Monday, 4 October 2010

Halo Reach review

Remember Reach.

Reach is where it all began. Before Spartan 117 and Cortana, before the Flood and the Arbiter, there was the fall of Reach. But is the fall a pleasant journey? No, definitely not pleasant. It's a story of sacrifice. It's a story of courage. It's the story of the Covenant invading the planet, Reach, and doing all they can to destroy all signs of life. And who stands in the way of their objective? Noble Team.

The player takes control of Noble Six, the newest and last addition to the team. Your five teammates are all very different, ranging from the calm and loyal Jorge, to the battle crazy Emile, and other clich├ęd characters. This isn't a bad thing, the wide range if personalities and skill sets keep you interested in the team. Nobody wants a team of clones, boring you to the point of murdering them.

The missions are typically Halo. Travel here, kill enemies, defend from Covenant dropships, travel somewhere else and repeat. This is a tried and tested Bungie formula and it is fine, but it was starting to get old. And Bungie knew this, so they went a few steps further and introduced a whole new range of gameplay mechanics. Space battles? Check. Low gravity battles in a Covenant ship? Check. A whole range of armour abilities including a jetpack? Check. This game throws a lot at you, and it's damn satisfying. The space battle sees you disabling a Covenant ships engines in order for you to land on it and plant a bomb, which is followed by a breathtaking cutscene. It's this kind of thing that Halo needed, and Bungie nailed it.

Whilst it has these set pieces, they aren't as dramatic and Hollywood inspired as those in Modern Warfare 2, but Halo doesn't need these ostentatious displays, it instead relies on a solid story and characters, and has a layer of emotion unseen in many first person shooters.

The multiplayer is Halo through and through, with a modern twist. At the start of each game, and optionally each respawn, you select a loadout. These mainly change your armour ability, and now and then change weapons too. The ability to use jetpacks, active camo, holograms, sprint and armour lock online changes the way we play Halo forever. It opens up the battlefield, making it much more tactical and allows players to gain some awesome new skills. The maps are detailed and varied, with gametypes changing almost every game, it's hard to get bored. One of the most interesting and unique maps is set aboard a Covenant ship in space. Everything seems normal until you step onto a gravity lift. Shot out the top of the ship, the sound is suddenly muffled, your movement slow and gravity is virtually non-existent. Step back through a one way shield to fall into the ship and back to normal. The first time you experience this will definitely be a moment you won't forget.

The all new Invasion mode gets a worthy mention too, taking objective based combat one step further. The two teams are split into Elites and Spartans, and depending on the map, either one could be the attacking or defending team. Invasion is split into 3 Phases. The first can see you destroying a shield generator, allowing access to the next Phase and extra time. Then the attacking team must capture a territory in the defending base. If successful, they will be granted access to a Data Core, which they must then get to the security of a Pelican for extraction. They're almost like co-op missions, and have a massive fun factor, especially in the final Phase.

Making a welcome return is Firefight, with a few improvements. Now the player has the ability to search for teammates. This blows Firefight wide open, making it so much more accessible and fun. The different variations of Firefight include the awesomely insane Rocketfight and Sniperfight. If you have Reach and haven't tried this out, go do it right now. These modes give the player infinite rockets and sniper bullets respectively, making the battlefield light up with a thousand explosions and enough pink mist for a lifetime.

Forge is back and, like the rest of the game, is bigger and better than ever. If Forge was your thing on Halo 3, this will be your dream come true. Gone are the clunky controls and physics, replaced with some awesome new tools that should have been standard the first time around. You now have the ability to let go of an object and have it stay in that position! The old trick of stacking objects and deleting the lower object to make it float is no longer necessary, now it's standard. Also included is the ability to place an object through another object, or part of the map. These two new tools would be enough for many Forge fans, but not for Bungie. They gave us Forge World.

Sure, it sounds big, but is it? One of the most jaw dropping moments in Reach is the first experience of Forge World. Take a Banshee to check it out, it'll still take a while to see every section. Already there are custom map variants. Race tracks spanning the whole map, taking over five minutes to navigate. Ambitious? Most definitely, but ambition is what drives Bungie. They don't want to make just another FPS. They want to push boundaries and set the bar.

Halo has been around so long and now the final piece of the epic tale is here, it's sad to say goodbye to Halo as we know it. Microsoft will continue to churn out Halo games, but without Bungie's love for the series, it will never be the same. Bungie have given their all to this one last masterpiece, and while it's not perfect in every way, it's sure as hell close.

Remember Reach? Impossible not to.


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