Review: Halo: Reach

The buzz surrounding any Halo title is always significant and Reach held true to that. With a midnight launch a certainty for the title and the flood of adverts that quickly seemed to dominate television it was hardly surprising to see the queues form as Bungie’s final Halo title made its way into players’ hands. With a copy firmly in our possession our first port of call was the campaign, which weighed in at a very enjoyable eight hours.

Whilst Halo’s campaigns have always been grand in scale and story, Reach brings things up to a whole new level. It may not be the longest campaign but it feels a good length for a multiplayer focused shooter. With the significant love that Halo’s multiplayer receives it would be easy for Bungie to skimp on the single player aspect but there’s not a hint of that here. It was clear from previews that Bungie were going the extra mile with Reach’s multiplayer and it quickly becomes obvious that the single player has undergone the same treatment.

Where the campaign really shines is the writing. The voice work and the lines from the characters whilst you’re in a mission may not be anything to write home about but the characterisation, the cut-scenes and the way the whole thing holds together is simply sublime. There are points in the campaign where Bungie have managed to inject shock and a genuine emotional connection, something that games seem to do so rarely when compared to other mediums.

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The big change for the story is that you feel like you’re really part of a battle for survival. When you played as Master Chief you normally felt like humanity’s fight back followed in the wake of your actions. In Reach you feel like you’ve been thrown right into the middle of the battle, albeit one that you know is hopeless. Even as the whole planet goes to hell around you, you still feel like you’re one part of a much larger fight.

As well as the depth of the writing, Bungie have done well to open the game’s story to new players. There are clear points where Reach hooks into the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved and the Halo universe at large, but these only add an extra dimension to the game for fans of the series rather than really being required to understand what’s happening.

Whilst the campaign shines by itself, it’s only half of what makes Halo the Xbox’s poster child. Although many will be happy with Reach’s campaign, the majority of Halo players are fans of the multiplayer experience and Reach won’t disappoint them.

However, Reach has only been in our hands for less than a week; by no means has there been enough time to get the full measure of the multiplayer’s depth and variety. Anything we can say about the multiplayer is only based on a few sessions for a game that will likely have millions poured into it in the coming years. We’ll say what we can for now, but we’ll also be bringing you more coverage of the multiplayer in the near future.

With all of that said I think it’s safe to say that Reach is one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve managed to play. There are occasional small issues where matchmaking takes a little longer than you’d really want, but it doesn’t ever seem to take more than a minute or two. Once you get into a game the action is fast-paced and generally feels well balanced. Where Bungie have really outdone themselves is the sheer variety of modes available off the bat; Reach seems to dwarf most other console shooters in that respect.

The traditional multiplayer experience is excellent but Firefight is certainly worth a mention of its own. When it was introduced in ODST it was a very welcome addition to the game, but felt like there was something missing. Reach’s version of the mode is far more fleshed-out and feels a much more rounded experience. Again variety is king in Firefight, the new array of Firefight game types add something new and are very welcome.

Reach’s visuals aren’t top of the line but they’re not much below it. The ground textures do seem a little flat once you get close up, but that’s the only place it seems to fall down. In general everything looks good, but what really impresses is Reach’s scale. Size has always been a big part of Halo but Reach moves the scale into a whole new class. It doesn’t even feel “big for a shooter”, it just feels big.

Sadly this seems to come at a price performance-wise. Whilst Bungie have done a lot to scale up the battles to reflect the game’s new perspective, the engine doesn’t seem quite able to cope with it. The number of explosions happening in any one scene can hit the frame rate quite heavily; so much so that at one point the action froze twice within a minute as explosions engulfed the screen. However, these slowdowns are rare and didn’t ruin the overall experience.

Talking of Reach’s issues, this is by far the most difficult game in the Halo series. That’s not always a bad thing but there are points in Reach, particularly in Firefight but at some points in the campaign as well, you feel like Bungie are punishing you for some sins that you weren’t aware you’d committed.

However, even on the Normal difficulty setting, Reach feels challenging in a way that other Halo games haven’t. The game’s difficulty certainly builds in a way you’d expect and the end game isn’t exactly easy (although it doesn’t crescendo quite where you expect it to) but there are points in individual missions where a sudden peak in difficulty throws you in a way the previous titles hadn’t.

