Halo: Reach


Unless you’re living in a cave somewhere and your only gaming is coming from a old GameBoy circa 1989, you know by now that Halo: Reach has been released for the Xbox 360. I also don’t need to tell you that if you happen to own an Xbox 360, you should probably already have the game sitting in your disc drive.

Bungie’s farewell to the Halo franchise is a stunning achievement that’s the culmination of ten years of Halo. Everything Bungie has learned in the years since Halo 1’s release is on display here. From the storytelling and tight gameplay in the campaign to the jaw-dropping array of options included in the game’s multiplayer modes. While it may only take you about eight to ten hours to tear through the campaign on your first time through (on Normal, that is), the amount of co-operative and competitive multiplayer options at your disposal will keep you playing Reach for years to come.

While named Halo: Reach, the only thing the game really has in common with the Halo novel Fall of Reach is that it takes place on the planet Reach, which fell to the Covenant right before the first Halo. There’s no Master Chief here. Instead you play Noble 6; a member of a six-Spartan squad that’s the last line of defense on Reach. The game doesn’t hold back what happens to the team, you know it’s a suicide mission right from the opening scene. What you’re playing is a science fiction re-telling of the Battle of Thermopylae, only with the six Spartans standing in for the three-hundred Spartans in that story. Despite knowing how it ends before you even start playing, Reach’s campaign can be seen as the crown jewel of the Halo franchise and completely washes away any bad taste that Halo: ODST may have left in your mouth.

The multiplayer, for lack of a better word, is overwhelming. You have all of the game modes that you’d expect, with so many varied matchmaking options that you can truly tailor the online experience exactly as you like it. Don’t like to play with “Chatty Cathys”? No problem, just let the game know that and it’ll matchmake you accordingly. You gain experience through multiplayer matches, which is used as a form of currency to unlock new armor pieces to further customize your Spartan. The “Firefight” mode from ODST returns here, and if you save up enough points you can unlock Master Chief’s voice to use as your character’s voice in that mode.

Most importantly, the multiplayer is endlessly addicting. Taking a cue from the Call of Duty games, you can select from different kits in most multi modes. Dash is just that, there’s a fun jetpack, active camo, a small shield, and one that emits a hologram of your Spartan to fool other players. That last one, if used right, can be extremely effective and annoy the rest of the map. Also added are assassinations where if you can come up behind another player and hold down the melee button, you’ll get an instant kill with an awesome animation (jumping on a Jetpack player mid-air and assassinating them is hard to beat).

It may say “Halo: Reach” on the box, but this is truly Halo 4. The graphics have received a massive, and impressive, upgrade. Gone are the boxy faces of Halo 3 and ODST, and the environments can be stunning. I was particularly  impressed with the flowing water, as that’s usually something that’s tough to get right, but Bungie’s new graphics engine for Reach does so quite well. And as you can expect, Martin O’Donnell’s score is again the best of the series – he just keeps getting better.

Halo: Reach isn’t just one of the best games on the Xbox 360, nor is it only one of the best games of 2010. It’s one of the best games ever made. If you have an Xbox 360, you need this now. If you don’t own an Xbox 360, there’s even a bundle out that includes a Limited Edition “Reach” console, the game, and two controllers. Bungie may be leaving its scifi epic behind, but it’s done so with a flawless victory.