Halo: Reach Review: Beautiful Beginning, Wonderful End

Halo: Reach isn't the beginning; it's the end.

Sure, Microsoft might continue to churn out Halo game after Halo game, but this will be the last one that Bungie will ever have a hand in developer, or so we're told. And that's exactly how Halo: Reach feels - like a swan song.

Halo: Reach is meant to be a prequel, the table setter for the Halo trilogy that put Bungie - and in many ways the Xbox 360 - on the map. In it you take on the role of a faceless space marine, the newest member of the United Nations Space Command special operations unit Nobel Team. As Nobel 6, you're an unwelcome replacement in a unit that always seems in need of fresh blood.

As the game opens, you're given a dramatic look at the world of Reach, a planet you'll spend the next eight or so hours of gaming, fighting to defend.

Loved

A Living Painting: There are points in Halo: Reach when the game seems to escape the confines of graphic animation, transcending the medium to become moving set pieces that look more like a pulsing Baroque painting than a video game. The blending of rich colours and dramatic presentation, cued to important moments, memorable movements in Halo: Reach is pitch perfect, used just enough to help burn the game's high points into your conscience.

Satisfying Story: I've always found that Halo's greatest weakness has been its story. The plot, the characters, even the setting have always felt a bit too sci-fi generic for my liking. Halo; Reach was Bungie's last chance to prove that they can create a game that is as evocative to experience as it is to play. While the game's story certainly doesn't sing from opening to close, it does a find job of building up a sense of wonder and curiosity in the gamer. More importantly, it delivers a cast of characters you'll come to quickly care about and then deftly deal with each, leaving few loose ends. If Halo 3 was a bit too much of a cliffhanger, Halo: Reach will almost certainly satisfy you in the way it ties things up so neatly, so completely.

Helicopter At Dusk: There's no question that Bungie can make a solid first-person shooter. But a combat flight game? Despite slightly awkward flight controls, the game's lengthy Falcon level is a welcome change to the endless ground combat of previous Halo games.

Space Dog Fights: Helicopters, sure, but space combat? I'm not sure which I enjoyed more, but I was delighted to find that the level dedicated to Sabre space combat felt incredibly different from the Falcon's helicopter combat, as it should. If anything, my only complaint about this section of the game is that there wasn't enough of it.

Turret Level: Bungie has their first-person shooter space combat down, so it's nice to see that the developers still push themselves to take a chance and try to deliver new experiences, not just with space combat, helicopter combat and an assortment of new weapons and enemies. One unforgettable section of the game has you running back and forth between turrets, activating them as you dodge enemy fire and defend an important position. The simple addition of turrets that need constant care adds a new facet to the game's dynamic and helps once more to move the game along without feeling like an endless shootout.

Clever Enemies: The enemies of Halo: Reach are somehow even more efficient, tactical and clever than previous iterations. They use all of the new gadgets, weapons and powers this latest Halo grants them to easily parry foolish head-on attacks and direct confrontation. Instead, players will need to use guile, speed and that wonderful ability to jet-pack through the air to run down, over and around your enemies.

Graphics: Halo: Reach's greatest achievement is how thoroughly it reinvents the look of the storied franchise, giving everything a much grittier and more realistic aspect. The game throws out the tiring purple pallet of past Halos for an eclectic, vibrant look that doesn't use colour to distract but rather to augment the shooter's look. The developers push their use of colour, taking every opportunity to make the settings vibrant and alive. From the colour-leaching greys of rainstorms that roll through some levels, to the warm glow of fires and explosions, Reach is artfully depicted as a living world.

Multiplayer: An entire review could be devoted to just the myriad of ways that Halo: Reach's multiplayer sings, all of the wonderful things it brings to the table. The game reworks the popular Firefight mode to allow for nearly limitless customisation of the Spartans versions horde mode. Matchmaking seems to have been greatly sped up, though there weren't many people playing when I was trying the game, and there are now ways to try and find gamers you want to play with through a set of clever filters. Online campaign matchmaking works seamlessly, allowing you to quickly find up to three other gamers to burn through the campaign with. A player Armory and the use of earned credits, allows you to customise your Spartan and gives you one more reason to keep playing those online matches. And Halo: Reach's level building tool, Forge, has been retooled to be easier to use. Bungie also promises to deliver daily in-game challenges when Halo: Reach launches, which will give players another way to earn credits. Of course, there are also plenty of new modes and maps to play with, all of which are augmented by the game's new look and those wonderful class settings.

