The lights are on
Players and fanzoids have been awaiting this game. Ever since the source material that explained the origin of Halo's singular hero and enemies, Master Chief and the Covenant, first hit bookshelves, players have long dreamt of reliving the fateful and tragic event. Bungie, however, has delivered with this incredible offering, Halo polished to its finest in combat and multiplayer, with the grandest sense of conflict overwhelming you each time the vicious hordes of Covenant soldiers attack. You are Noble Team, and you have what soon evolves into nothing more than a suicidal fight for survival, in a nearly flawless game.
This game spans eleven action-packed and varied missions, taking you to myriad places throughout the world of Reach, and through numerous scenarios, from fallen cities to subterranean bases, often with new plot developments that inform players on much of the events before the first Halo. In fact, players will learn the origin of one of the most pivotal figures in the Halo series, a fact I won't spoil. However, the ominous and telltale chords of O'Donnell's consistently fantastic score constantly remind you, even as allies perish by your side, that you will eventually become a casualty of war.
Corpses from fallen soldiers litter some of the Halo series' most impressively constructed levels, brimming with moments of variety, tight controls, and improvements like special Armor Abilities that give your fighters an edge in a battle already stacked against them. My personal favorites are Drop Shield and Sprint, although I too was stricken with the urge to launch into the sky with a jet-pack for some adrenaline-filled kills. However, amid the frantic and jaw-dropping campaign's higher moments, we must take a second to realize that this story isn't ultimately about failure, but the sacrifices that lead to success - you will learn how Noble Team's actions influence the story that Halo is derived from.
However, in order for most players to recognize these sacrifices, they have to empathize with the characters involved. Will you? To some degree, yes, though Bungie still has not solved a problem they managed to court in ODST, ironically not the "true followup" in the series. Players know that I'm not talking about Rookie, the clumsy and silent hero that seems more like a militarized version of Shaggy from Scooby Doo, but his compatriots, who spoke and cheered and cursed and breathed personality while they defended New Mombasa. Noble Team's rigid characters are a far cry from anything other than stock archetypes, and as partners die around you, you will probably feel more frustration than pity, due to how hollow the characters ring. Perhaps the more serious tone of the story overall contributes to this, ending up with Bungie taking themselves too seriously (even the weapons sound fiercer) when their outlandishly brash and comedic dialogue has been one of the series' defining aspects, and helped balance the tone of previous offerings. Yet, the level Lone Wolf more than accommodates for this weakness, and with its close, the inevitable message of this story rings true.
Of course, the campaign is not what players love so much as the multi-player, which excels with even more ways to customize your characters (tweaks which will be seen during in-game cutscenes, etc.), and a Forge World mode that makes up for the lackluster one featured in Halo 3. The maps are tailor-made for perfection, with a few doctored classics from previous entries, each allowing for optimum carnage and entertainment. Firefight mode, the bastion of ODST, has also been perfected and feels right at home here, rather than tacked-on. Or, if you're an old school Halo vet, Slayer will fit the bill nicely. I was intrigued by the way the game encourages teamwork and strategy in such modes as "Generator Defense", and "Invasion". Bungie has given players their absolute greatest effort, and it shows, promising extreme longevity for the series.
In conclusion, Halo: Reach lives up to our expectations, and then some. It challenges us, easily throwing hurtle after hurtle in our way, obstructing every hope we have of survival, and yet, rewards our failure with many small successes. In terms of character, this story is no Mass Effect, because action is what it was made for, and this game never loses its focus. Bungie has left a dent in the industry the size of a blast from a Scarab plasma cannon, and 343 will have some big shoes to fill.
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