Halo Reach (PAL) - Standard Halo Reach (PAL) - Limited Halo Reach (PAL) - Legendary (complete with hefty model)

Review updated 29/03/11 – Multiplayer; Noble Map Pack and Defiant Map Pack added.

Ten years ago, the console first person shooter only had Goldeneye to really inspire the multiplayer component. Single player was more of the rage at the time with classics like Doom and Medal of Honor giving thrills by shooting down demons or Nazis with your variety of guns. Of course Quake brought multiplayer brawls to the PC, but alas the console FPS was essentially a guilty pleasure. Something you couldn’t easily play with friends. Halo: Combat Evolved really didn’t upgrade the FPS as a whole, but the multiplayer mode was very well supported. Halo 2 revolutionised the console FPS to the online realms thanks to Xbox Live and a variety of map packs released months afterwards, while Halo 3 brought things to the next generation. The franchise deviated from its FPS roots in Halo Wars, but made a co-operative mode popular in Halo: ODST. A lot has changed in ten years, but Bungie feel that it is time to retire their involvement with the Halo series with Halo Reach. Do they retire with grace, or has the magic worn off?

Halo Reach is essentially a game that has been spoilt more times throughout the franchise than morons spoiling the ending of The Usual Suspects. If you haven’t really delved into the campaign modes of the series that much, then you’re in for a better experience than those who have played them religiously. That isn’t to say the plot of Halo Reach isn’t well told and features some rather spectacular scenes though. Problems start on the planet of Reach when Noble team, a group of Spartans who are a dedicated squad of rag tag soldiers; encounter some Covenant forces whilst on a suspected riot mission. Things get bad to worse when the Winter Contingency is initiated because more of the aliens have stormed the oddly named “Sword Base”. The problem with the story on the other hand is that after a certain point it becomes more or less about which Spartan dies the most glorious of deaths, which drives in the spoiler from the entire back catalogue of Halo games. “You heard about Reach?” “Yeah, bad stuff happened there.”

The single campaign is definitely worth the playthrough...

FPS games from the last ten years or so have adopted many of the mechanics that Halo Reach seems to incorporate, so to explain an old staple will be utterly pointless. It’s your general shoot what’s in front of you with funky weapons and grenades. Two key differences apply though. First, you have a health bar which is not as easy to recover as cowering in a corner. Sure your shield sucks up some of the shots and does regenerate, but you actually need to go looking for health packs to recover lost health. Health packs? Remember those, the little things that saved your hide in Doom? The other new thing that’s turned up is the armour ability roster. These range from the Sprint augment, to the Jetpack. Depending on what kind of situation you are in, they have a varying amount of use. For example, do not bother using Armour Lock in the campaign mode on any difficulty above Normal. Elites start cottoning on to the fact you’re playing hedgehog and hoping they roll over your spines. They also have a surprising amount of patience, taking you out at just the right point.

As mentioned before, there are some brilliant set pieces both in terms of visual spectacle and gameplay finesse. Most of these involve using vehicles of sorts, which handle slightly better than you’d normally find them. One in particular turns Halo Reach into a clone of Star Wars Rogue Squadron. This is rather ironically my personal favourite part of the entire game. I’m not shooting a gun; I’m shooting many guns at big ships. Forbidding Banshees that annihilate ground based forces fall at the feet of your ship. It’s just a fantastic part of the game, which is sadly over before it really begun. Worst off, there is no multiplayer component of this style of play. Other awe inspiring sections come from situations like the massive melee at Sword base or the apocalyptic end section at the Pillar of Autumn. The visuals aren’t the best around, but they do their job and are seemless in their execution. There are fantastic views to be had from mountain tops, that are perfectly accompanied by the music. If there is one thing that will always stand the test of time, it is the musical score, and Halo Reach has some of the best music in the series, with sombre tones amongst the more dramatic clashes of orchestral and guitars.

...but really; the multiplayer modes are why you buy it.