Finally, I’d like to touch on customisation and levelling. Everything you do in the game earns you credits, a mix of currency and experience. Earn enough and you move up a rank as well as being able to buy upgrades to your armour. This is all fine but it feels strange that everything is cosmetic. Rank gives you little more than an indication of how much of the game someone has played (you’ll still earn credits even if you lose in multiplayer), and the armour upgrades won’t protect you any more than if you hadn’t bothered.

Given that you very rarely see your character the purely cosmetic upgrades may seem utterly pointless but it does actually help to make the multiplayer feel more rounded. So often in a shooter the battlefield is populated by dozens of almost identical combatants, Reach’s armour customisation makes it feel more like players are unique rather than an army of identical Spartans and Elites.

Pros:

  • The best Halo game yet
  • Huge environments
  • Compelling storyline that will let new players get involved
  • Superb multiplayer with significant options for customisation

Cons:

  • Whilst this is a great Halo game, it very much is still Halo
  • Occasional performance issues
  • Matchmaking can be a little slow

Bungie have gone completely overboard on the multiplayer, and the customisation available through the Forge World map editor is only going to add to this. However, it’s the magnificence of the campaign that my heart belongs to, it drew me into the world in a way that few stories do.

Bungie have completely outdone themselves here and 343 Industries have a lot to live up to as they take on the franchise. I don’t really know what’s left that they can improve upon whilst keeping the new title still feeling like a Halo game. I think that’s what matters most here; this still feels like Halo, but it’s Halo+ or Halo Beyond.

That’ll do Bungie, that’ll do.

Score: 10/10

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78 Comments

  1. great review – I dont think ive seen anyone agonize over a score as much as you did with this!

  2. I really enjoyed the campaign, but framerate dipped veeery low at times. I guess the engine’s doing everything it can and then some. Nothing major, although slightly annoying.

    But the AI in this game is one of the worst ever! That is, the friendly AI. Enemies dive, throws plenty of grenades, take cover, try to ambush you, rush you – they do pretty much anything to take you out. Your team mates? They’re stuck running into a wall somewhere! And don’t ever let anyone but you drive a vehicle, even though that means they’ll be doing the “killing”. And by “killing” I mean “stand completely still with 10 enemies 50 yards ahead of you”. It gets so annoying at times they could just as well have let me play alone on most missions.

    I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see Emile or any of the other team members drooling in their helmets when they’re running around on the battlefield, they’re complete muppets!

  3. Does not deserve a 10

    • I agree with you a tiny bit 9/10 it would seem to me but hey its opinion

    • Have you played it?

    • Remember in his opinion it’s a ten, we are not starting this argument again!

      • Aw, why not, it’s always fun to read :p

  4. Great review, Kris. Sounds like Bungie really did learn from their mistakes last time around. Though the game isn’t for me, I always like to see how the most popular franchises are doing when they release a new title.

    • Halo not for me neither, always thought 1 was best and the ret were a little kack. However its great to hear that Bungies Swan Song is a great one – well deserved.

      My bro has a dusty 360 which will do the rounds with a copy of Halo….itll also do the rounds when Gears 3 arises….

  5. How is the fact that it is still halo a negative? That’s neither a positive or negative, just a fact. If they’d changed it beyond all recognition you’d have put that as a negative, so maybe they just can’t win.

    • At a guess, it’s to do with the franchise itself. Much like GTA, no matter the score, if you haven’t got into it by now there’s probably zero chance you ever will.

    • Well games are often marked down for not being original enough, so from that point of view it could be seen as a negative if you are just paying for essentially the same game (and if you didn’t like Halo 3 you’re unlikely to like this one). It’s often harder for sequels to achieve perfect scores unless they significantly add to or refine the gameplay, but Halo has always managed it just for being Halo. It depends how you look at it – if Naughty Dog made Uncharted 3 basically the same as Uncharted 2 but with a new story then fans would be happy, but Edge would probably give it 6/10 for lack of innovation! Games like Call Of Duty can renew themselves with each edition without losing it’s core appeal – if COD continued to be set in WWII with each release would it have still received the praise that Modern Warfare did?

