As you may know, Bungie’s contract with Microsoft has ended with the release of Halo: Reach for the Xbox 360, so Bungie is moving on to greener pastures (…well…) with Activision, and a brand new IP of their own. As for Halo, the license for the name stays with Microsoft, and the next Halo game would likely not be developed by Bungie. That said, Reach is an amazingly fitting tribute to the end of a glorious decade of rocking hard and saving the world.
Somewhat like Halo: ODST, you don’t play as the Master Chief, Spartan-II John-117 (that’s who he is!), but nor as a wimpy human ODST. You are actually Spartan B312 of the Spartan-III project headed by Colonel James Ackerson, trained by the Master Chief’s former trainer, Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez and former Spartan-II Kurt-051. A part of Spartan-III Beta Company… wait… you didn’t know all that. Well. That’s who you are. (Go read Ghosts of Onyx. It’s good!) Well, it may be strange, but Reach does a bit of retcon-ing of the Halo story by bringing the Spartan-IIIs to Reach, as well as putting Jorge-052 (most definitely a Spartan-II) under the command of Spartan-IIIs. Reach’s story actually falls a bit more under the jurisdiction of an untold tale of the Human-Covenant War, and whether the timelines for the development of the Spartan-III project’s Beta Company are in line with the novels written by Eric Nylund is a bit up in the air… which ties into my first point.
Halo: Reach – The Story
Sadly, Halo: Reach’s story falls a bit flat. As Halo fans, Bungie has treated us to a viewing of the final moments of Reach, which is quite frankly, the worst possible place to start the story. We are thrown into the conflict almost immediately, discovering the Covenant have arrived on Reach, and are looking for something. Yes, this gets us into the action right away. However, the book, ‘The Fall of Reach’ actually begins with the training of the Spartan-IIs, their bio-augmentation, and getting to know the important Spartans. If Bungie wanted us to play as Spartan-IIIs, where the program began after the Human-Covenant War began, they could have begun by starting the story on Onyx, where the Spartan-IIIs were developed and trained. It would make far more sense to have the player’s Spartan-III develop from a deployment behind Covenant lines (S-IIIs were developed as lower cost, mass-production, infiltration force designed to punch through Covenant worlds and strongholds to cripple them). The story of Spartan B312 could begin here, in a covert-op crippling enemy operations, and then being pulled post-op to head to Reach.
In the case of a Spartan-II main character, you could receive orders from the Chief himself, allowing Bungie to develop the Master Chief’s character as the novels had done (Reach was the home base of the S-IIs). This would have allowed for the players to witness a mission where a Covenant scouting party was located at a Forerunner ruin site on Reach, uncovering the Forerunner artifacts and information about the first Halo ring, Installation 04. This would allow for a lot more time in game with Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan-IIs, plus a greater appreciation for the human planet that is Reach.
In addition to the somewhat rushed introduction, Reach’s missions are a bit contextually boring. While the ultimate objective of defending Reach and holding out against the inevitable is there, there are a lot of boring objectives to complete in between. I don’t understand why Bungie chose to go for a ‘this was Reach, this was her final moments, this is how we humans defended our world’ sort of story. Personally, as a fan of the Halo lore, I wanted to play the game, to understand how the Covenant had discovered Reach, and to understand why Reach was so important. Instead, Bungie chooses to make you do a bunch of ‘help this area out’ tasks and crams the importance of Reach into 2 chapters out of the 10 in the campaign. Bad move, Bungie.
Overall, there were a lot of ways Bungie could have handled the story and options for storytelling that would have enhanced the experience, and ultimately did not, which is a bit of a disappointment. This is still far better than ODST, mind you, as I still grew attached to my Noble Six character, and the ending was heart-wrenching for me, even though I knew it was coming.
Halo: Reach – Gameplay
Did I mention you’re a Spartan? Yes. Cause Reach certainly lets you be one. As compared to ODST where a lot of time was spent hiding and cowering in fear (ODSTs love to brag that they’re tough, but really, the game ODST just proves they’re still sissies.), you are a Spartan-III, no less tough than a good ol’ Spartan-II. When Command wants you to go forth and kick space booty, you do so with FINESSE. Command says blow up that tower? TEAR IT DOWN WITH YOUR FISTS OF FURY. Wipe out that Covenant armada? YES PLEASE. Reach brings Halo back to all those badass moments and then some. The controls are more refined and smoother than ever. Halo feels like Halo again. Whether you’re a sniper or a brawler, Reach will satisfy your thirst to do some crazy shit to own some alien face. Addition of the Armor Abilities makes handling each and every combat situation unique and exciting. Reach more so than any other Halo game before it has given players so much more freedom in how they execute a siege on enemy positions, truly a welcome addition.
As well, the introduction of ‘Classes’ to Reach’s multiplayer, as well as the Invasion and improved Firefight modes are incredible. Bungie has definitely spent a lot of time on developing and balancing the multiplayer, which is arguably, perfect. Forge has been improved greatly since Halo 3, even allowing multiple players in an online party to venture into Forge to make some of the largest and craziest custom maps. Plus the addition of a credit system, where doing anything in the game pretty much earns you credits to buy more aesthetic armor parts for your custom Spartan is very welcome. I have to admit, I’m pretty addicted to collecting all the armor parts.
While I trashed a bit on the weak campaign storytelling, the campaign is definitely one of the better gameplay segments. Bungie knows how to mix it up. There are missions where you just run and gun like old times, but unlike the Chief or the ODSTs, you’re not always running and gunning or always cowering in fear. There are missions where you’ll be stealthily taking down Covenant forces, there’s a jumpjet platforming battle. THERE IS A MISSION WHERE YOU’RE FLYING IN SPACE IN A FIGHTER SHOOTING DOWN COVENANT FIGHTERS. The campaign is never short of epic gameplay moments. Count on it.
Conclusion – Farewell, Bungie!
Aside from the lackluster story, Reach delivers in every other area. As a fitting tribute to the end of Bungie’s work on Halo, Reach is arguably the best Halo game ever made. As for the future of Halo, whether or not we’ll ever see the Master Chief again or if any developer could fill the massive shoes that Bungie has left in its wake as they move onto developing a new IP of their own for Activision remains to be seen. If you love FPS, Halo, co-op, multiplayer, Grifball, anything, Reach is worth getting and most definitely worth your time playing.
Thank you Bungie for making such a great series. We gamers will certainly miss you. For a while anyways.