Halo: Reach. My, my, what a banger of a game, eh? That’s right, I’m not afraid to slightly spoil the outcome of this review from the get-go. This is my favourite Halo game of them all, and may just be one of my favourite games, period. I don’t actually remember how or when I got Reach, but it was probably for Christmas. What I do remember is finishing the campaign in close to a single sitting, it was so enjoyable and varied. The characters, the story, the visuals, all those gorgeous armour permutations. Yes indeed, playing this through again for the review for what is probably nearing the tenth time sure was a treat.
In Halo: Reach, you once again step into the gleaming Mjolnir boots of a near-indestructible Spartan. This time, however, you not only have your juggernaut-like strength, speed and agility to help you, but also five team members just as if not more skilled than you. Noble Team are at the forefront of the fight to save the planet Reach, and the participants in the birth of the all out war between humanity and the Covenant that you go on to play as the figurehead of in Halo 1 through 3, the indomitable Master Chief.
Disclaimer: I won’t be discussing multiplayer or forge, because as someone who was never allowed to buy Xbox Live, never had a Playstation in order to take advantage of the free multiplayer, and then eventually just realised that single player was all the fun I needed, I play games purely for their campaigns.
There are definitely some amazing aspects to the Reach campaign that, when we fans first played it, blew our socks off. The most innovative (but, as we shall see, one of the least thrilling) was by far the space-combat section. Getting launched into atmosphere in the cockpit of a Sabre is something that I, with my propensity for fan-girling over massive orbital battles the likes of which you hardly ever see on consoles outside Mass Effect cutscenes, thoroughly enjoyed the look of. Again, we’ll come to my criticisms of this mission, but that’s not what this section of the review is for. The most blindingly apparent update to the Halo franchise is the visuals. It’s much more akin to those of ODST, favouring moodier but just as beautiful skyboxes complete with rolling thunderclouds and scorching sunsets than the studio did in previous games. I really like how Reach feels. The fiery twilight of the Falcon mission, the cool blues of the dawn sneak through New Alexandria, and the cold darkness of the night-time sniping excursion punctuated by the green flashes of your night-vision (which is far more useful and better incorporated than it ever was in ODST, by the way). All these and more make each mission really feel unique, and gives the game on the whole much more personality. People may argue in favour of a more seamless experience, but when you think of what a washed-out slog ODST felt like at times, and the sudden stark and jarring switches from desert vista to barren snowscape that punctuated Halo 3, Reach is a far more appealing system in my opinion, and one that the developers really managed to perfect.
To be Improved:
As mentioned above, the space combat level, Long Night of Solace, is mind-numbingly dull. The first time you get to go into space you practically jump for joy, but as I said I’ve played Reach about ten times now so you really start to see the cracks after that many sessions. There are also some abrupt difficulty spikes throughout, such as the appearance of two hunters, or being dropped into a city full of brutes with only a magnum (I know that’s kind of the point of the level but the checkpoints are particularly poorly placed). The only other real problems are that Firefight gets super boring, and even then it is the only way to properly earn armour permutations outside of multiplayer; if you read the disclaimer at the start of this review you’ll already know what a problem that is for me.
Halo Reach was a great delight to go back and play through again. There are some frustrating moments, and ones that are outright mind-numbing to have to keep repeating, but overall it is a fairly solid experience. There’s nothing much more to say than that, and I’m sure the, what, two or so people who read this review aren’t going to mind it being a little shorter than most. Thanks all the same.