Thundering plasma bolts slam into the ground as you duck around for cover while frantically reloading. On the horizon, you see another drop ship inbound, ready to deposit another wave of Elites, Jackals and Grunts on your position. Your objective, like every other one before it, has been at best a stopgap against the oncoming storm, and at worst, a frantic retreat from the inevitable counterattack. This is “Halo Reach,” and this is how a world ends.
“Halo Reach,” the latest and final first-person shooter game in the “Halo” series, tells the story of Noble Team in the events preceding the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.” The year is 2552, and a religious alien alliance known as “The Covenant” has brought its war against humanity to the planet Reach. Noble Team is a group of supersoldiers, known as Spartans, assigned to special missions that no ordinary human could perform and are the linchpin in humanity’s resistance against the alien alliance.
The campaign, which can be played single-player or cooperatively, puts players in the helmet of Noble 6, a new recruit to Noble Team, and follows the player’s part in thwarting the Covenant invasion. While the Campaign’s ending is already known, the tension in the story lies in the interactions of Noble Team and their role in the invasion.
This tension tracks the team from the outset, when they’re trying to halt the Covenant Beachhead into the game’s second act, and when they’re just looking for anything they can call a victory. Gamers will enjoy taking on the role of the characters who have a lot of great moments not just on the battlefield, but also when they interact with Noble 6 and the civilians they encounter.
The campaign’s strongest point is showing the true threat the Covenant represents. Previous games saw them descending into somewhat comedic roles. Now they can best be described as downright terrifying. The Covenant’s entire redesign keeps them visually reminiscent of their appearance in other games, but their new image and improved intelligence will make any shoot-out a tense standoff instead of a massacre.
The game’s cinematics also deserve mention, as they’ve moved far beyond the generic cutscenes of years past. The use of a “documentary style” animation provides a much grittier, real look into the Halo world and has the feel of real cinematography, not just a camera dropped in the scene. The beautiful visuals of “Reach’s” natural landscape also contrast nicely with the apocalyptic imagery of burning cities and crashing spaceships.
Another strength that “Reach” has over its predecessors is the use of new, unusual ideas that haven’t been shown in a “Halo” game before in order to help set the tone, such as the manipulation of the sound environment or including set pieces that don’t translate to the multiplayer mode. Two instances include a battle with some of the rampaging wildlife in the third level, while a later space encounter features a nearly silent space battle as the player attacks a Covenant ship in a vacuum. These little changes are guaranteed to jolt players out of their typical fighting style and shift the dynamic of the game dramatically.
Multiplayer mode has also seen some improvements and refining. Online matchmaking is much more varied and colorful with its game types, while the new ranking and credit system rewards any length of play time, not just intense gaming sessions. Even casual players will have access to fancy armor in no time. The only downside is that the new tone of the campaign doesn’t translate well into multiplayer, which, while fun, makes the shift a bit jarring.
In the end, “Halo Reach” is ultimately the best of the “Halo” series, with varying set pieces and fun and frantic combat. It’s all there, and it’s better than it’s ever been, with new additions and old staples alike.