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Review: Halo: Reach

John Funk | 14 Sep 2010 13:00
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Underestimating your foes in Reach is a mistake - in the course of completing the campaign on Heroic (the recommended difficulty for veterans), I chalked up a death total in the hundreds, and had narrow, hair-raising victories far more numerous than that.

The good news is that the deaths never feel unforgiving. Yes, failure is frustrating, but it doesn't feel like the game is working against you: Play smart, try a new tactic, and try again. Armor abilities, which are new to Halo: Reach, give you more options than you ever had before. The abilities resemble much of the Halo 3 gear in function, but they aren't consumable. Since your abilities regenerate quickly, you can use them often - and finding uses for the bubble shield, decoy hologram, or even the simple sprint is always very satisfying.

The campaign is wonderfully paced, from the first few minutes that have you anxiously anticipating those red blips on your motion tracker, to the intense finale as the Spartans meet their Thermopylae. It's nicely broken up, too, with sojourns into space combat and flying a helicopter around a city under siege that wouldn't carry an entire game, but are entertaining diversions. Best of all, while some missions are certainly better than others, there are no super-low points like "The Library." It's no stretch to say that this campaign is Halo's finest.

Everything in Halo: Reach feels like a love letter to the series and its fans - that is, the ones that aren't going to ignore the single-player and immediately jump into spending hours online with the multiplayer. The moments where you start to see how Reach ties into the rest of the Halo story are wonderful bursts of "a-ha!," and they come right alongside a healthy dose of "Oh, cool!" and "Oh, shi--!"

No, it won't have anywhere close to the impact of the first game. Yes, it's still ultimately Halo, and if you have been adamantly opposed to the series thus far (or swear by the "realistic" shooters in vogue these days), it won't change your mind. Yes, the story is cookie-cutter albeit well-told, and Marty O'Donnell's score isn't quite as memorable this time around. Sure, perhaps they could have made the epic finale a bit more epic - but would that have fit? Reach isn't a story about a galactic hero, but a story about soldiers doing their jobs. And that is something it does superbly.

In the beginning of the game, Noble Team's commander tells you that you are stepping into shoes that the rest of the team would rather go unfilled. After Halo: Reach, the next team to develop a Halo game is going to be facing the exact same thing.

Talk about going out with a bang.

Bottom Line: A likable if cliché ensemble cast and a well-told tale of a hopeless battle against overwhelming odds help make the Halo: Reach campaign Bungie's finest. The gunplay is great and very nicely varied, the new Armor Abilities give you plenty of ways to tackle most encounters, and your foes are as intimidating - and as lethal - as they've ever been. Aside from some minor technical hurdles like occasional slowdown, it looks great, and plays like the best parts of all four Halo games up until now. If you were worrying that Bungie would phone it in for their swan song, worry no more. And that's not even getting into the multiplayer...

Recommendation: If you've ever liked a Halo game before, Reach is for you. Hell, if you like FPS games at all, Reach is probably still for you - and is absolutely worth a rental.

John Funk thinks every game should have a jetpack in it.

Game: Halo: Reach
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: September 14th, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon.com

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