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PLATFORM: Xbox 360
ESRB

RATING: M
DEVELOPER:
Bungie
PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios

For a while, it looked as if Halo was dying. Not from sales, of course, but from creativity. Halo 3 contained a really fun multiplayer element but it also had the first campaign of the series that was a boring slog to get through, even with 4 player co-op, and Halo 3: ODST ‘s horrifically dull and jazz-laden story only compounded the problems. When Halo: Reach was announced as yet another prequel sidestory to the main (and lackluster) Halo trilogy plot, it seemed like it was to continue the series’ downward slope.

People- we were WRONG. Reach is the best one yet.
    
THE PITCH

Halo: Reach takes place in the year 2552, where humanity is in danger of being wiped out. They’re locked in a brutal battle with an alliance of alien races called The Covenant, a bunch of religious fanatics that think humanity an affront to their Gods and have effectively declared jihad them. They’re far beyond humans technologically but with the implementation of the SPARTAN-II supersoldier program and the MJOLNIR Mark IV armor (made famous by Master Chief) humanity starts to fight back.

As the game starts you’re once again placed in the shoes of a Spartan, this time a man known only as Noble 6. We meet him on the planet Reach as he joins the rest of Noble Team on a mission to discover why a relay station went offline, and they soon find out that it’s the Covenant.

A frantic mission to save the planet and evacuate the civilians begins, and it’s unlikely that your entire team will make it out alive. Get ready to witness the first Halo that really makes you care about its characters, featuring exciting and fascinating cutscenes with great voice acting.



CHUDTIP: Also, a
lot of things blow up real pretty-like.


THE PLAY



The actual gameplay is exactly the same as you’d expect and offers no surprises for anyone who’s played a first person shooter in the last decade, but there are a few small changes from the last few games.  For one thing, dual wielding is gone and grenades are back in style. The ol’ plasma pistol/spiker one-two combo is missed but they have some new weapons to play with, like a sniper rifle that uses needler rounds and a grenade launcher.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the gameplay is that of “Loadouts”. These are skills that can be picked up at any time and activated with the left bumper to your advantage, although you can only hold onto one at a time. You’ve got everything from a sprint (yay!) to a jetpack to a super-handy hologram that can draw your enemy’s fire. These are used in both single player and mutiplayer modes and add a bit of much-needed strategy.


CHUDTIP: Jetpacks are great for getting around but they make you a huge target.


The campaign is exhilarating and exciting in all the ways the last few games haven’t been. Gone are the long stretches where you’re doing nothing but slogging to the next area for the next fight. No, there are near-constant battles, since this is a fierce fight for the planet. Every single level is memorable and lengthy, offering new challenges, foes, and even in one fantastic moment- participation in a giant space battle. Perhaps the best part of the level design is that there seems to be so many ways to go at them, so many little paths and tactics that makes it feel much less like you just heading down a single path killing everything along the way. It helps with the co-op, because now you’ll be able to try different paths through the world, different ways at tackling the enemies, which get increasingly smart and difficult on harder difficulties. Legendary really is a challenge with four people this time, the AI some of the best you’ll face.

Also- one important note- THERE’S NO FUCKING FLOOD. That’s right, the most annoying enemies of the Halo series are nowhere to be found. It works for the plot since they weren’t found yet, but it also works to keep our sanity intact. The only zombies you’ll find here are in the multiplayer.



CHUDTIP: While
you’re massacring the Elite, try and forget that they become your allies
in the future.

 
The multiplayer is pretty much a more polished version of Halo 3 with new and updated maps, a ton more modes and more customization than you’ll know what to do with. Seriously, you’re able to tweak every little part of the game to your liking and create any kind of game you want, especially when combined with the updated Forge mode which allows you to create your own levels on the fly. The amount of options here is staggering, yet it’s easy as pie to join a party and jump right into a match. Bungie’s always had a focus on multiplayer combat and it’s evident here as one of the finest examples of multiplayer mayhem available to consoles. You might want to keep that mute button handy, though- the popularity of the game also brings with it the usual element that plagues online console games.
 
Co-op fans will not only get a much-improved version of Halo: ODST‘s Firefight mode but a new mode called Invasion which has two teams facing each other a la Battlefield Bad Company‘s Rush mode. One team attacks two positions while the other defends- if the attackers win the defenders fall back to the next position, until there’s nowhere left to go. It’s incredible fun.
 
     


THE
PRESENTATION

 
The graphics don’t look much improved in screenshots but once you’re in battle you’ll notice how much better everything is. There’s so much more detail to the world this time, so many more characters on screen at once. It’s definitely not the finest graphics engine around but it sure keeps things pretty and colorful, something appreciated in any first person shooter these days.
 



CHUDTIP:
Revenants are easily the greatest new vehicles- bascially a ghost that fires an energy round like the Wraith’s.


The music doesn’t feel as memorable as previous entries and can get a
tad repetitive, but it does the job. The sound effects are classic at
this point and you know exactly what kind of weapon or grenade is coming
your way just from listening.
 
THE
REPLAY

 
Let’s see. We’ve got a long campaign that’s so much fun in single player that you’ll want to start it over immediately to try out co-op (which is even more fun), more multiplayer modes than you can count, two massive co-op modes with their own maps, an improved Forge mode that lets you create your own levels more easily than ever before, and tons of armor and achievements to unlock with experience gained with every single mode in the game.

This is an absolutely incredible set, and you’re not going to be putting it down for a long, long time.



CHUDTIP:
Crow tastes best braised, with some Frank’s Red Hot liberally applied.


THE
VERDICT


Bungie has done the unthinkable, creating a new Halo with a stellar campaign on top of the already-fantastic multiplayer.  Easily the best Halo game of them all, it offers something for everyone. Detractors (of which I was one), fear not- this is the kind of game we always wished the series would turn into.

9.5 out of 10