You are unable to save mankind from destruction. Ultimately, your character will be brutally torn apart by a horde of Covenant, left to degrade in the soil of a barren planet. The realisation of this mentality makes Halo: Reach a sombre experience, the ‘one last stand’ sensation creating a fresh, if rather unfulfilled narrative. Reach carries all of the conventions and expectations of the franchise, developing an adequate, if not exceptional campaign alongside a fantastic multiplayer experience.
The prequel takes place on the planet Reach, long before Master Chief steps into the fray. Players have the chance to customise a Spartan in the armoury, selecting their gender and equipment before joining the rest of Noble Team. The planet then quickly comes under attack from the alien collective known as the Covenant, and it’s up to Noble Team to try and thwart the impending invasion.
The concept is fine, but the delivery is often ambiguous and vague. Why isn’t there more military resistance on the planet? Who on earth is Catherine Halsey and the artefact she’s uncovering? Veteran players have followed this war for almost a decade, but newcomers will be left feeling rather bewildered.
The campaign has some tender moments, acknowledging fallen team mates or watching elaborate plans amount to nothing. Despite knowing that their defeat is inevitable, it’s hard not to root for Noble Team in their darkest hour. The soundtrack is stunning and expands the spectacle appropriately; the orchestral compositions adding to that ‘epic’ feel Bungie are obviously aiming at.
Each chapter is structured rather monotonously. Advance, shoot, advance, shoot is certainly the order of play here, the occasional defensive objective and tower skirmish offering some much needed relief. The levels are expansive and multi-tiered, often allowing multiple approaches to a task. It’s unfortunate that there’s very little to find in these maps (collectibles or audio logs would have been a great incentive) but it does lend itself nicely to online co-op.
Space battles were meant to be a big part of Halo: Reach, so it’s surprising to see them hemmed down to just one portion of the campaign. It might feel a little basic, but it’s still very enjoyable and could have been explored further.
Armour abilities add some long overdue features to the franchise. Sprinting isn’t going to win Reach any awards, but it adds some much needed fluidity and pace to the combat. Oh, and did I mention that there was a jetpack armour ability? Nothing feels more satisfying that catapulting your Spartan into the air and sniping a handful of grunts on the way back down. Jetpacks also do a great job of highlighting the wonderful level design, often offering expanses that can be traversed either vertically or horizontally.
The needle rifle and grenade launcher are welcome additions to the already imaginative weapon loadouts, offering plenty of creativity on the battlefield. Combat still requires players to unload a ‘clip and then some’ into their opponent, so it might take some getting used to if you’ve been playing other FPS titles recently. The gameplay is still slick and challenging, rarely giving the player time to breath as Noble Team are thrust into the next fire fight. This is war after all – did you expect a nice evening around the camp fire?
Step into the multiplayer and you’ll be hit by a simply stunning multiplayer suite. It doesn’t matter if you prefer team death match, campaign or the horde mode known as firefight – Reach has got you covered. The list of match options is almost overwhelming, but it means that almost any setup is catered for without requiring any specific tinkering. Spending credits on new armour aesthetics and gaining new ranks is highly addictive, ensuring that Reach will keep you interested for a long, long time.
As a finale to Bungie’s Halo franchise, it’s a long way from being perfect. It rarely breaks new ground in the FPS genre and would have benefited from a more thorough plot structure. Regardless of these drawbacks though, Halo: Reach never stops being enjoyable. The campaign is a blast to play either alone or with friends, and the matchmaking online means that it’ll stay in your Xbox 360 for months to come. For this gamer at least, Reach will certainly be remembered.