Halo: Reach is the latest in a long line of entries in the now decade-old Halo multimedia franchise, composed of numerous games, movies, books and other wonderful consumer products. Of course, I don’t need to tell all of you any of this, as I’m sure you’re already quite familiar with it. Reach tells the story of Noble Team, a squad of Spartan-III supersoldiers tasked with spearheading the last stand of the planet Reach. It is a prequel to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved.
While the events of the game were well-known even before its release in 2010, I’ll refrain from spoiling anything. Suffice it to say the somber, restrained narrative stands out among the usually bland offerings in FPS. Blasphemous though it may be to admit it, it is also nice to have another Halo without the baggage of Master Chief and Cortana, although you will hear the familiar voices of Dr. Halsey and Jacob Keyes. The members of Noble Team are a grim, relatively boring bunch, with the typical military specialties and personalities: the sniper, the shotgun badass, the lone wolf pilot, etc. But, the storyline will keep you on the straight and narrow throughout the moderate length of the well-paced campaign.
There are no significant innovations or changes in the gameplay from previous Halos. You find a gun and grenades and go toe-to-toe with gobs of aliens intent on taking over your planet (thankfully the controversial Flood are absent). You will find a few new weapons, such as the dedicated marksman rifle, or DMR, which replaces the weary battle rifle, as well as new iterations of shotgun and sniper rifle, and some very interesting Covenant firearms and heavy weapons. Among my favorites is the Target Locator, a painter with extremely low ammo and recharge speed that will call down a devastating orbital strike on a large radius. You’ll also see a handful of new vehicles and, the biggest novelty, a space combat level. The space level is done quiet level and is a lot of fun. The only real addition to the main gameplay is the much-pimped assassination. The assassination from previous games is now referred to as a beatdown, and the new assassination occurs when you hold down the melee button for a second while behind an enemy, which will lead to a slick, third-person melee animation. Also added is the armor ability: temporary, rechargeable protective abilities which replace equipment from Halo 3 and include invulnerability, increased speed, camouflage, and others. They add a much-needed wrinkle to combat.
In addition to the campaign, Reach offers several other modes of play. Forge makes a return, and the level editor has been made more powerful than before. The Theater allows you to record, store, and share stills and videos of all types of gameplay easily. Firefight is also back and better than ever, permitting local and matchmaking games and offering several new gametypes, such as singles and doubles.
And, of course, multiplayer. The matchmaking suite is massive and offers the bread-and-butter slayer and objective gametypes, as well as the more exotic grifball, invasion, stockpile, and others. Invasion pits two six-person teams against one another in an attempt to capture locations of strategic importance, in what is essentially glorified, multi-round capture the flag. Stockpile is another CTF permutation as players attempt to hoard multiple neutral flags scattered around each map. Also new is Headhunter, a mode where each player drops a flaming skull when they die, which can then be picked up and carried to designated collection areas for points. Halo 3‘s veto system has been replaced by a much improved voting method, whereby three options are given to each player during matchmaking, and the winning map/gametype is selected for play.
Reach features a level-up system that awards credits to players based on their performance in Forge, multiplayer, campaign, and Firefight. There are many ways to earn credits: awards, given basically whenever the player does anything more impressive than run up and pummel a foe in the face, as well as the new commendations. Commendations are running totals of specific actions conducted by the player in multiplayer, firefight, and the campaign, with a set of ranks for each that bestow credits when you reach each rank. For instance, successfully executing an assassination in multiplayer (an uncommon occurrence) adds to the Rear Admiral commendation. Getting enough of these leads to the Iron rank, which grants a small credit payout. Getting some more leads to Bronze, Silver, and so on, with increasing payouts (and requirements) for each rank.
Also on offer are the new Challenges. Every day four Daily Challenges are issued, and every week a Weekly Challenge is issued. Completing the challenges, which run the gamut from vanilla to weird, grants credits. Credits are used to purchase cosmetic armor additions, effects, and firefight voices.
Since Bungie handed the Halo reins over to Microsoft’s nascent 343 Studios, Reach has seen the addition of a title update, heretofore unheard of in the franchise. It subtly and fundamentally changes the nature of several weapons and armor abilities and has endured some controversy; as such it has not not been added to every gametype and can therefore be avoided.
While Halo: Reach does not add a whole lot of features, the features it does have add to its appeal and peerless replayability and make it no less an excellent game than its predecessors. You won’t find any groundbreaking characters or stories, but the pervasive, inescapable feeling of hopelessness of the planet Reach is tempered by the spirit and familiar skill of Noble Six and his compatriots. I highly recommend it.