendo to a decade’s worth of work. "

--Telegraph

"The best Halo entry yet."

--GamePro

"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."

--Destructoid

"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."

--IGN

"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."

--Eurogamer

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.

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Comments (54)

  • Brian  

    Reach is a great game which should blow away anything currently out there. About the only thing I would complain about is the AI. Teammates still can't drive to save their lives and have no clue when to get in and out of vehicles. Then to top things off, you always take point. None of your AI advances until you do.

    Visually beautiful and best multiplayer to date Reach more than makes up for AI issues. I cannot wait to play with the Forge modual and see what other players come up with.

  • Delo  

    Hilarious. Seems like a lot of the comments are from folks who, like many of the game reviewers, are straight-up not qualified to offer informed opinions as to how much has changed in Reach's gameplay sandbox compared to the previous games. If you think Reach is a "cookie cutter" version of Halo 3, for example, you just do not know what you're talking about. Period. Considering just core game mechanics, look at just *some* of what's changed from H3 to HR: burst shot BR to single-shot DMR/Pistol, hitscan, bloom, cross mapping, decreased auto-aim, decreased bullet magnetism, faster aim acceleration, tighter strafing, no damage bleed for DMR/Pistol/NR, and smaller melee windows. Not all of these are improvements, in my opinion, but if you know anything about competitive multiplayer gaming, you can't deny they aren't large changes, *especially* given the previous games in the series and even moreso if you plan on playing it for years to come. As Gus notes in the post above, Reach is about polish, bringing together everything Bungie has done in the series since CE, making changes where they felt it was necessary (some larger and/or more far-reaching than others), and putting it on a single disc. Feature-wise, every console FPS is *still* playing catch-up to H3 after 3 years and yet Reach goes far beyond that with its improvements to Forge, Firefight, co-op matchmaking, file sharing/tagging, and on and on and on. And another thing: reviewers. My god, with the rare exception (e.g., Brad of GB for SC2), I wish they weren't allowed to review multiplayer at all. They play a few games of MP, and terribly at that, then conclude that x is more imbalanced than y when really they're just horrible at the game. For games with established player bases like Halo (or COD), most reviewers are simply not in a position to offer anything more than just their 'first blush' assessment on whether or not they found their 5 to 10 MP games fun and nothing more. They won't know good changes from gimmicky changes, and just do not have the requisite playing experience to distinguish one from the other. It's like rating a movie after only watching the first 2 minutes. Although I recognize the impracticality of this before saying it, ideally, multiplayer modes for games like Reach or Black Ops would be reviewed 3-6 months after release earliest, and only by those who've been playing it the whole time. If this was done, maybe more folks would have bought Shadowrun or Transformers:WFC. Who knows. Anyway, just some thoughts I had.

  • Gus  

    I guffawed at reading some of the comments on here, a good selection of which seem indicative of that awful partisan trend which has developed between the rival platforms. Worse still, that the most subjective of views is bandied about as objectivity.

    From a pure gaming perspective, this is a very, very polished product. This is the culmination of the substantive learning Bungie have had in the development of this series - in the building of an engaging universe and successful franchise; in setting the parameters of that story; in building a defined and enjoyable MP offering which maintains interest - and, finally, with Reach, in bringing all those elements together; as they haven't been at any other time in the life of this series. Perhaps, in any single element, it's not as stand-out as the individual predecessors - lacking the first thrill of the story in Halo (who can forget first encountering The Flood?); the MP boon of Halo 2; or the massive expansion of online play with Halo 3. But it does a good job of covering all of those bases.

    I can see this game being played, as Halon 3 still is, for a very long time - well beyond the lifespans of Resistance 2; MAG, MW2; Bad Company 2; or any of the other pretenders to the FPS throne - and perhaps that's the best acid test of success.

  • Del Torro  

    Wow, some really miserable comments here. "Infact the ONLY reason halo became popular at all not because of any content, but because Microsoft just didnt release many titles for quite awhile after the xbox originally came out."

    Lets correct this

    "The ONLY reason the Xbox was a success was because of Halo. The ONLY reason Xbox Live was a success was Halo 2 and the only a major reason for people buying the 360 was Halo 3."

    Anybody can pick it up and have fun because the controls are simple and the game is fluid.

    Back in the day, everyone had the PS2 because there was absolutely nowhere near as many good games to play at the time, but everyone I knew was in agreement that Halo was one game worth getting an Xbox for.

    This is brilliantly designed game and I challenge anyone to find a more balanced FPS on a console and also one with so much skill depth. Players in games like MW will kill you by hiding and using abilities that you haven't gotten yet because you haven't played the game for 50 hours and might not even know exist in the game since they're hidden from you until you unlock them.

  • Chris  

    Halo Reach has been continually quoted as being Bungie's "Swan Song" to the franchise. Every Halo game has had its gripes. The first one (obviously) not having online multiplayer. The second one had a story that left us wanting more. Halo 3's multiplayer seemed unbalanced at times. Reach succeeds where all others have failed. It successfully contains all the good elements from these games without leaving anything out. While there are some people who bag on Halo for some unexplained grudge held for the franchise, from a purely objective standpoint, this game is a must have for any fan of the FPS genre. A moving storyline, a balanced multiplayer that keeps players coming back for more due to the weekly challenges and credit system, and modes like firefight and forge make this game a masterpiece and one that will keep you occupied for months, even years to come.

  • burns  

    halo reach was good but short ,i myself dont have live so i found this 1 a let down,plus i cant get firefight to work lol =P

  • John Jarndyce  

    These comments suck.

  • Drizzt611  

    These comments make me laugh so hard. Why don't you people realize that Halo: Reach is meant for First-Person Shooter fans, not RPG fans who expect a Mass Effect-esque story out of every game they play? Halo: Reach is an excellent game that will stay exciting for years to come because of the variation that armor abilities bring and because of Forge World and custom games.

  • DaJ3w  

    Halo is a good game and the thing I personally love about the multiplayer is the fact that it is EXTREMELY balanced. Even if you get a power weapon like the rocket launcher or sniper rifle, if your team has enough skill or you have enough skill, you can still beat the other team.

  • Bob  

    I hated Halo 3. I thought it was terrible. I played Halo 2 for 8 hours a day and loved the MLG aspects of it. I played Reach for the first time today, and it has brought back the thinking to the game. The sense of addiction, fairness, and waiting desperately to out-think and outperform your opponent while you are waiting to respond is back. They have leveled the playing field. They have made the game fair, and they have made it interesting. Something completely lacking in the single-superpowerup system they had in Halo 3. Everyone can invent their own tricks using the tools everyone has at their disposal. I am very impressed, because I only expected Halo to get worse. It honestly is an homage to the first two games in my opinion.

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