The scene opens on a shot with part of the void of space being filled by a planet. The composition of the frame brings a flash of a memory to mind, but joy quickly dissipates at the realization that the Battlestar Galactica and the ships it has kept safe is not coming in from the right of the screen. That is not Earth, which holds all the hope of mankind in that universe. It is Reach, a doomed planet without hope, only a story.
As most players familiar with the Halo mythology know the events on Reach takes place before the first Halo game. As the forgotten helmet in the beginning suggests things are not looking too good for Reach as the Covenant attacks, yet as the game progresses the player must fight for a planet whose outcome is already written into the history books, adding an overriding tragic feel to the efforts of the team in which the gameplay follows.
The player fights as Noble 6, the newest addition into the Noble team in this first person shooter that will feel all too familiar to the fans of the series. The lack of a cover system may be slightly off-putting for those who find comfort in them, but you will quickly learn of the satisfaction of running headlong into the firefight, battle cry echoing out, possibly culminating with the satisfying thwack of your elbow to an enemy’s head. If you make it that far without getting gunned down of course. Though getting used to reloading a checkpoint is never a fun thing to do, this style of gameplay does add an additional level of excitement that cannot be felt by a stealthier series. Besides, a soldier in this battle armor would never be caught dead clinging to the cover of a doorframe.
The level design and gameplay is also nothing new to the Halo fans for the most part, taking combat against the enemy factions through open fields, inside buildings, and up on four wheels careening around the landscape. One nice addition that mixes it up is a mission involving some epic space battles, bringing back nostalgic memories of the glory of Star Fox 64. Unfortunately this change does not last too long before diving back into the usual gunplay.
Luckily enough there is an additional change to the game involving the co-op campaign, making it possible for four friends to play through the game together. All players will play as their own version of Noble 6, and though it is slightly strange to not find a way to incorporate every player’s character within the cutscenes, this option is definitely the best way to experience the game. During the solo campaign it is easy to get attached to the other characters in the team as they throw themselves into dangerous situations, and this feeling of camaraderie is amplified by having friends tagging along in the missions (as opposed to having Master Chief running around with a bunch of nameless soldiers who die rather quickly). Not only does it further the emotional pull of the story, but there is just nothing like the humor that comes along with friends at your side. Sure, it might be ridiculously easy to accidentally grenade a friend (their fault of course for running into the line of fire), but it sure is nice to have someone there to give you your last rites after respawning on the wrong side of a glass elevator.
Though Reach’s story is probably one of the first times that the story has actually felt like it has an impact as the game is being played, the multiplayer is where most will be found for the months to come, or years for the freakishly dedicated. Hardcore players will find triumph in racking up kills, collecting skulls, capturing flags, or dancing over bodies killed at their hands, collecting points to use to further fill their soldier’s closet with new armor pieces. On the other hand, those in it just for fun are still capable of just going in and having a good time (just consider muting the other players if this is the direction you lean in). With that in mind, this is another great place to have friends in tow, especially because they will be less likely to start yelling hateful things about certain noob like qualities of skill level.
Bungie has had a great run with the Halo series and Halo: Reach is definitely allowing them to go out on top. The multiplayer and campaign both satisfy in their own ways, and for once the story is actually capable of tugging at the heartstrings with a beautiful soundtrack, storyline, and group of characters. Even though the planet’s fate is sealed long before the disk goes in the system’s tray the ending is still one that will bring on chills in even the most robotic of people. But if you have to tell yourself that tear was from the dust shooting out from some aircraft’s takeoff, then so be it, everyone else will be too busy wiping theirs away as well.
Final Grade: 9/10
If you haven’t yet consider picking up Halo: Reach on Amazon.com today.