STAFF REVIEW of Halo: Reach (Xbox 360)

Monday, September 20, 2010.
by Adam Dileva

Halo: Reach Box art Halo has become a household name since its first introduction to gamers everywhere back on the original Xbox. Bungie has done so well with the Halo franchise that it?s spawned games (obviously), books, toys, costumes, and even drinks and chips (and hopefully a movie sooner than later).

I have to give Bungie some major credit; it takes some guts to do a prequel game where your fans already know the outcome of the main plot. Couple this with not using the main hero from the previous games as the protagonist and I?d say you?d have to have a huge pair to try and pull something like this off.

Luckily for all us Halo fans, Bungie is able to pull this off with a new engine, new characters, new settings and more. Halo 3 was ?finish the fight?; Halo Reach is ?start the fight?.

Before Master Chief could save Earth and the universe from the brink of extinction, mankind was having its own battle for survival; this battle took place on the planet Reach. This is a different war against the Covenant that we?ve come to known; they are extremely ruthless and a handful of Spartan soldiers will make their final stand as mankind?s last line of defense. The battle on Reach shaped history and it?s darker and massive story will be told for years to come.

It?s no secret that the Covenant eventually glass planet Reach, but the story that unfolds to those last fateful moments are being told in this game and unfold beautifully across the length of the campaign. If you?ve read the wonderfully written novel from Eric Nylund ?The Fall of Reach?, then you have a basic idea of what happened on the planet in its last moments. This is absolutely not a retelling of the book and quite a few situations are completely different as well (The book follows Master Chiefs journey, where the game focus? solely on Noble Squad).

Sure you know the ending and what happens, but much like life, it?s the journey to that destination that makes the great story. You don?t play as Master Chief this time around; you are a member in Noble Squad. Carter, Kat, Jun, Emile, Jorge and you; Noble 6. You are replacing the previous Noble 6 that you will remember if you saw the latest live action trailer for the game when he bravely sacrificed himself in an emotional ending.

Now that you a member of the Spartan squad, there is no more of that lone-wolf thinking like when you were controlling Master Chief and it was you against the Covenant. You actually feel a part of the squad and you?ll connect with most of the team (though I hated Kat from the get-go) which makes for a much more emotional and impactful storyline.

There are some great tie-in moments that will have you going ?ahhhh? once you put the puzzle pieces together. Campaigns length is on par for average compared to shooters now a days but Legendary is going to add dramatically to those hours, as it?s a rough go and very challenging. The story never suffers from poor or slow pacing and always keeps you engaged. The ending sequence is simply brilliant and I can?t think of a better way to end Noble 6?s saga that paves the way for all the other Halo titles. I do have to admit, the story in general was not what I was expecting at all (I guess I was looking for more of the novel?s version), but that?s not a bad thing and I was completely impressed with how impactful the plot felt. I truly felt like because of me, Master Chief begins his story.

I won?t give anything away about the story other than what you already know, so I?ll move onto gameplay. Much criticism that Bungie has received in previous games was due to their bland ?corridor shooting? style of level design. Luckily, this is not the case in Reach and there is much more outdoor and open space to work with.

Since the first Halo really made the shield recharging health system popular, it?s been used in countless games since. With Halo ODST, the more traditional health pack system was implemented (due to ODST?s not having Mjolnir armor like the Spartans) and it returns in Reach for Noble Squad because this was before the Mark V armor that had the Covenant technology of recharging shields. This means you?ll take a little more time to explore so you know where the medipaks are when you finish taking on a Hunter.

Adding features to a game with such a following is a very tricky situation; on one hand you want to stay true to what made Halo so great, and on the other you need to add new things to keep it fresh and attract new players as well. It?s a fine line of pleasing the fan base and also making new ones (just like how at a concert, you always want to hear the classic hits to go along with the new stuff). Say hello to Reach?s new gameplay addition: Armor Loadouts and Abilities.

Armor Loadouts in essence are combinations of a primary (and sometimes secondary) weapon, type of grenade, and an Armor Abilitiy to customize to suit your play style or based on what map or mode you are playing at that time. These carry over intomultiplayer and campaign as well and add a completely new strategic element to gameplay.

Armor abilities replace the equipment that you used to find on the ground in Halo 3. Instead, whatever ability you choose is now built into your armor and can be used on the fly. Every ability has its own cool down period, length of use, effectiveness and more.

Sprint will do just that; make your character have a burst of speed for a short amount of time. This is great for quickly covering a small stretch of ground or getting out of the way of an incoming enemy. Active Camouflage will give you invisibility whenever deemed fit. It works for a short amount of time and will even jam any nearby enemies? radars (but that also tells them you are close by). Jet Pack is incredibly useful and allows you to reach heights or cross gaps quickly; you can even shoot or snipe while mid-air. Armor Lock allows you to momentarily become invincible against all kinds of damage for a short time; the downfall is that you can?t move and your shields come down shortly after you?ve disengaged it. Hologram is a fun ability that will make a clone of you run in a straight line to your marker. This is great for flushing out or distracting enemies. While the hologram doesn?t do anything but run in its set course, it?s always rewarding to see someone trying to kill the fake you. Drop Shield is a portable Bubble Shield that we?ve come to love since Halo 3. No more having to find the equipment on the ground, bring it with you whenever you need it. The last ability is an Elite only one called Evade. It?s essentially a very quick dash and roll that makes you difficult to hit but has the same benefits as the Sprint ability. Bungie was smart enough to not include every Armor Ability on every map or mode; for example, King of the Hill mode won?t include Armor Lock because it would simply be unbalancing.

The inclusion of Forge in Halo 3 was a great tool for people to create their own custom maps and variants. Forge returns in Reach but is so improved and has a plethora of options that will keep you here a very long time if you?re a level creator. Forge World is the name for a giant canvas that?s about the size of almost five Blood Gultch maps; yea, it?s that big. There?s simply an exhausting amount of options to play around with in Forge World that I?m still figuring out how all of them work. There are so many small improvements as well such as being able to snap items to an invisible grid; meaning no more special tricks to get rid of those seam lines in your connected walls. The same goes for making objects float; no more tricks needed, it?s an option in the menus. Play around with Forge World and you?ll quickly notice what?s actually available now to make the map that you?ve always wanted.

Everyone knows that Halo is only as good as its multiplayer, as that is what?s going to keep it in your systems tray for months on end. Reach does definitely not disappoint and is easily the most robust offering yet from Bungie. In all previous Halo games, you?ve been unable to play campaign or Firefight with Matchmaking; it always had to be with friends or an invite. Finally, you?ll be able to do this with new and random people, and while it may not seem like a big deal, I don?t always have three friends online willing to do a campaign run with me at three in the morning.

Every time you play Reach you will earn credits (even in campaign) which can then be accumulated and used to purchase new armor to customize your Spartan. Sure they are only visual and have no special abilities, but once you see how much some of the armor costs you will be very impressed when you see someone with that matching set that took months of credit hoarding to accumulate. Completing challenges set forth from Bungie will net you bonus credits and there?s always something to work towards other than winning matches; the daily and weekly challenges will reflect these goals.

If you played Halo ODST, you then most likely played the new mode it introduced: Firefight. This has you fighting with your team against waves of progressively tougher enemies until you eventually lose all your lives. Firefight from ODST was a demo compared to what it?s like in Reach. Everything is absolutely customizable from your weapon power, which enemies spawn on what waves and almost infinitely more. Want to see how long you can survive against all Grunts with Fuel Rod cannons, go for it!

Invasion is a new 6 vs 6 objective based game mode that puts Spartans vs Elites in an attack and defend play type. The attacking Elites are trying to reach one of two areas they need to take over and if they do, phase two of the map opens up and the Elites need to capture the next section. While Spartans are trying to defend the whole time, they?ll also have to deal with both sides gaining more weapons and abilities as phases open up. Invasion Slayer is an entertaining variant that has both teams focusing on trying to get the randomly placed territories around the map. Once a team captures the territory, a weapon drop happens which could be anything from to some power weapons or even some vehicles. It?s a great mode that encourages both teams to constantly move as bunkering down in one area will let the other team get all the weapon drops and easily turn the tide of battle. The first team to 100 kills wins and it comes surprisingly quick.

