Halo: Reach Review

This is Bungie's final Halo game and it represents the culmination of a decade of development by Bungie on the series. As a package, it comes with more gameplay options than any other game in the franchise and arguably the most out of any console FPS to date.

There are four key pieces of content in Halo: Reach, each with the potential for countless hours of enjoyment depending upon your own personal preferences. They are campaign, Firefight, multiplayer, and content creation, which surfaces in all three modes and includes Forge, custom gametypes, and films.

First, the campaign. Out of all of Bungie's Halo campaigns, Reach's is easily the best of the bunch. There are homages to each previous Halo game in certain moments and levels along with completely new mechanics like space combat. Noble Team represents the best character work by the studio to date and is a good evolution from the initial steps taken in Halo 3: ODST.

Even though the story of Reach is known--Halo: Combat Evolved begins right after the fall of the planet Reach--there are plenty of surprises here. The scope of the game is massive with the planet-wide war raging in the background of most missions. Furthermore, Reach feels like a living, breathing planet. You'll fight amongst civilians and wildlife as you switch between besieged cities and secluded locations. Jorge, one of the Spartans of Noble Team, brings a lot of emotion to the conflict raging on his home planet.

The vehicle sections are top notch. One in particular--which I won't spoil--might just be my favorite mission in the entire Halo franchise. Though Noble team rarely fights as a complete unit, choosing instead to pair you off with single members throughout the game's missions, it helps characterize each member and keeps the game balanced. Co-op, scoring, and skulls add even more replayability.

Firefight returns from ODST with improvements. Not only will players be able to customize their Firefight experience, the mode gains matchmaking for pick-up games and defaults to a much shorter game. Firefight Classic is still in for those players going for the highest scores possible over hours and hours, but it is now possible (and fun) to jump into 15 minute games of Firefight.

On the customization side, players can create three custom skulls that can be turned on and off as you progress through waves and sets. Players can also compete against each other in Firefight Versus, which has teams of two taking turns as Spartans and Elites--backed up by AI enemies--to see who can score more points on defense. The additions made to the mode in Reach bring it up to par with multiplayer, in terms of the options available to players. It's a fully realized mode now and offers multiple ways to enjoy fighting against Bungie's great enemy AI.

Though there are some that will never play it, multiplayer is where Reach will live on with the many thousands that will be playing for years to come. There's a reason each Halo game has been played religiously until the next one is released. The sandbox presented here represents the best console multiplayer package to date. The tried and true Halo gameplay model is back with enough tweaks and changes to make it feel like a new game.

The Designated Marksman Rifle is a worthy successor to the Battle Rifle and the pistol has returned to its Halo: CE glory. Dual wielding is, thankfully, out and several weapons from Halo 3 have been cut. New weapons fill in the gaps and each weapon has a particular use. The armor abilities and loadouts add a lot more depth to the combat. When you find yourself wishing that you could take two or three armor abilities at a time, you know that Bungie did a good job designing them. The jet pack takes a bit of getting used to as players can traverse the map in completely new ways, but it does make airborne players giant, flying targets.

The new matchmaking system and UI are phenomenal. Players are able to vote on three different game type and map combinations or none of the above, resulting in a new vote on three new combos. It results in a lot less disappointment in vetoing a game only to get a less-desired setup. The Player Investment system might just be my favorite of any shooter, thus far. There's enough there to want to unlock as much as possible, but since everything is cosmetic, it doesn't overwhelm the gameplay. Daily and Weekly challenges offer ways to earn extra credits and act as meta-achievements.

Invasion is a great addition to the Big Team Battle formula, playing off of Reach's loadouts. Invasion Slayer mixes in some objective play by having teams capture territories for weapon and vehicle drops, while Invasion presents a set of objectives, mixing territories and capture-the-flag mechanics. Returning gametypes are as good as ever with Reach newcomers Headhunter and Stockpile bringing some new flair.

Forge World and the updated map editing tools will mean that Reach's player-created maps should eclipse anything done in Halo 3. To demonstrate the power of the tools to the community, Bungie has created five map variants within Forge World, which are included with the game. Though I'm certain Microsoft will want to release DLC maps for Reach, Forge World ensures that new arenas will be created throughout the game's life.

Looking at everything provided by Bungie and the potential for user-generated content, Reach is the biggest shooter to ever hit a console. More importantly, the game is just downright fun from start to finish, especially if you're going to be playing online. It is a true work of love from the folks at Bungie and has been constructed to be playable for many years; a fine send off as Bungie transitions to its first new IP in a decade. It is a prequel and doesn't have Master Chief, but this truly is Halo 4. Get this game.

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