Bungie‘s Halo franchise is, arguably, the series that made the Xbox and it’s back again with the latest game: Halo Reach. Covering the events that started the whole Halo story off, Reach casts you in the role of Noble 6, the newest member of the Noble Team of Spartan warriors. You investigate what is believed to be an incursion by human rebels, but soon discover it’s actually mankind’s alien nemesis: The Covenant are on Reach.
From that initial discovery to final setpiece, you’ll be taken on a rollercoaster journey that sees you and the rest of Noble Team taking down Covenant bases, commandeering top secret UNSC spacecraft and blasting Phantoms from the sky. I don’t think there’s a single dull moment in the game.
If you’ve played the Halo franchise much you’ll know pretty much what to expect – Reach looks at home in the Halo universe and plays much like the other games. This is by no means a criticism; why change what already works? There have been some tweaks to the campaign to bring in new features, like recruiting marines to your fire team, but Bungie have sensibly left most of the mechanics well alone.
One addition I really like is the new armour abilities. These allow you to use special abilities for short periods of time, some of which are recognisable as reworked versions of the pickups (like active camouflage) or the equipment from Halo 3 (like the drop shield). They aren’t revolutionary, but I like how they now stick with you until you swap your current ability for another one, and how they recharge for multiple uses. My favourite? Got to be the jet pack… I just like dropping a grenade on a group of Covenant before landing on them to mop up.
Having talked about how the mechanics of gameplay are much the same, Halo Reach does feel quite different from what’s come before. Why? Teamwork. When playing as the Master Chief there’s a definite feeling that you’re a lone wolf. You’re the last active Spartan and your fellow combatants are really just there to be cannon fodder. In Reach, though, you’re part of a team. You can’t give orders to your team like you can in, say, Ghost Recon, but they do play an important role in the game. In this respect Reach is more like ODST as you work closely with your squadmates.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the storyline, but it cracks along at a fast pace and there are some great moments that have the capacity to pull you up short. The ending is particularly poignant and you can definitely tell that Bungie intends this to be the last Halo FPS. Don’t switch your Xbox 360 off at the credits, though, as there’s still something to come afterwards.
Pimp my armour
As you play through the campaign you’ll pick up commendations for completing certain tasks. These commendations contribute to your overall rank and credit count, which allows you to buy items from the armoury.
The armoury, oddly enough, is where you can buy new pieces of armour, as well as customising your colour scheme and insignia. That’s great for creating a unique look in multiplayer, but the choices you make here are carried over into the campaign this time too. What that tells you is that the cutscenes, which are nothing short of cinematic, by the way, must be rendered on the fly as Noble 6 appears wearing the armour you’ve chosen. It also helps to create more of a bond between you and your character.
So far the armoury only customises your look… buying a new helmet, for instance, won’t make you more able to survive a headshot, but it’s still a cool feature to see included.
Halo Reach is a fitting end to the story. Well, beginning to the story, I guess, but a fitting end to Bungie’s contribution to the franchise. It plays brilliantly, being familiar and new at the same time. I’m left with that slightly lost feeling I get when I’ve just finished a really good book, but I have every intention of going back and trying the campaign again on a harder setting. And, of course there’s multiplayer, but that’s for another day, and another review.