Halo Reach ReviewMatt Sarver
I expected Halo Reach to be the best Halo game yet. And it is.
But it has a few shortcomings.
The game starts before the invasion and eventual destruction of the planet Reach, the United Nation Space Council's military stronghold and on the doorstep to Earth. Players take control of a Spartan III, Noble 6. As a member of Noble Team, your mission is to stop the invasion and hold of the attack for as long as possible.
The campaign was a weak point in the game. The missions were straightforward, very realistic and simple. Many recalled missions from earlier games, often fan favorites. However, as you are dropped straight into the conflict, there is barely any time to develop a connection with any of the characters. Noble Team was filled with different personalities, but were still cliched. Noble 6 is the strong and silent type, although he talks, its on par with Master Chief. Carter was your average hardened leader, and Kat was a technology nut who often got into places she shouldn't be (like Cortana). Emile was another strong and silent trooper. Jun was your average sniper. I only felt a slight attachment to Jorge, who actually had a connection to Reach as the only Spartan II in Noble. When each of the major characters died, I felt little sympathy. Carter's self sacrifice was lost with a cliched line, and the effects of Kat's death seemed to be faint on the remaining members of Noble Team. There was little character depth, each Spartan was as expendable to me as they were to ONI.
The tone of sacrifice was always apparent, but the simple lack of character depth made me feel more attached to the Rookie than Noble 6. ODST had a character driven story and it seemed very mature (although it was short). Story can't be driven by events alone - personalities and figures are much more attractive to a wider audience.
My biggest criticism of the campaign is the general story. Halo is a massive franchise, encompassing the games, books, comics, action figures and more. Bungie even helped provide the material for The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund. Much of what was in the books, even later books, was contradicted. Bungie should have followed some of their own story that they themselves had written before sending Halopedia into a canon debate.
Although the levels were inspired by fan favorites of previous games, I never found a suitable "remake" of the Silent Cartographer. Although levels were much larger than previous games, the sheer open world of the Silent Cartographer was never matched. And the campaign still suffered in length, I was able to beat it on Heroic in a night.
However, the staggering size of the AI was a benefit, although on harder difficulties I was often outgunned and too far out in the open for comfort. Difficulty should make the game difficult, but forcing me to use a plasma pistol on a Zealot Elite because everything else was empty? I found that the DMR had too small of a clip for higher difficulties, even a full clip couldn't strip the shields of a veteran elite, assuming all were hits.
On that note, Bungie did succeed in making the Elite much more fearsome than past renditions, and I applaud them. The ranking of Elites were blurred to me, red no longer symbolized veteran and yellow no longer stood for get the hell out. Yet they were still tough opponents.
Brutes, on the other hand, remained pointless to me. The addition of the Brutes in Halo 2 now seems to be only a plot device, setting up the alliance between humans and Covenant. They lacked anything that made them stand out. Even their "enrage" ability was removed.
Grunts and Jackals thankfully remain the same, with some minor details. The skirmishers were a nice addition, they actually flanked and suppressed me from carrying out the mission. Drones were less used (which is also good). Hunters are much more ferocious, as they should have been since the first game. A simple shot in the back may not be good enough anymore.
The sheer customization was also welcome. Forge 2.0, Firefight 2.0, Customs 2.0, everything was much better than before. The addition of Firefight matchmaking (and eventually Campaign) seemed a good addition. The in-depth stats and credit system also increased replay value.
However, even in this digital age, many gamers do not have high speed internet. Unfortunately, this prevents them from accessing the armor as easily as Live players. In game challenges are Xbox Live only and commendations do not reward nearly as much as they should. Some armor should be unlocked through offline play, and although these could easily be boosted, it would also offer some rewards for not living in suburban America.
Gameplay was standard Halo, with some minor additions. Armor abilities were welcome as was reticule bloom, both of which are present in almost every other shooter in some fashion or another. Shot placement is more critical now than before. Fall damage is back, making it a good limiting factor. As Noble 6, I am no longer unstoppable, I have human limits.
Unfortunately, some basic changes to weaponry made the online experience annoying. Grenades are incredibly overpowered in matchmaking. A wide hallway is now a death trap. The grenades bounce too much and too far. On more than one occasion I've attempted to bounce a grenade up a hill only to have it hit me in the face.
The DMR takes a bit too long to kill. A single clip should guarantee a triple so long as every bullet hits, this is now a little rarer than it should be. The DMR should not be as pinpoint as the battle rifle, but the bloom should be slightly reduced, perhaps by a tenth. This would keep the skill of bloom but make five shots a tad easier.
My biggest disappointment with multiplayer was lack of maps. Although Firefight can arguably be included, there are few actual competitive multiplayer maps, and not all of them are good. With the above mentioned death pineapples, Reflection is now a grenade fest. Boneyard and Spire are big team only. Blood Gulch is also too big for 4v4. Maps were ripped directly from campaign, and the flow suffered. We need to see the return of Headlong, Foundation, Hang 'Em High, and Beaver Creek alongside other maps that have a bit more symmetry that a zombie missing a leg and an arm. The city environment of Reach would be perfect for Turf or Headlong.
Once more unto the breach, and Bungie made it the best Halo yet. The campaign mode was a letdown, but was pulled along by an enjoyable multiplayer experience.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.