Halo: Reach Delivers The Pinnacle Halo Experience

It is, perhaps, the ultimate compliment.

Having spent much of a Friday last week locked away in my media room playing Halo: Reach for work, for a review, I returned to it over the weekend to play through the game a second time for fun.

Later this week I plan to spend another couple of days playing through game developer Bungie's last Halo a third time.

Among those who professionally play and critique video games, returning to a title to replay it is a rare thing, in fact it's something I've never done twice.

Why do I think that Halo: Reach's campaign is worth playing and replaying and replaying?

There are a lot of things about the game that make it a joy to play, but what keeps bringing me back is that the game has few dull spots. Rarely have I found a place in the campaign, which took eight hours to complete the first time and less the second, when it lost my attention or interest.

Bungie does this by carefully avoiding the traps that their first four Halos sometimes fell into. They avoid repeating locations or similar settings in much of the game. Halo: Reach brings with it a set of new, game-changing, armor abilities that allow you to jet pack around some maps, or drop transparent, multi-faceted shields to hide within. Bungie also included a number of vehicle-based missions which have you dog fighting in space, flying through the burning high rises of a dying city in helicopters and taking down armored defense positions with a tank.

Even the foot missions include a healthy mix of goals and combat styles, sometimes requiring stealthy take downs or sniper fire, sometimes shotgun charges or the methodical repairing of defense turrets.

And Bungie scatters these missions among a collection of more common, straightforward tasks, helping to break up the monotony sometimes found in shooter games.

This pacing combined with new gadgets, weapons and enemies and a much more colorful and varied setting deliver a game that is almost as enjoyable to replay as it was to experience the first time.

A friend of mine once told me she only reads a single novel from any given author. Her theory was that all writers have within them only one great book and that everything else they write is leading up to or away from that work. Over the years I've come to agree with her.

It seems now that Halo: Reach is Bungie's single greatest work, a game that the developer has been leading up to for nine years. Their greatest challenge now will be to prove that the games they plan to make in the future don't fall in the shadow of this pinnacle moment. That Reach wasn't a peak, just one step closer to that one great game.

Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.