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While the gameplay is at least functional it's the sheer blandness of the story that spreads the thickest layer of wallpaper paste over the experience. The advantage of a prequel is that it's an opportunity to make a game new players can enjoy without needing the background of previous games - that's why Metal Gear Solid 3 was one of the best in the series. Halo: Reach spurns this opportunity. I get the strong impression that there are a lot of things we're expected to already know. The arrival of the alien Covenant on Reach occurs with very little ceremony, and towards the end of the story everything hinges on transporting a mysterious AI off-world. While we know this AI is Cortana, setting off the chain of events of Halos 1 to 3 that ultimately culminate in human victory, nobody should know that for sure at this time. But everyone's so immediately convinced without argument that they all throw their lives away to make sure the MacGuffin reaches its destination. The plot was in dire need of an audience surrogate character, someone to ask the important questions like what we're doing, and why everyone's wetting their knickers about a bit of glowy pipe, and why an AI is on a bit of glowy pipe rather than, say, a USB stick.

And the characters were impossible to sympathize with and dull. Every single one of the buggers were highly-skilled self-assured professionals who followed orders impeccably and nobly self-sacrifice at the drop of a hat. This might sound a bit culturally insensitive, but Spartans must go through a similar training regimen to suicide bombers. As I said in the review, all the members of Noble Team have all become engaged in a "Who Can Die The Noblest Death" competition, but none of them show the slightest emotional connection to anyone or anything (one of them has a mum, but their interactions are so cold and loveless she might as well have been his driving instructor), so the sheer regularity with which they knock themselves off is closer to comedy than tragedy. I guess the only reason Master Chief was the last Spartan was because he was out sick while everyone else was at Kamikaze school.

The other thing is that if you're making a first person game, you need to make a decision - are you going to characterize your lead, cutting away from the first person perspective for cutscenes and zooming into the back of their head when gameplay resumes, or will you take the Half-Life/Bioshock route, stay in first person permanently and let the player project their personality (don't say that sentence out loud 'cos you'll get saliva all over your computer screen). Halo: Reach's habit of switching between first-person and third-person cutscenes feels undirected. There were moments when I felt staying in first-person would have made a scene much more effective. Particularly the bit when your mate throws you off a space station as part of his Noble Death competition entry and you fall through space watching the ship drift off into the distance before silently exploding. It felt immersion-breaking to keep cutting away to reveal that, yes, you're still falling through space, and have you noticed this skybox we made? Nice, isn't it?

Right, that should give you a few more points to argue over in the comments. If not, here're a few more: Master Chief shows most of the classic signs of a closeted homosexual, Cortana is actually the ghost of his dead aunt, and that shirt you're wearing makes you look fat.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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