It's been that time again - Bungie have come a long and whispered 'Halo' on the internet and caused an outright storm of hype about their hugely anticipated and waited-for title: Halo Reach. This is Bungie's final bash as the lead developers for the sci-fi FPS, and they've had cracking run so far. Even though it came out a few months ago, I felt it deserved a mention here on ARRSE.
What began as an Xbox launch title back in the early days has evolved into quite the phenomenon, with millions awaiting each release. Halo: Combat Evolved truly set the mark high for future shooters, and many games since have aspired to reach the same level of awesomeness as Bungie's loving creation. Taking a good storyline, throwing in one bad-ass lead character, a truck load of enemies and having a plot-driven excuse to blow them all to kingdom come whilst saving mankind was a beautifully crafted formula - and paid off well.
In the first Halo we were introduced to the titular construct - the Halo itself, a 'pretty ring' to the Covenant, but a deadly superweapon to everyone else. Master Chief, the lead character, destroys it, the Covenant Elite in charge failing his mission of defending it and in turn setting us up for round two.
Round two came along in 2004 in the form of Halo 2, which took the fight to Earth, where we continued to draw blue blood from our enemies as our beloved Master Chief. The game finished on a bit of an anti-climax, and was as much a political struggle in the story as it was a punch up, as it set the scene for the next installment. Sort of like The Empire Strikes Back.
Halo 3 rounded it all off fairly nicely for humanity, but not so much for our main protagonist - who found himself hurtling towards an unknown planet in the remnants of a space ship. But thats another story.
With Halo: Reach, we're taken back to our grassy roots in 2552, on the human colony world of Reach - before the original Halo: Combat Evolved. This is the military hub of our galactic ventures, and is the impenetrable fortress of human technology in the sector. Still, much the same as today, the planet is plagued with rebellious Eastern European sounding people trying to steal everyone's jobs.
The planet is home to the SPARTAN super-soldiers, you being one of them, and this time they come in squads. Squads of SPARTANS? That's right - a whole friggin' army of them, scattered around the planet. That makes for one mean fight - and one quickly arrives, in the form of a Covenant invasion force, neatly disguised beneath big shields that hide their presence. Nifty.
Bungie force the player right in to the action as a member of Noble Team, a six-man squad of SPARTANs with some fairly typical characters. You've got the big bloke with the big gun, the small one who can kill you before you can scream, the Russian-sounding computer/technology genius and the hard-ass US-accented leader. Nothing new in that department, but it doesn't stop the team having their own unique personalities, and it doesn't draw you into their struggle any less.
You are placed neatly into the shoes of Noble 6, or SPARTAN-B312, and thrown into the deep end during the invasion. It's worth noting that the scenery in this installment is far more 'dulled down' than in previous versions. It's a bit of trait of Halo for it to be remarkably colourful in it's graphics, especially given the content, but the design team really took a different approach this time. Bright blues are toned right down, in fact the colours in general are, with a more grayscaled look in comparison to Halo 3.
This, coupled with the atmosphere of the fighting, creates a sense that humanity really is taking a kicking on Reach. Especially with the new enemies. Being set before the Elites separated from the Covenant, they're back in full four-jawed force: and they're extremely mean. They will hunt you down, and they will give you a damn good shoeing unless you have about sixty rounds to pump into their faces. That'll just about get their shields down, and you can follow up by using the remaining forty rounds you've carefully saved to kill it outright. God help you if another one turns up, because all your left with is an empty rifle and fistycuffs.
...Okay, so it doesn't take quite that many bullets to kill them, but it certainly takes alot - and their shields recharge unfairly quickly. Even the grunts, with their stupid voices, now all sound like the guy out of SAW. This is no sissy invasion force - they want blood, and they flippin' well get it - usually from you or your allies.
The weapons in Halo: Reach have had a revamp. In fact I read somewhere that there's now as many pixels making up the gun design in Reach as there were pixels in a whole Jackel in the original. They also feel, and sound, pretty awesome too. Remember the old assault rifle? The one that sounded like an angry pigeon being squeezed in the general direction of the enemy? It's now sounding a little more like an assault rifle should, and it's a good thing, as you need to sound aggressive to take down the new enemies. There is no longer, however, the ability to dual wield weapons. Doesn't matter though, because all the weapons you could do so with were crap. Everything else has remained more or less intact, with a few new editions to bring along to the arsenal. Bring on two handed firepower!
The whole armour side of things is fully customisable, too. Not only that, but you can get armour abilities that grant you the option of doing cool things. For example, if you pick up the jet pack, you can fly around (not all that fast) and get to hard to reach places. There are plenty of others, though, and I'll let you discover those for yourselves.
For loot whores who like to change the appearance of everything ever and buy lots of bling, this new system is good - earn a load of in-game credits by doing missions or multiplayer and you can buy new gear. Shoulderpads, helmets, chestplates, insignia, anything. This will make some of the more extreme Halo fans literally urinate all over their computer chairs at the very thought. It's all purely aesthetic though, and won't turn you in to Batman.
As with every Halo, the story is integral to the action. You aren't going from point A to B for the sake of it, there's a very valid reason you're splitting Covenant skulls - which mainly involves the defence of Reach. The levels are well thought out and beautifully crafted, and we wouldn't expect any less from Bungie.
For the first time in a Halo game, I really felt like I was part of the bigger picture as Noble 6. As there's more than one SPARTAN, the focus isn't entirely on you - you are but a pawn in a giant battle, and that is felt fairly strongly throughout the story.
It is extremely interesting for those who have played the other games to experience the lore in the Reach campaign. For a lot of the game, I didn't know whether I was playing as Master Chief's younger self in the form of Noble 6, or whether Noble 6 was a separate bloke altogether. Some people may be like "Well, duh?!", but I didn't want to read every inch of the story before I played the game - and I couldn't help but feel it was Bungie's intent to create this aura of mystery surrounding the character. As for the outcome - well, you need to get playing!
The war takes you from locations all over Reach, right up in to orbit for some space-style dogfighting. It's good fun, and not too extensive as to become tiring. I really enjoyed this section of the game, and it came with the classic SPARTAN way of blowing up a ship in orbit without actually thinking of an escape method.
Without giving too much away, the ending really sums everything up and leads straight in to Halo: Combat Evolved, whilst explaining a lot on the way. Some parts of the game were pretty sad, especially the end, and although not all that long, I really enjoyed it. For a player who hasn't done the story, it might seem a fairly bland game as far as shooters go, but for those who were there from the beginning and followed it through, it's a real star.
A star of a game it may be, but no star can be that bright without a super multiplayer to go with it, and the same goes for Halo titles. Bungie have put some real time and effort into creating a final farewell piece that will last a long time after they've packed up their Halo bags and left. Reach is no exception.
The multiplayer features are immense, and it's great fun too. Customised armour provides no benefits other than making you look 'nails, which is good - and the added armour abilities from the single player put a breath of fresh air in to an otherwise stagnant setup.
The amount of game modes, and with the addition of a revamped Forge map editor and game variant editor, makes the whole thing last for hours on end - especially with file sharing for videos of you destroying everything that ever lived in one of your uber-rounds.
To close it off, Halo: Reach is a great send-off for Bungie, and a great game all round. After nine years of making Halo, they're off to pastures new, but have no doubt left their stamp on what has been an amazing series of games. Kudos to you Bungie, and good luck on your new ventures.
An essential game for any Halo fan, and a damn good buy for anyone new to the series. I feel many a player will be annihilating one another for along time to come in the online battlefields of Reach, and a damn good time they'll have whilst they're doing it.
Buy it - you won't regret it.
And if you're still unsure: