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