Review: Halo: Reach

4

I have just spent two days of one week playing a single video game, and it’s all Captain Canada’s fault.

To explain: the game? Halo: Reach. Captain Canada? That’s my customised version of Reach‘s protagonist, Noble Six. During the last week, I have quite literally played the game for 48 full hours. Factoring that in, it’s safe to say this review for the latest in the popular Microsoft Xbox Halo series will be absolutely glowing.

Halo: Reach is the fifth Bungie-created Halo game (Halo Wars doesn’t count, my friends – wrong developer), and serves as a prequel to the Master Chief-led main trilogy. Notably Master Chief-less, the game follows your character, Six. He (or she – like I said, you can customise!) is a recent addition to the Spartan-fuelled Noble Team as they fight to defend a human-colonised planet called Reach in the year 2552.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Six and the other five Noble officers are genetically engineered super-soldiers, or Spartans, working to defend the last great human stronghold, Reach itself, during a time of great war. The Spartans are the first line of defence against an alien collective called the Covenant. The Covenant are the generic, technologically-advanced baddies of this sci-fi series; think Star Trek’s Borg. Your last stand on Reach is carried out as a standard FPS shooter, with a third-person vehicular segment or two thrown in for good measure.

The hot: Most things! Four difficultly levels mean n00bs can start on easy and work on their headshot skills in order to progress through the Normal, Heroic, and Legendary levels in the single-player (or multiplayer, if you have up to 3 friends via system link, splitscreen, or Xbox Live) campaign. Legendary mode is an absolute bitch, with constant death all around; it’s also EXTREMELY rewarding to keep plugging away at to come up with some truly inspiring victories in situations that seem unwinnable.

The game automatically records and stores campaign and multiplayer (cooperative or competitive) play as video files for later playback and manipulation. If you haven’t gone into Theatre mode, you really should; a ton of the images in this article alone feature Captain Canada, straight from my own video files. You can see why companies like Rooster Teeth got into Red vs Blue and other machinima; they’re in a whole other league of course, but making your own movies and screenshots in-game is really fun and easy. Customisation is prevalent in this game; you customise Six, you can create your own media, and you can also use the Forge World mode to create your own game maps and modes.

As far as built-in game modes go, Reach has a ton. The popular Firefight mode from Halo 3: ODST makes a re-appearance, as do a myriad of multiplayer modes; my favourites being Firefight Score Attack, where you team up with 3 other players to cooperatively destroy waves of Covenant attackers, and Team Slayer modes Snipers and S.W.A.T., where you’re partnered with up to 3 other players, without your radar, and armed with long-range sniping weapons. In Snipers and S.W.A.T., the run-and-gun gameplay of usual Halo games is thrown out the window, and tactics and caution become essential tools.

As this is Bungie’s last Halo game before the series is transferred over to Microsoft-owned 343 Industries, they’ve gone all out with in-game Easter Eggs, secrets, and just fun little additions everywhere. Google things like “Tribute Room,” “Reach Racer,” and hopefully soon (it hasn’t been discovered yet, but fans are hopeful!) “secret Legendary ending” to see what I mean. Additionally, to keep replays fresh and push players to try techniques they normally wouldn’t, Bungie has Daily and Weekly Challenges to help players boost their cR levels. More on cR later.

The meh: It’s either really bad, or really good when it comes to Reach. Moving on…

The cold: You can play through solo Legendary and feel like an absolute Halo star, only to join multiplayer and have 13 year old boys kill you in two seconds flat…while calling you a faggot. If you’re not willing or able to invest a ton of time into the game, you’ll sometimes find multiplayer to be a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Pro tip: in your multiplayer matchmaking, you can place a preference to be joined up with others with similar skill or at least no microphones instead of a good internet connection. Play around with the settings so you can find a combination you like. You can also mute annoying players too, and don’t forget you can report the most obnoxious ones to Microsoft enforcement!

As you know, I’m all about the achievements; the majority of this game’s achievements are frustrating, but in a fun, good way — ‘If They Came to Hear Me Beg’ is hard and somewhat glitchy, but when that achievement pops it’s like another hit of smack to a junkie! Bungie knows there are a lot of achievement whores looking to 100% complete this game, and they’ve devised a pretty sound way of making sure people will be playing for weeks and months to come. Not because constant repetition of its multiplayer modes is necessarily fun, but because some players will just feel that need to; that’s why it’s wrong.

Bungie has placed cR (Reach‘s version of XP) restrictions on users per day and per week in order to extend game life. I’ve earned 110,000 cR so far to get to a rank of Warrant Officer, Grade 2. The problem I personally have with this is that I’ll need another 99,000 cR to get to Captain for the first of my last two achievements needed, and then another 100,000+ cR to get to Lt. Colonel for the last. That’s at least another 96 hours of gameplay that I’m facing. I love the game, but do I love it THAT much for such a big commitment?

Finally, the in-game AI is being praised as the best thing since sliced bread. I agree with that when it comes to enemy AI, absolutely. Bungie spent so much time making your enemies so beefed-up in the brains department that they completely forgot about your fellow Noble teammates. Countless times, I’d find myself ready to throw my controller because I was being beaten senseless as my AI partner was running into a boulder…or even better, standing beside a group of enemies doing nothing. I know they can’t kill all the baddies themselves, but couldn’t they be programmed to at least LOOK like they were fighting alongside you?

All up though, this game is fantastic – I’ve steered away from plot spoilers because there are truly epic moments in this game that you need to experience fresh and first-hand. Sure, you probably know Reach will fall (there’s a reason the tagline for the game is ‘Remember Reach’), but it’s the actual story of how that’ll get you. Give the story a run-through, grab some friends for some local multiplayer, and give Xbox Live a try too; then decide what you like from your multitude of options and play away. This game gets a solid On Fire! rating from me!