The simplest way I can describe Halo: Reach
is exactly what I tell everyone who asks me for my opinion on it: the gameplay is phenomenal and addictive, but don’t expect the storyline to blow you away with cinematic prowess. Halo: Reach is a Halo title in all respects. The same enormous variety of weaponry both human and alien is available for experimentation, the same versatility of vehicles takes you from land to space, and all of this is accompanied by the same wide range of enemies waiting to face their doom at the hands of you: Noble Six.
There is a theme to this prequel that as of yet has not been seen in the Halo franchise. That theme is a presence of sacrifice that we’ve seen in cinematic trailers previous to the game’s launch. A spartan is on the run with a clear directive. Bomb in hand, he bolts at the Covenant ship seen in the distance while attempting to haphazardly avoid the shrapnel and oncoming fire from enemies. In a sad turn of events, a missile finally lands near him and leaves him crippled on the floor. A nearby friendly takes notice and picks his task up where it fell, leaving the poor soldier to gaze at the sky until death finally overtakes him after a look of understanding is quickly exchanged between the two. When the new soldier makes it on board the Covenant ship and throws the bomb into its pit, nothing more clear than “sacrifice” at the hands of genuine desperation comes across viewers’ minds.
The trailer was touching and well-choreographed, but the level of emotional investment is remiss in the events that occur in the game itself. Necessary sacrifices are made in the name of a dire struggle against the Covenant forces in this first stand against them on planet Reach, but the set-up for a story of desperation and sacrifice is no more than following orders as the newest member to the Noble Team tasked with various missions across Reach to help the standing forces and citizens in this time of war.
Your missions range from bringing relay systems back online to helping soldiers on the field to defending bases in space on a brand new battle spaceship. The most significant of your missions comes directly from Dr. Catherine Halsey. She has noticed suspicious activity from the Elite members of the Covenant who come in groups to investigate some sort of artifact on Reach. Halsey is determined to follow through with her data research to attain this unknown artifact before they do, believing that it will mean the annihilation of the human race if she is unsuccessful. Only when you are tasked with her lab’s protection and delivery of this data do you feel that the game embraces the storyline that was meant to be the face of Reach.
Halo has never been distinctive based on its storyline. While it is existent and the overall premise may be intriguing, the missions along the way are forced directive - which is all good in fun and games, considering I have all the motivation I need to want to kill the Covenant forces. This is, of course, the fact that it’s fun to.
Halo: Reach is not a game to be hailed on its quality of storyline. Characters are hastily introduced, and no particular bond grows between them. It’s clear that the intention for some form of relationship amongst the Noble Team members was present, but I’m never thoroughly convinced as a player taking the role of Noble Six. As Chuck has told me, [minor spoiler
] Halo: Reach is like a horror film: you know the events will lead to many deaths; the mystery is when and how it will happen. This portrayal of sacrifice is nowhere near as intensely felt as the cinematic trailers would have led you to believe [end minor spoiler
The fact that Reach - as is the nature of a prequel - explains the events leading up to what we’ve so far seen from the Halo franchise, I would have expected a more detailed and complex storyline than what was given. Meager storyline and fairly forgettable characters aside, however, the true glory of a Halo game is in its gameplay. Reach takes a tried and true gameplay formula that was the highlight of the original Xbox console in its time, and continues its addictive fun in this prequel.
There are new features in this iteration that distinguish it from the other titles. Although Bungie opted for night vision in place of a flashlight, and nixed dual wielding, most of the base aspects have remained in tact: ridiculously varied weapons from handguns to snipers to rocket launchers and vehicles of all shapes, sizes and uses culminate in the very addictive multiplayer. While terrain in the singleplayer campaign is versatile, multiplayer maps are engaging and perfect for tactful fighting. Bungie even brought back a few memorable maps from the title’s predecessors, making for nostalgic fun with the enhancement of the new weapons.
One thing Bungie has always been great at is getting the player to use all of the weapons featured in a Halo game. Granted, a lot of games boast a variety of weaponry, but Halo is one amongst few that can proudly say that all serve a moment of purpose. While in most games - particularly first person shooters - a player will find themselves latched onto a favorite weapon, all of the weapons in Halo: Reach are creatively made. There might be one or two I never particularly cared to use (I’m looking at you, Plasma Charge), but all in all Reach provides you with a stock of entertaining weapons that you are bound to constantly switch between as you find them littered on the battle floor.
My only complaint about the gameplay is your companion AI. I love that I don’t always have to be the one to drive the vehicle in Halo. At the same time, however, I’ve never seen a worse driver than my Spartan buddies. They’re constantly driving into rocks, and apparently don’t know the concept of reverse. They will occasionally take longer than is necessary to recognize you’re waiting for a driver, and you’re therefore waiting impatiently for one to hop in and take the wheel as the Covenant pour fire at you.
The defining quality of Halo is most certainly its gameplay. No other game has such a wide range of gameplay features that are most optimized in the many multiplayer modes available. Whether facing off against the Spartans as a member of the Covenant, or taking on waves of enemies in Firefight, every round of Halo: Reach’s multiplayer is a quick dose of entertainment, undoubtedly put on repeat by the player. Resisting addiction is seriously futile; I played more multiplayer rounds than was necessary for this review out of sheer prideful indulgence.
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As much as Bungie wanted to sell Halo: Reach as a story-driven first person shooter rife with the familiar golden gameplay methods fans have come to expect from a Halo title, Halo: Reach doesn’t answer to this standard. The game ultimately shines in its ridiculously fun and addictive gameplay that sees its mastery in the various multiplayer modes available. That being said, excuse me while I get back to sniping enemies to death.