The new mode: Headhunter, is a simple yet fun objective. When you kill someone they drop a skull, you then take these skulls to the randomly activated territories around the map. You are able to carry as many skulls at a time as you wish, but everyone can see how many skulls you have and if you carry too many, people will start coming after you. The goal is to capture 25 skulls and becomes quite frantic once you are looking for the territory to offload your earnings. It?s all about risk vs reward, do you go for the big haul at once or slowly widdle away at your skull count?

Stockpile is also a new mode that kind of plays with this risk vs reward nuance. Two teams battle for four neutral flags that are scored every sixty seconds on the dot. The catch is that the flags have to be in your base?s capture spot on that minute mark for the points to count; meaning, even if you are holding the flag or it?s just outside the zone, it won?t count. There?s a constant push and pull happening as you?re trying to steal their flags or simply defend your own. I like to play by hiding near their base and at the last second, throw theirs out of their scoring zone while the rest of my team tries to capture our own points. There?s a ton of different strategies I?ve already seen for this mode and it?s always a mix up.

If you are into competition then you are going to love the new Arena. This is the new ranking system, meaning that the old way of ranking in the past is gone and ratings and divisions are in. Play 3 Arena matches in a day and you?ll get a rating of your best 2 matches that day, gain 10 ratings within a month?s time (a Season) and you?ll get put into a Division. Your Division placement will be viewable on your service record and is going to be a great way for competitive players to brag. All your standard modes are included in multiplayer as well, but Arena is going to be where the top players go to prove themselves.

So you?re finally convinced that Halo Reach is awesome and you need to play it right? Well, when you get to the store to pick it up you?re going to see 3 different boxes, all based on how much you want to spend or how much of a Halo fanatic you are like myself.

Obviously you can simply get the regular edition that?s just the game, but for those of us that want some more there?s two more options. The Limited Edition will net you the game (obviously), an Elite armor set for multiplayer, a book that contains Dr. Halsey?s personal journal and notes (among other small goodies like a patch and keycard); all of this is encased in an awesome looking ONI ?black box?.

For those that want everything, the Legendary Edition is for you. It comes with everything in the Limited Edition (even the box it comes in) but the big ticket item is the 10? statue made by the gifted people at McFarlane Toys. It?s the Noble Team (without Noble 6 for obvious player custom reasons) and looks amazing on any collectors? shelf. The other cool bonus you?ll get is a Spartan armor effect aptly named ?Flaming Helmet? which even carries over to campaign (though not the cut scenes).

No game is perfect and bug free, Reach included. That being said, the only thing I can really find that?s noteworthy is the slowdown at certain key parts in campaign, to the point of being a hindrance, though it?ll only last for a few seconds. Every other aspect of Reach is so wonderfully crafted and multiplayer will have you playing for so long to save op for those expensive armor parts, which it doesn?t really matter in the big scheme of things.

This is Bungie?s last Halo title; yup, they are moving onto something new from here on and it?s quite apparent that they wanted to go out with a bang. This is their biggest Halo to date, the multiplayer is leaps and bounds over previous games, and the campaign is so wonderfully crafted with an absolute perfect ending sequence that it needs to be mentioned again.

Halo Reach feels like their goodbye love letter to Halo fans and it?s apparent that they?ve put a lot of heart and soul into making this a memorable Halo title even without the Chief. Even if you are Halo?d out or was turned off from ODST, get Reach; it?s a new take but still brings back those old Halo CE feelings from back in the day. You may not be the Master Chief, Noble 6, but I?ll remember what you and your squad had to sacrifice for the rest of us on Earth living oblivious to the immanent invasion after Reach fell.

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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