by Keaton Arksey
reviewed on X360
Exploring the Reach
The single player campaign travels all over the planet Reach. From mountains to military bases to urban centres, Reach runs the gamut of level design. In true Bungie tradition, one of the levels is redone near the end of the game with a new skin. Reach also provides some of the largest battles in Halo history, with multiple vehicles on the battlefield while units on both sides duke it out. Easily the biggest departure from Halo level design are the new space battles. About halfway through the Noble Six commandeer a Sabre aircraft and enter the skies above Reach. This marks the first time in Halo that space battles have been playable, and it is a pretty enjoyable experience. It is not a particularly long segment, but provides some astounding vistas (something most of the levels in Reach also provide) and is one of the highlights of the game. The traditional colour scheme of purples and blues has been replaced with a darker, grittier take. It matches the game's tone at the sake of giving up one of the major reasons Halo is different from your typical military shooters.
Reach is one of the more story focused games in the Halo series. There are some moments of tension between the members of Noble Team, but they are not carried through all the way. The other members are rarely given much time to develop much of a personality but they definitely feel more human than the Master Chief, partially because you see their faces. Whereas previous games tended to focus more on the war itself, Reach is more focused on the human tale with civilians who need to be evacuated. It is not a phenomenal story by any means, but it suffices and provides a nice beginning for the rest of the Halo games. That being said, the ending still provides a good emotional kick that should leave you with some feeling of loss.
Smarter enemy AI
Once again Bungie has outdone themselves when it comes to AI design. Grunts, whose military purpose is exactly what it sounds like, will throw grenades and commit to a suicide rush should their squad leaders get killed. The Elites, who are the military leaders of the Covenant, make their return as enemies for the first time since Halo 2, and they are as tough as ever. The Elites are stronger than the Spartan II's and are easily capable of taking you out in one or two melee attacks. The Elites also make good use of the armour abilities. The Elites will use their jetpacks to get to higher ground, their dodge to quickly escape grenades or any slow moving projectile, and armour lock to destroy your vehicle should you try and run them over. Sadly, your friendly AI does not match these heights. Random soldiers will get caught on pieces of geometry, and they still do not know how to drive aggressively.
Mood and graphics
It would be easy to deride the graphics of Reach as archaic. It is true that this is not the best looking game in the world, but compared to Halo 3 it is a massive improvement. The models are more detailed and the faces are vastly improved. Design-wise, things are much the same. The Elites are a bit taller than they were before, which is meant to imply their superior strength. The Brutes have a little ape-like features, which is slightly off-putting. Of special note is the armour of the Covenant, as their designs are varied and help to easily distinguish the various ranks of the Covenant.
Marty O`Donnell once again provides the soundtrack and it perfectly encapsulates the mood at almost every moment. The music can be sorrowful when it needs to be, and pick right back up for a big action sequence. The biggest compliment you can give the music of a game is that it is not distracting and the music excels at that. Reach definitely has one of the best soundtracks of the year.
Updated graphics, phenomenal soundtrack, additions to gameplay that retain the Halo gameplay and are fun, and an amazing amount of content.
Some lag issues in Firefight mode, some visual choppiness.