Armour Abilities: Somehow the team of pre-Halo Spartans managed to get one considerable upgrade to their arsenal: armour abilities. While you start off with just the ability to sprint by tapping the left bumper, as you make your way through the campaign, you'll find plenty of places where you can switch out armour abilities. Other abilities include a jet pack, a holographic decoy, active camouflage, a drop shield and armour lock. These abilities can vastly change the way you play through sections of the game, allowing gamers to tackle the challenges they face in a myriad of ways. Multiplayer too includes these abilities, plus a couple more, and when available they have an even bigger impact on gameplay. I still spend half of my online matches trying to do mid-air takedowns of other jet-pack Spartans.

Hated

The Little Things: There's nothing really to hate about Halo: Reach, but there are a few things that bugged me. Top of my list was how despite having to face incredibly smart, seemingly complex enemies, my cohorts were as dumb as a bag of hammers. They'll forget to hop into vehicles, get lost, not realise you've left to go on your next mission, or my personal favourite, get locked behind a blast shield because they apparently didn't notice it closing. While it didn't happen often, I was shocked to see that Halo: Reach does on very few occasions chug. That is the graphics slow down quite a bit when there's too much going on in the game. The first time I noticed this was near the end of the game when a lot of enemies were around, and we were all shooting off our weapons and something big exploded. But I've since seen it a few other times and in online matches as well. I checked it on a second console and checked in with other players, and they've noticed it too. It happens so infrequently that it doesn't really mar the game, but it's not the type of issue I would ever expect to see in a Bungie title.

There is much to love about Halo: Reach, but looking back at my nearly two times through the game and a day spent playing it online, the single thing that sticks with me the most is its setting, its majestic take on a planet that doesn't exist. Bungie has outdone themselves with the game's look, stringing together set piece after set piece until there is nearly nothing left.

Halo: Reach is unquestionably the best of the Halo games, and that's not a small thing to say. But Bungie doesn't just match the best of every Halo game that came before it, they've improved it, streamlined it, perfected it. Gone are sections of tedium and vacuous game design, gone too is the almost cartoon look of the earlier games and the narrow vision of the places in which they took place. In many ways, Halo: Reach feels like a coming of age title - not for the characters or the world or the universe Bungie created but for the studio itself.

Halo: Reach was developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360 on September 14. Retails for $US59.99/$AU119. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the campaign by myself on normal difficulty and through much of the campaign with one or more friends on Heroic difficulty. Played multiple online matches in campaign, firefight and the plentiful versus modes. Messed around with Forge.

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Comments

    when playing online multiplayer to review a game who do you verse, other reviewers and/or devs

    CAN NOT WAIT. The re-playability in this game is going to be staggering that it blows my mind. I know i normally never start a games multi till i have finished the SP but i can't resist the lure of the Forge World.

    This was a good review to read (already read it on kotaku US when the embargo lifted) and i hope the game is as positive as the review says it is.

    Only thing i have a problem with is some reviews mentioning a lack of core matchmaking maps with some saying it only has 9 maps on disc (GT) - some others say 14 (IGN). Anyone know which is accurate?

      There are 14, but some publications don't count the 5 included as Forge World. It should be made clear that although technically these 5 maps are joined, they were originally 5 separate maps, and do qualify as a proper "map" individually.

    Can't wait.

    FIRST

      Yay, you're first.

      You have received the magical gift of...nothing.

      Why do you people always do this? Do you then get accepted into some mythical society? Do you get a 1UP? Do you get to don white overalls and throw fireballs at violent mushrooms?

