When Bungie announced that “Halo: Reach” would be their final game with the franchise, expectations immediately rose. “The final Halo game? It better be top-notch.“ Well, it is. Mostly.
So here’s an incomplete rundown of the Halo story. It’s the 26th century. Humankind has settled down on various other planets. Suddenly, aliens! These extra-terrestrials are on a religious crusade to kill everything. They’re calling themselves the Covenant, and they’re a big angry melting pot of alien races that have been converted—peacefully or otherwise—to the crusade.
Fortunately, humanity has one key advantage: SPARTANs, a group of futuristic super-soldiers who are genetically enhanced and trained from childhood for combat. You play the game from the perspective of one these characters, whose appearance (color, gender, equipment) can be fully customized.
Mechanically, the game beyond shines. The gameplay is intuitive. The controls are responsive. It has the galactic sheen of time, care and money. “Reach” runs on an oily smooth engine that lends itself gloriously to large, intricate set-pieces within the beautiful terrain. The landscapes, stretching far beyond the vast cliffs and sheer drops, blend so well with the interactive parts of the level that they seem just as important.
The single-player campaign is good. Not “final Halo” super grand. Just plain good.
I will say, though, that as an extension of the Halo drama, it works well. Especially the smaller moments that demonstrate that, yes, you are fighting a losing battle. You overhear an air support dispatcher declining request after desperate request for aid. You watch as civilian transports are shot out of the sky as they flee burning cities. No, there’s nothing you can do about it—a special, devastating feeling that video games don’t often give.
The multiplayer is still fantastic. The standard Halo formula is broken up by the addition of new mechanics, such as “Armor Abilities,” allowing the players to use jetpacks, holograms, cloaking fields and various other special abilities that change how the game flows nicely.
Players can do just about anything to control their game experience. The level editor (“Forge”) returns with its many options. The wave survival mode (“Firefight”) from “Halo 3: ODST” also returns, now with it’s own customizability as well. This combines with the already-expansive list of game modes to ensure one of the most exhaustive, well-executed multiplayer experiences available.
Altogether, the game’s pretty fantastic. The single-player is solid, and the multiplayer is one of the most distilled, fun things to come out in recent memory.
The game’s glaring flaw is that all of its merits are exactly what make it stand out as so very rooted in the traditional concept of a video game. Yes, it does every trick in the book, and it does most of them really well. However, the demand for this kind of game encourages formula rather than innovation for future releases. It is not a step forwards or backwards, just a determination to stand still.
But in the end, I say “hooray” for “Reach.” It’s a grand time to play with a few dorm-mates. Even if you’re not familiar with Halo, it is fairly easy to get into. Get it, or find someone who owns it, and give it a shot. Fly around with a jetpack. “Halo: Reach” is a colorful breath of fresh air with acceptable storytelling and fantastic multiplayer. Go play it.