Cracking open Halo: Reach and starting up the campaign is like seeing your best friend from school after summer break. He’s taller, his hair is a little different, and his new favorite word is “class ability,” but he’s still the same guy that you hung out with every day after school talking about how cool that new video game is going to be. If you’ve played a Halo game in the past, then Reach is going to feel familiar, and that’s a good thing. Halo games, like them or not, are one of the measuring sticks of console FPS games for a reason – they are consistently good across game modes so no matter if you are coming for the single player, the co-op, or the competitive multiplayer, you’re getting a well-polished and well-balanced product.
For half of you there is nothing to spoil in terms of narrative and for the other half there is everything to spoil so I won’t go into the story much beyond this: you are Noble 6, the newest addition to Noble Team. Noble Team plays a pivotal role in the battle for Reach, and the story is satisfying all the way through. I found that I enjoyed the story more in ODST than I did here, but I think that is because I found myself connecting more with the Rookie’s squad than I did with the various members of Noble Team. The Noble folks are great, don’t get me wrong, but I think most of us have an easier time seeing through the visor of a regular (but still badass) soldier than that of what had may as well be a superhero.
The real reason that Halo is such a behemoth is multiplayer. Bungie know this, and with it being their farewell to the series, Reach delivers everything you remember and love from previous Halo titles and adds new features that enrich the experience. Borrowing and iterating on the mode created for ODST, Firefight returns and is better than ever thanks to the inclusion of matchmaking and system tweaks that allow a player to leave the match without ending the fun for everybody else. Matchmaking has also been added to cooperative campaign which is a great addition for those unlucky people who love people but have no similarly-minded friends.
Competitive multiplayer is the same as it ever was, but that works because as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. What Bungie did do was add another gametype. Invasion pits Spartans against Elites in an asymmetrical round of territories. Initially one side holds all of the points. The other team wins when/if they manage to capture all of the points. It is great to see a new mode that encourages teamwork, and it really shows off how the different armor classes work together.
That’s right, classes. Bungie’s biggest addition to Reach and what really sets it apart from Halo 3 and ODST is the credits system and the fact that (as a Spartan) your own Noble 6 follows you from mode to mode, and no matter what you’re doing you are earning credits that can be spent on buying new armor pieces from the shop. However you design your campaign Noble 6 that’s how you will be represented in Invasion, in Team Slayer, in Firefight, and in every other multiplayer mode you play. The only change from campaign to multiplayer is that you’ll choose an armor ability from the outset and stick with it in multi. And that’s fine with me – the campaign needs more times when it makes sense to grab things that aren’t the drop shield. It’s refreshing to hop into multi and feel like the jet pack will be useful for more than getting from Point A to Point B. I am sure that this is due to my personal play style, but if you give me the chance to play medic, even a little bit, that is probably what I am going to do. Nothing done feels like a waste, and the multiplayer experience is not reinvented because it didn’t need to be, but it is iterated on in all the right places.
Halo: Reach is exactly what it needs to be – a love letter from Bungie to Halo and its fans. Games don’t get much better than this, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if it doesn’t end up on your shelf.
Pros: Persistent leveling (credits) system, new Invasion gametype, improved firefight and campaign matchmaking
Cons: Few armor abilities feel more useful in campaign than drop shield