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Halo Reach: A Review

*Originally Posted on 09/22/10 on blogspot.com*

If you're like me and you keep up-to-date about the world of video games, you might remember about five months ago when Roger Ebert claimed he didn't view video games as a true art form.  Everything else (films, TV, music, even art) is worth our fine, civilized tastes.  Well, the gaming world went aflame and anyone who heard that went wild, citing examples such as BioShock and God of War III as examples of a true art form.

Well, now it's my turn.  At first, I thought that Red Dead Redemption would be a good example.  It's great eye-candy, it's got a magnificent storyline (as most Rockstar games do), and it's a hell of a lot of fun.  However, it never really connects to what, according to Mr. Ebert, a true art form is.  The action is broken up at times thanks to its non-linear story, some of your tasks and objectives are mundane (I'm looking at you, Nightwatch), and there isn't really a connection with the gamer and the main character.  Yeah, it's sad at the end because you followed John Marston through all these trials, and to see it come to a tragic end after a period of peace is a little heartbreaking, but at no point during the game did I truly connect to Marston.  I controlled him, but I wasn't actually him.

That's where Halo: Reach comes in.  I'll try not to spoil it for those who haven't finished it (which you should, that was the first thing I did), but if you're like me, you knew what was going to happen as soon as, maybe even before you bought the game.

Halo: Reach is set right before Halo: Combat Evolved.  Literally.  The end of this game is the beginning of Halo 1.  In fact, during the last cinematic, you can actually see Master Chief John-117 in his cryo-tube on the Pillar of Autumn.  It's a nice way for Bungie to end their involvement with the Halo franchise (at the time of this writing, I believe 343 Industries and Microsoft are picking up the Halo franchise, and if they plan on continuing it, they would).  It brings everything full-circle, from the Fall of Reach to the Battle for Earth and the end of the Human-Covenant War (I don't count Halo: Wars because it was made by Ensemble).

You start out as a nameless, faceless Spartan named Noble Six.  You've just joined the prestigious Noble Team after the loss of the previous Noble Six.  Noble Team is stationed on Reach, a distant planet much like Earth that is the base of command for the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).  The team is composed of Carter (Noble One), Kat (Two), Emile (Three), Jun (Four), Jorge (Five), and yourself (Six).  If you've seen details of Reach, Carter is the no-nonsense leader, Kat is the tech-savvy chick with a robot arm, Emile is the guy who's got the skull carved into his helmet, Jun is the sniper, and Jorge is the bulky-armored Spartan that carries the turret.  As opposed to Halos 1-3 and ODST, you can change the way you appear in cinematics and in gameplay, using the character you create for online matches.  This is really the first way that you feel more involved, because you're not playing as Master Chief or The Rookie from ODST, you are Noble Six in both the campaign and matchmaking.  The main plot of Halo: Reach is that the Covenant have found Reach and are planning a full-scale invasion.  Your job is to stop the Covenant and drive them back, however, it's not as easy as it looks.  The Covenant have brought out all the big guns, and Reach is going to fall.  The question is when, and how much are they going to take down with Reach.

Every mission plays out much like the Halo formula.  You go from Point A to Point B, shoot some aliens, then from Point B to C, repeat.  However, in this game the battles are much bigger.  Thanks to a new engine that Reach runs on, you can be facing 30+ Covies at any point.  This seems like it's a lot, but thanks to the fact that there are six Spartans instead of one your share of the carnage is broken up a bit.  While you don't always run with everybody, you don't feel like you're taking on the Covenant alone, as opposed to the other games where you were the only super-powered human shooting at them.  As you play, you'll encounter new weapons like the BR-inspired DMR and the Needler/DMR love-child the Needle Rifle.  Along with the new weapons come Armor Abilities, which replace carrying equipment.  At any time, provided the ability has energy to use, you can use a jet pack, go invisible (which also scrambles radar, inconvenient), or drop a bubble shield that also replenishes your health (invaluable, this thing saved my ass more than any other ability).  

During the entire game you keep feeling a sense of disappointment.  After completing about a half-hour mission you seem to get the upper hand on the Covenant, find a weak point in their defenses, or discover a way that can drive them back, at least for now.  However, only moments later, that plan backfires when your big human ship is blasted out of the sky by an even bigger Covenant ship.  It's the story of Reach, and it delivers.  It gets your hopes up, only to have them be crushed.  By the end of the story, you really aren't concerned with saving Reach as much as getting off Reach and letting the Covenant have it.  It's only a matter of what needs to be saved, and how much longer do you have before the entire planet falls.

Thanks to the new engine, Reach's landscapes make Red Dead's look silly.  The vibrant colors and extraordinary details make this debatable as the best-looking game on the 360.  In the distance you can see other battles taking shape, large ships taking off and landing, and up close the grass isn't only animated when you're on top of it (coughHalo3cough).  The voice acting is decent, it's not overly exceptional but it gets the job done.  Everything syncs up and the casting seems right.  Through the visuals, sound, and story, it begs the question, "How isn't this a work of art?  How is this different from a finely crafted film, or a well-written book?"


Of course, I'd be a fool to mention Reach without going into the multiplayer.  Reach retains the standard Slayer and Objective gametypes, while adding Firefight to the multiplayer scene.  A few new additions as well are the Invasion and Headhunter gametypes.  Invasion is a six-on-six Elites vs. Humans Objective game, with either Humans or Elites trying to gain ground on the opposing team.  Headhunter is much like an Oddball game.  Everyone starts with one skull, and by killing another player, you collect their skulls.  You then must deposit skulls at the proper site, which records the score.  It's an interesting game, because you need to strategize when to deposit skulls, because the more skulls you have the more popular you become and you'll find yourself under fire more.  As you level up in the game, you earn credits which go to buying new armor pieces, such as helmets, chestpieces, and shoulders.  It can get a little tedious though, because even though your chestpiece has multiple slots that look like they hold more grenades, you actually don't.  It's merely for cosmetics, and it's not really worth your credits.


At first the multiplayer was hindered by a small list of available gametypes, only playable in certain lobbies.  This has been fixed, and you can select if you want to play SWAT or Snipers or even Living Dead; by choosing the appropriate lobby you're given a list of three games and maps and the players vote on which one they want to play on.  Another change to multiplayer is the loadouts, which are 1-5 available classes with primary and secondary weapons, grenades, and armor abilities that you can choose from.  However, it can only be accessed while you're respawning, so no switching armor abilities on the fly, which is okay.  Another really nitpicky thing is that many times you find yourself respawning right next to an enemy, which gets you killed.  Really not cool, Bungie.


The only problems with Reach stem from the multiplayer, and if you don't play on multiplayer (why wouldn't you?) then you shouldn't have any problems with this game at all.  The story is Call-of-Duty-caliber, and the visuals put Modern Warfare 2 to shame.  All in all, it's a really solid game, especially the campaign, and if it isn't the kind of art that Roger Ebert likes, then, well, who cares?  Sure, he's a highly credited film critic, but what gives him the authority to say what is and what isn't art?  Art is a medium that is open to interpretation, and depending on what you say is art, then you can decide what is and isn't art.  And according to my definition of art, Halo: Reach is the Mona Lisa, the Citizen Kane, and the Beethoven's...greatest symphony he wrote of video games.

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