It is on this note that we turn to the more social aspect of Halo Reach; the multiplayer modes. Considering that a lot of ways to play were thought of during the years previously, it is nice to see that a return of old favourites with new twists and brand new multiplayer modes that compliment them so. Back are the classic rumble pit and team based modes, but a more diverse voting system means the days of “oh not Team Rockets again” are long gone. Games are usually split into three tiers. There are classic game modes such as Slayer and Team Slayer; more professional modes such as SWAT; and more bizarre variants such as “Race” or “Headhunter”. The only exception to this rule lies with the Invasion or Invasion Slayer choice, but given they’re unlike any mode you’ve ever seen before; this isn’t so bad a compromise. Best yet, the developers actively watch what is going on with the game’s multiplayer and add/remove certain aspects depending on player activity. Also back is a slightly tweaked Fire Fight mode, which is certainly more accessible than ever. The difficulty of some of the maps and waves of Covenant warships is dependent on your teammates, and their usefulness. Best played with friends you like. The single player aspects remain, with Armour Lock seemingly more sufficient in ability here as it disables the shields of those foolish enough to be too close, and damages those even more foolish to attack you. Others such as the Sabotage

The maps however are where the heart of the multiplayer lies, and there are several returns of old favourites. Most notably however is the renamed “Haemorrhage”, formerly Blood Gulch, which now includes a whole world of opportunities. This is because Bungie have created a singular colossal map that can become several. As mentioned before however, the sad absence of the space mode is probably something Bungie should think about including at some point. While going toe to toe with others in dogfights might sound appealing, I think it is more feasible to try it in Fire Fight. Still, co-operative multiplayer can keep one entertained for a while with spaceships, whilst the potential for outstanding DLC is rife with new opportunities for more modes.

It is obvious that Bungie wish to end their involvement with the franchise the only way that they could: With an almighty bang! The visuals are the best in the franchise, but nothing particularly outstanding unless you’re looking from a mountain top. Music as always is top notch, though one imagines the composer really went for impact this time around. The gameplay is not unlike anything you’ve seen before, but then again it is a thoroughly polished adventure. Still, the reason to shell out on this game is the multiplayer’s diverse range of ways to play a first person shooter. Bungie is also well known for taking care of its customers, offering more incentives to lure people back from other FPS games by simply offering a fun and well constructed experience that isn’t afraid to offer something new. Perhaps this is the last hurrah for Bungie and the Halo franchise, around ten years of happy marriage. Think of this then as the ultimate swansong to a series that has inspired many others.

Multiplayer Updates

Firstly, I love how Bungie have updated their game since its initial inception. Grifball being made permanent? Awesome! It is silly fun and makes for great diversion from just shooting people all the time. The only complaint I have is that I miss mongoose rocket race. Two player multi-team needs to be its own separate playlist. Community slayer playlist is also a really good idea, as the players exploiting forge have created some really good maps. One or two fall flat though, but the effort to reward players by having the world play their maps is a nice touch.

Noble Map Pack – 800MSP

The Noble map pack introduces some new maps, ranging from the massive Tempest to the rather small spaceship one. These are generally good maps, but the bigger the map, the more fun it is. As for the achievements, some are really difficult and need players to work as a team. Others just involve luck, such as getting a double kill “from the grave”. Honestly though, none of this matters too much as it extends the lifeline of a really well polished game in the most tasteful way possible.

Defiant Map Pack – 800MSP

The Defiant map pack does pretty much the same idea as Noble Map pack. One big map (Highlands) which is absolutely brilliantly designed and certainly has the sniper in me in mind. Condemned is a little more constricted in size, but is certainly a step above the previous DLC’s mini-map. The third map is solely for use with Firefight and features a lot of space designed for vehicular combat. This isn’t new, but my lord is it welcome to have an increased chance of surviving! Achievements return and they’re even more obscure this time around. Odd that Capture the Flag gets a look in though, while Stockpile gets another achievement. Still, you play the game a lot? Must own!