Halo: Reach Review

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Halo: Reach Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Bungie

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

A vacancy on the six-man Noble action element has finally been filled, bringing this elite group of Spartans to full strength. Stationed on the world of Reach, Noble is unfortunate enough to encounter the vanguard of the Covenant invasion of human space. This theocratic alliance of alien species wants something on Reach desperately, and is willing to exterminate humanity to do it, in this prequel to the previous Halo games.

Kyle Ackerman

Sadly, due to a death in the family, I started in on Halo: Reach more than three weeks after the rest of the Xbox 360-owning world. Certainly, that has colored this review. You'll hear that Halo: Reach is two different games, a single-player campaign and a rich, multiplayer experience. Personally, I don't think that's true. There is a short, single-player campaign filled with generic tough guy archetypes (and one tough gal), but it isn't really meant to be played as a single-player campaign.

Elite Warriors With Cardboard Personalities

Aside from a brief and simplistic dogfight-in-space sequence, this is the same game we played nine years ago, when Halo: Combat Evolved was released. It's entertaining enough – who doesn't enjoy blasting energy-sword wielding aliens? But it's not particularly novel. The art is gorgeous, and the cut-scenes are extensive, but the game isn't fundamentally different. Most of the time I was playing Halo: Reach I found myself thinking, "This is gorgeous! Why didn't Halo 3 look this good?" Followed by, "This isn't really more exciting to play than Halo 3 – it just looks better."

There's nothing wrong with a perfectly adequate game that's beautiful, but the campaign of Halo: Reach isn't going to stand out in your memory a year from now. More importantly, this campaign is clearly meant to be played on an absurd difficulty with other living players. Even the campaign is fundamentally a multiplayer experience against scripted bots rather than live foes. Playing the campaign in Halo: Combat Evolved cooperatively on the original Xbox was amazing – now, it's simply expected. The one stand-out moment of the campaign is its elegant conclusion. The player mounts a noble sacrifice, justifying the "Firefight" mode in which players face off against seemingly endless Covenant foes.

As for the story, the characters are more caricatures than sympathetic or relatable figures, with each Spartan of Noble team vying for the most glorious martyrdom. It's art in motion, but it's neither a gripping story nor cinema (despite the length of the cut-scenes). As for the single-player game, it's the same Halo we've been playing for the better part of a decade. It's polished, tightly constructed, but losing my interest for lack of something new. I would have been happy simply with improved AI (say, something that would let me man a turret while the AI competently drives a Warthog), but the campaign just felt like more of the same, only prettier. A game doesn't have to innovate to be good, but Halo: Reach's campaign never rises above that.

Patience is a Virtue, But It's Not Fun

The multiplayer is an entirely different beast. More effort has clearly been sunk into the matchmaking for Halo: Reach than other, entire games receive. Halo: Reach's multiplayer is a high form of polished art, encouraging like-minded players to band together in groups, and subtly cajoling players into an amazing variety of match types to ensure constantly varied play. It's also a brutal forum to enter into weeks after the majority of other players. I'm now up to speed, but instead of learning this game with other novices, I've endured kill after kill until I could grasp the basic layout of the maps, the locations of the useful weapons and the goals of the various play modes. Essentially, after a week of play, I'm just starting to have fun.

I admit, I expected to need that kind of time to catch up. If this sounds a bit whiny, it is. But I can only wish that the amazingly sophisticated matchmaking system could have found more players as new to the maps as I, out of the tens of thousands playing. With a class-based game, there's usually an easy way to get involved and learn the maps. Halo: Reach is not that style of game. It's really the paragon of a certain style of multiplayer. I think of Halo: Reach as something like Monet. Monet is a great artist and the epitome of impressionism. You have to admire Monet's stunning artistic breakthroughs, but that doesn't mean you have to love his art. Similarly, you can admire what Halo: Reach has accomplished without actually enjoying it.

I really enjoyed Halo: Reach once I got up to speed, but in hindsight, I wish I'd spent my time differently, and how can I give a game a stellar rating if I wish I'd been playing something else? To put that differently, if you are one of the few still considering whether to play Halo: Reach, either plan on dedicating your gaming life to this title, or go with another option. Once you do get into the game, the play is elegant, and the matchmaking design brilliantly eases you into game modes similar, but not identical, to your favorites until (after many hours of play), you've tried virtually everything. If the preconstructed maps and modes aren't enough, there's always the Forge, where players can continue to make their own custom maps.

Halo Fatigue

Halo: Reach then goes on to refine everything it offered in Halo 3. Recording and sharing media is more polished, so you can reexamine past matches or share glorious kill streaks. There's even the return of the Firefight mode where Spartans face off against increasingly difficult waves of enemies.

Bungie has created a brilliant game in Halo: Reach, yet starting late instead of coming up the curve has left me completely cold, and the single-player options aren't compelling enough to keep me excited. Halo: Reach is the pinnacle of Halo, arriving at a time when my patience for and interest in Halo is waning. I wish I'd played launch week, but I'm not convinced it's worth the effort anymore.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 15, 2010 11:30 AM.

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