      Just connect your recama to your TV using an RCA cable and then start recording. After that (I assume you know how) import the movie files from your recorder to your computer. =D

    First?

      why does it not surprise me that the first time I have seen this on this site is in a halo post...

    Very nice review, but what a shame to hear that the marines are still dumb... lets just hope they won't shoot the ground with a rocket launcher for no good reason and kill my noble 6...

    Not really about Reach, but I tend to forget RRP for games is $119. So expensive, although you have to be a fool to pay more than $70~$80 for a game at launch due to so many places to buy from.

    After ODST I was justifiably nervous about another spinoff of HALO, I'm glad those fears were unfounded... bring on REACH!!!

    I have not wanted to play a game more in the last 10 years; glad to see it doesn't disappoint.

    it wont be the last. maybe the last on the 360 but defantly not forever.
    Halo has become the mario of the xbox, no matter how many years, we will all be playing a halo game on the latest consoles :P

    lol @ "Dumb as a bag of hammers"
    Pity it will be console only.

    I looke forward to whatever bungie will be doing in the future. I followed them from Pathways into Darkness till Halo:reach, I am sure their next series will be just as successful.

    Thanks Kotaku. This was the only review I was going to read before launch and it doesn't disappoint. Very much looking forward to jumping into campaign tomorrow evening. Its also good to hear that it's consistent in quality across the board :)

    My most hated bits is how they once again fail to do proper characterisation, conversations are not fleshed out and end before you get to really know the team of what initially could have been a band of strong characters.

    Second is how the game ends all of a sudden, the game never felt like there was a climatic fight, you simply do your mission objectives and suddenly the curtain call appears on your screen.

    8hrs seems a little short for the SP. Does it feel like its is over too soon? or does the Multi make up for the lack of length in the SP vampign, al la COD

      Yeah, but as with CoD....stick it on Legendary and play through it Co-Op and then again on you're own, it usually extends the playability of the campaign quite a bit, as Legendary usually has its bat shit crazy moments.

      I've always enjoyed the Halo games. They're just good fun....prefer it muchly over CoD.

    Does reach have local co-op or just online co-op? (IE, can I play with my mate if he's at my house?)

      Yes it does, but specifics I'm not too sure on. I'd assume that it's 2 player local co-op for Campaign (up to 4 player co-op over Live), 4 player local splitscreen for multiplayer and customs, but I have no idea whether Firefight falls into the former or the latter.

    I wonder, would installing the game onto ur Xbox HD eliminate the chug issue?

      Actually they did mention on their twitter several times that it's fine to install Reach on the HDD.

      Probably not, as installing to hard drive just eliminates the time that the game normally spends copying data to the HDD cache, using it as a form of RAM. Framerate issues occur when a frame takes longer than usual to draw, because the complexity of the elements of the frame has gone up.

    Nice review, really enjoyed reading it. Wanted to ask the reviewer though you said this is one is best of all the series - How does it stack up against the very first Halo back on the original xbox?

    Personally I thought combat evolved was amazing and the best console fps I'd ever player up to that point. Does it go one better than this do you think? Does it evolve things again for this generation of the xbox?

    Any feedback re this from you or anyone else here with thoughts would be great to read. thanks

    Hey there. If anyone has played halo: reach or got the game, maybe you could email me what you think about the game...cause i need some info of personal experience not of gaming critics. My email [email protected] and JstarRE out!!

    Dont know why this game has been given such positive reviews.

    For starters if you have ever read any canon or books behind the Halo series, it completely destroys the way the series is laid out and goes off on its own tangent.

    To find large sections of the campaign are direct rips from previous Halo games campaign/MP maps was a real let down. You will of course get the positive response from "fanboys" spouting how it was very nostalgic therefore acceptable in some way.

    The new weapons are all rather lackluster.

    Will give credit where it is due, the graphics are stellar and the AI is vastly improved.

    I am probably going to get flamed hard for this but oh well. I have been a hardcore Xbox fan and Halo fan since the beginning and this game did absolutely nothing for me.

    I like the way it's gone in a different direction, but that's just me. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion of the game.

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