Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Reach’s campaign mode retraces the journey of Noble team, a group of Spartan warriors who embark on what is effectively a suicide mission to save the planet Reach from a Covenant invasion. The player takes the role of Noble 6, the latest member to join the team. Bungie make no attempt at any real characterisation with Noble 6. They are effectively tabula rasa. The rest of the crew consists of a leader, a grunt, a Latino guy and a one armed woman.
The campaign they go through is well paced and full of variety. Bungie appear to have taken on player feedback from previous games and removed the lengthy backtracking segments that soured previous campaign modes and instead, have taken a page out of Call of Duty and added a few more scripted sequences that have a cinematic flair about them. That said, they haven’t discounted the series’ traditional strength: the enemy AI is still very clever and offers up some entertaining challenges. Those side-stepping Elites in particular are utter bastards.
The Halo franchise, from the original trilogy helmed by the eight foot tall spartan warrior Masterchief, has always been presented as an expansive space opera epic and yet I think its only now with Reach that the series really delivers fully on that sense of scale. The original trailer for Halo 2 hinted at a game that was set in a full scale alien invasion of Earth but this appeared to be scrapped by the time the final product was released. Halo ODST took us one step closer by setting the game in a civillian environment but it was almost entirely bereft of civillians. Finally in Halo Reach, Bungie delivers a stage set in a civillian environment under an alien invasion where the Spartans interject to try and save the day. It’s a lot of fun to play through as you’d expect.
This newfound sense of scale also carries over to other parts of the campaign. I certainly wasn’t expecting the Noble team’s journey to carry them into space where a battle ensues between two fleets of spaceships.
The variety is what really makes Reach’s campaign stand out. The terrain varies greatly from level to level. There are mountainous regions one moment and cityscapes the next. Some levels are designed around sniping stealthily in the dead of night, others call for a group assault in broad daylight using armoured vehicles. I particularly enjoyed the battle in the space station where the sound is muted aside from the breathing you can hear of Noble Six inside their suit. A very cool effect.
By the end of the campaign, Bungie have taken you on an exhaustive ride where they throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Noble team, who slowly perish one by one, trying to save Reach. Finally, the game, the franchise and the developers come full circle by closing out the pre-credits ending with a shot of the Pillar of Autumn taking the survivors away to safety, recreating the same shot we saw in the opening scene of the original game. It’s a fitting end and rather sweetly, Bungie includes a final message thanking the fans for their support.
As for the multiplayer modes, time will tell what the community can come up with utilizing the new Forge mode which allows for a huge range of customization and level creation. The new maps for multiplayer have the expected level of polish and well crafted design of a Bungie product. Personally, I have a bit of a beef with how frequently the Team Slayer mode spits out SWAT games but I remember Halo 3 having a similar problem with too many Shotty Sniper matches and that was corrected after some user feedback. What I do expect is that Bungie will continue to support the community and that it will remain as strong as it was with Halo 3, where three years after its release, there was still a community of several thousand users regularly playing the multiplayer maps.
Although this is the last Halo game made by Bungie, it certainly will not be the last Halo game nor will it be the last Bungie game. I don’t envy 343 Studios who have to step into their shoes and create the next installment of the franchise. Where do you go from here?
As for Bungie, at last, ten years on from the original Halo, they now have a chance to work on some new IP. There’s the opportunity to go multi-platform and the chance to do something completely fresh. It’s clearly what they were craving, after opting to walk away from Microsoft and into the arms of publishing giant Activision. What they do next is anyone’s guess.
(My guess is another shooter)