Is Bungie's final game in the Halo series a masterpiece, or is that a bit of a reach? We turn to a crack squad of video game reviewers for the answer.
It's been a long road from Halo: combat Evolved to Halo: Reach, and along the way Bungie has done a lot of growing. This prequel to the main trilogy benefits from years of experience and technological advances. Then again, so did the Star Wars prequels, and look how those turned out.
Let's see if Reach fared better than Attack of the Clones.
Halo: Reach is exactly the kind of game that Bungie has gotten great at building over the last two generations of console hardware. It's a Halo game through and through, with the same style and pacing that you've come to expect, but with a new cast of characters that are worth paying attention to and a multiplayer mode that has more variety than it's ever had before. It's not going to change your mind about Halo, but this special delivery for fans of the franchise is a great send-off as Bungie ends its involvement with the franchise to go work on something new.
Jorge is the useful one, a thunderous man-mountain who struts around with a minigun and actually manages to Get Things Done. On the other end of the scale you have Emile, who's all bark and no bite: the skull painted onto the front of his visor hides the fact he's utterly useless the one time he takes to the stage. In the middle you have chatty sniper Jun and the po-faced seriousness of deputy Kat and bossman Carter. They all exist to make way for you, however. Noble Six, whose only identifiable shred of personality comes from getting chewed out at the start of the game for having some lone wolf tendencies in his top-secret file. Six's background is classified, and his opportunities to speak are scant. He, like Master Chief, is almost entirely a blank slate, existing solely to facilitate the player's submersion in the world.
Computer And Video Games (CVG)
Like any great game, Reach never has you doing the same thing for too long. In one scene you battle Elites across a beautiful, Halo 1-esque vista. In the next, you tear a Warthog across an epic battlefield, stealthily assassinate and snipe Elites at midnight and - yes - fly a jet through space. The space combat section is fantastically well done. High above the stunning celestial body of Reach, you'll manoeuvre and spin the Sabre (that's your spaceship) through the heavens, shooting down Covenant vessels via clever HUD items - which show the correct spot to target in order to arch your shot straight up their backsides. But it's not the best airborne section of the campaign. That award goes to the stunningly beautiful mission that sees you piloting a Falcon airship in the rain high above the skyscrapers of a burning Reach city.
These new features and refined, classic design work in concert well enough that Halo: Reach often meets that gaming ideal of pure immersion — the core components that can remind you that you're playing a game are a nonentity while you focus on the action at hand. While playing I found myself slipping into that state quite often, only occasionally ripped out by nasty difficulty spikes. Halo: Reach is a tough game on the harder settings — easily the most difficult in the franchise — and it only gets more challenging as you add co-op players thanks to a scaling difficulty.
...it's the dangerously addictive Firefight that will lead to a lot of sleepless nights. Building on the killer version found in ODST, Bungie's enhanced their live-as-long-as-you can gameplay in a variety of ways. Along with full matchmaking support, Firefight can now be played with preset rules, such as the self-explanatory Rocketfight or Gruntpocalypse, in place. Best of all, you can create your own Firefight variants by tweaking enemy waves, weapon load-outs, match durations and skulls. Creativity is further encouraged in the all-new Forge World, an overhaul of Halo 3's popular map editor. Offering tons of new options and items, as well as a much more intuitive interface, I found Forge World accessible to even a novice map-maker like myself. Whether you're a purist content to score headshots in Reflection, a shiny new remake of Halo 2's Ivory Tower map, or you're determined to dream up the dumbest Firefight variant, Reach's overflowing online options have something for everyone.
Halo: Reach is unquestionably the best of the Halo games, and that's not a small thing to say. But Bungie doesn't just match the best of every Halo game that came before it, they've improved it, streamlined it, perfected it. Gone are sections of tedium and vacuous game design, gone too is the almost cartoon look of the earlier games and the narrow vision of the places in which they took place. In many ways, Halo: Reach feels like a coming of age title, but not for the characters or the world or the universe Bungie created, but for the studio itself.
Talk about going out on a high note!