      It’s a difficult subject and one people have different views on, which is why Halo’s continuing 10/10 run is so emotive for some people. At what point do you judge that it’s score should start to erode? There aren’t many games that could get away being essentially the same as a 2001 release and continue to be ‘perfect’ by today’s standards – COD, Medal of Honor, Unreal Tournament, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Ratchet & Clank, even God of War 3 have all fallen foul of the problem of not innovating enough and suffering for it in reviews, even if previous games in their franchise to follow that template were 10/10 games. Is Halo’s gameplay template really timeless? For some people it’s a template that didn’t deserve 10/10 to start with…

  6. Now I love the game and probably agree with a ten (maybe a nine) yet if it has 3 or more cons it shouldn’t have a ten especially when you say (as a con) ‘it’s still a halo game’. What does that mean by the way? I love halo games

  7. Nice review Kris.

    I’ve heard so many people (including good mates) say “I’m not a big fan of Halo, but Reach is epic/awesome/brilliant”

    Good stuff.

  8. Good game indeed, I’m loving the MP but the weapons are taking some getting used to.

    I think its going to RROD my machine after 5 years loyal service :(

    • I was terrified mine’d RRoD half way through reviewing

      • I’ll be gutted if/when mine does, I’m quite proud of it being a launch core machine that still works. I don’t know anyone who has a launch premium that still fires on all cylinders let alone a core.

      • I had my launch go, and the free replacement is out of warranty now :(

  9. 10/10 haha what a fkn joke, i knew the second i opened this post it was a 10.
    “my exit” my opinion.

    • Well don’t call his opinion a “fkn joke” it’s an opinion, it can’t be wrong.

      • can i expand on that? From his childish response i can assume that he didnt even read the review. If hes one of those people who only reads numbers then his opinion means nothing anyway. Anyone can count to 10 right?

      • He defends himself by saying it’s an opinion at the end but he’s quite happy to call the writers opinion that….wtf, maybe he likes to contradict himself?

      • Hell I can actually count higher than 10, luckily reviews don’t require me to go any further than that

    • Dude, a lot of work and playtime went into writing this. If all you have to say is its a fkn joke then you sir are the punchline.

      Read it next time eh and leave the childish critiscm at the door.

    • If by ‘my exit’ you mean you’re leaving, I’m sure everyone here at TSA will be glad because I sure as hell am.

      • Why would you care? I mean, you don’t HAVE to read his comments, and you most certainly don’t have to agree with him. After all, it is HIS opinion.
        There are lots of people that are like that, just learn to deal with them.

      • I know it’s his opinion and surely, like he has with Kris’, I can form my opinion on his.

    • A hell of a lot of time went into this review, so to be so rude and dismissive isnt very pleasant. I suggest checking some other reviews as well; Kris’s score isnt an anomaly.

    • How did you know from the second you opened the post that it was a 10 pray tell? Was it the fac that professional games jounalists / critics the world over have rated the game on a similar level or was it that fact that, like Halo or not, Bungie are seasoned accomplished game designers who put their heart and soul into the franchise (ODST aside ;)) and know sound game development and value like the back of their hand?

      I’ve every confidence that TSA gave this game a 10 because this reviewer felt it deserved one in his objective opinion based on his review of the game. It might have been more constructive for you to comment on what you did / didn’t like about the game rather than resort to course comments.

      • One of the reasons i love this website is that it’s not filled with the same angry, angsty perpetually unsatisfied ‘children’ as every other game site is, and i’m glad to see that it’s being defended. shakengandulf, don’t mess this up

    • The sounds of a lost member of CVG.

  10. i havnt got an xbox but i have played halo 3 and it was alri, but if u were new to the game you have no chance, every second you would get ur head shoot off by a sniper which was very annoying. but what i wanted to say the screens of the game look extremly poor and the environments look bland

    • It looks a touch generic but bland? Wow. Quite the opposite I would’ve said. It’s got that other-world feel down to a tee. Lovely misty sunsets, striking scenery in the background (with the jagged mountains, etc).

      • Exactly, I adored the background in Reach, the sheer variety of the world is awesome.

      • i forgot it was a sci fi so ye ill admit a poor comment

    • You’re right that those screens don’t look all that great, but I assure you, the game is not bland lol. One of the most diverse shooters around.

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