Halo: Reach Review
Bungie's farewell to the Halo universe is an expansive and impressive masterpiece, and is a fitting capstone to one of the greatest franchises of the generation.
Nine years ago, Bungie stunned the world with a first-person shooter (FPS) unlike any other. Halo: Combat Evolved was so popular and well-designed that it spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise and introduced many of the genre norms we take for granted today. While Halo was certainly ahead of its time, that time has finally come to an end, at least for Bungie. Bungie's farewell to the Halo universe is an expansive and impressive masterpiece, and a fitting capstone to one of the great franchises of this generation.
Halo was so ahead of its time that Reach uses the same basic gameplay a decade later. While some gamers might not like the formula (for them, Reach is likely too similar to previous entries to be worth a purchase) the majority of FPS fans will enjoy the perfectly-tuned and well-balanced gameplay as much now as they ever did. The controls feel smoother than ever, as they should, since Halo proved that controllers could be as effective as a mouse and keyboard for shooters.
That classic gameplay is displayed in Reach's campaign, which features bigger set-pieces and more varied level design than ever before. Unlike the original Halo trilogy, none of the levels in Reach are plagued by endless corridors of repetition. In this respect, Reach seems to take its cues from ODST, which featured a short campaign full of diverse situations. Like ODST, many of Reach's levels encourage the use of specific vehicles or weapons, like Nightfall's sniper-fest or Tip of the Spear's new Warthog types. The campaign also features several new gameplay scenarios, like outer-space dogfights in the new Sabres or platforming across chasms with the new jetpacks.
While the level design may have taken some cues from ODST, the atmosphere and tone of Reach couldn't be more different. ODST was a lonesome affair with jazzy tunes and film noire inspiration, and the free-roaming hub world wasn't suited to cooperative play. Reach is all about massive battles, teamwork with your fellow Spartans and a desperate fight for survival. The story takes place before the Halo trilogy and depicts the fall of the planet Reach. You get a sense of hopelessness as each small victory, like destroying an enemy ship, is overshadowed by larger defeats. The feeling of fighting an uphill battle, and of being part of a larger war, is well portrayed and is something that was missing from previous installments.
Despite the campaign's grandeur and mood, the story still fails to impress as much as the gameplay. The fact that we know how the battle ends may be partially to blame, although the campaign does have significance in the larger Halo universe (expect some fan-favorites to appear and some cool tie-ins to the other games). Reach was supposed to be a story with emotion, and the other Spartans of Noble Team were supposed to put a human face on the fierce warriors. Bungie succeeded in creating some more distinct characters than usual, the sniper Jun and skull-faced Emile are becoming fan-favorites, but you still probably won't care about them. The cutscenes look at how humanity is faring and delves into the Spartan's personalities, but these are annoying or hollow as often as not. Still, the efforts at producing a more impactful and memorable story are appreciated and generally help the campaign. Coupled with the impressive level design and variety, Reach is the best Halo campaign yet.