First Level: Halo: Reach

It was mid morning on a rainy Saturday in September. That’s when our review copy of Halo: Reach slid through my letterbox and landed with a papery thud among the usual pile of bills and bank statements. The accompanying literature informed me that I can’t actually tell you about it until 05:01 BST on Sunday the 12th. That’s right around now.

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Of course, the review code went out far too late to play Microsoft’s most significant game of the year even nearly enough for a proper review. We’ll be publishing that later in the week when we’ve had a chance to actually appraise the game properly; followed by some multiplayer footage once some of the staff have got together. I can tell you my initial impressions of Bungie’s final instalment in the Halo franchise though.

Let me start by saying that I’m not one of those people that blindly adores Halo. I really enjoyed Combat Evolved (on PC), I played snatches of Halo 2 and I thought Halo 3 got better the further into it I played. ODST was reasonably average though and Halo Wars? Well, it’s best we don’t even start talking about that. So that’s my pedigree with Halo. I like it, generally, but I’m not blind to the flaws it may (or may not) have.

The first thing of note about Reach is that it is very definitely a Halo game. The core game-play is there, the clearly lineated paths through canyon or industrial facility open out into quasi-arena areas which play stage to the game’s set pieces.

As most of you will know, you play as the newest member of a six-strong squad of Spartans known as Noble Team. There’s a line of dialogue in the opening scene (and trailers) that lets you know that the focus of the game is going to be more squad-based and less about one guy trudging down corridors shooting monsters. You can even recruit troops and resistance members as you find them defending positions. They join your fireteam and tag along providing an extra level of firepower during combat.

The early pacing is brisk enough that you feel involved but it keeps a little bit of mystery and entices you to want to get to the next piece of exposition. The game’s cut-scenes are filled with cinematic flair but so is the game-play. In ways which came as something of a surprise, this game involved me in the story-telling.

There is a moment, early on, where your team has opened a bay door and is defending the point from oncoming enemies. You are clearly fighting a losing battle and the order goes out to get through that door. As the enemy presses forward and the huge sliding door grinds shut, the gunfire stops with your team safely on the inside. It was only as that sliver of light disappeared behind the closing bay door that I realised something. I’d just played a scene, entirely naturally, which would have been a cut-scene in any other game.

The weapons (no dual-wielding but turrets can be dismounted) all have a natural weight to them. They’re all from the standard Halo weapon set so far but the visuals have been dialled up a notch or two. The new armour abilities give some interesting benefits too. Sprint is an addition to the Spartan’s move set which is more welcome than you might imagine and the hologram ability is imaginative and incredibly useful for distracting turret fire. Only one at a time can be carried but there seems to be plenty of opportunity to swap for a different one, should you wish to do so.

As to be expected with a Halo game, there is going to be a lot of emphasis on the multiplayer. Don’t let that put you off if you’re more into a narrative-driven experience. Judging by the limited time I’ve had with the campaign mode (around three hours) Bungie seems to have merged the traditional Halo game-play and core mechanics with an enveloping cinematic experience. And it works exceptionally well.

As I said at the start of this article, this is not (nor could it be, with a clear conscience) a full review but I know there is one question you’ll all be asking ahead of the midnight launches on Monday. The answer, based on my first few hours with the game, is an unreserved “yes”. Halo: Reach is absolutely worth your money.

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26 Comments

  1. Wait, you CAN sprint now? I’d heard it still hadn’t been added. Seems either I was misinformed or simply didn’t read deeply enough into the game. Great to see at any rate as I can’t imagine playing an FPS these days without it, but dare I ask about the precision aiming?

    I’m interested in hearing about what the space combat brings to the table, as the flight sequences in the previous games were probably my fondest memories of the series.

  2. Absolutely can’t wait…

  3. Just finished reading IGNs review and now this article, its all too much.
    The beta was brilliant and my mouth is now watering in anticipation for the full game. Have to wait until 11:01AM on Tuesday for my local blockbuster to open but it will be worth it.

  4. Sounds like the series is going to bow out with a bang.

    It’s good to read for the sake of millions of Halo fans around the world (of which I’m not one but I am a fan of quality titles hitting the shelves regardless of genre, platform, developer, publisher or whatever) and if it’s a really great game, it will help keep other top FPS developers honest too which in turn will push the industry on to greater heights. Always a good thing.

    • It’s not over yet. Bungie’s last title, but 343 Industries (internal MS developer created to take over Halo) have pretty much confirmed they’re working on number 4.

      • Ah! Shows how much attention I pay to the series. Thanks, Raen. :)

  5. I’m so glad my brother’s got an Xbox!

  6. I really wasn’t a fan of these as single player games, but I like the more team based action so I might consider this. Does it feel like your squad is helping, or just there not doing much?

    • Also, love the sub-heading!

      • LOL Yeah. Thought it was going to be a TC article!

        ;-)

  7. I really don’t understand the love for this game at all. Looks meh.

    • Agreed , being the poster boy for xbox has made this sell bucketloads its decent but not groundbreaking .

      • 1 was pretty ground-breaking on a console and so was 2… 3 was just a refresh and ODST was a cash-in. Reach looks to be a return to form.

  8. like two days now!!!

    • I don’t buy many xbox games but this will be one. I’m sold.

  9. I don’t have a 360 and they’ve stopped doing it for PC… I’m not a huge fan but I would’ve picked this up if I had a 360, what with that Tesco thing n all.

  10. This game, along with Alan Wake and Splinter Cell make me want a 360..
    >_<

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