On November 9, 2004, my life changed. I became an addict. Instead of fixing my attention on my college course work, I’d scream, “JOE MONTANA!” as I stuck plasma grenades on my neighbors’ faces from across the map. Nights have never been the same since that day – the day Halo 2 released.
It’s six years later now. Surely, with all of my responsibilities and obligations, I can’t devote too much of my life to the latest Halo release, Halo: Reach. I shouldn’t, but I have. Since it landed on shelves Tuesday, I’ve gotten roughly four hours of sleep per night. This very second, I’d rather be harassing little kids as I murder their digital bodies. Why? BECAUSE HALO: REACH IS THE BEST HALO EVER!
After what many considered to be a step back for the series with Halo 3, Bungie followed with an even worse sequel, Halo 3: ODST, a glorified expansion. Many lost faith, including myself. As Call of Duty became better and better, it looked like it may be time to throw in the towel. Following ODST, Bungie said they would leave the series after one last game. This could have easily been used as a retirement fund for everyone involved. Fortunately for us, this is not the case.
Reach, a prequel to the series, reinvents what we think of as Halo. Kiss that laggy x-button goodbye. Say hello to new armor abilities. Your character, on and offline, can use one of these perks to gain an edge on opponents. This opens up the game more than any feature added since Combat Evolved. You can sprint, or fly, or curl yourself like an indestructible kitty cat, or make yourself invisible, like in high school. They intensify that unique Halo feel perfectly. Too make sure that feeling doesn’t get lost, Bungie also retooled most of the weapons. They seemingly tossed every weapon from every iteration into a hat and pulled out only the best, balancing them perfectly.
The mechanics are in place. The game plays better than any other Halo. If only they’d do something about the look. When the Halo 3 commercial debuted on tv, I got a nerd boner the size of the Washington Monument. Those visuals. Oh, those visuals! They looked amazing. I knew they weren’t in-game, but they gave me hope. The graphics had to be good. It was on the 360! As we know, they weren’t. The game looked a bit old.
No more. The graphics in Reach got a huge overhaul. From the nature to the architecture, the scenery is much more vibrant. The colors, textures, and lightning are closer to what is expected of high profile games now. Character models got more attention too. They look grittier, as if they actually fight in a war. Just to be clear, there are way better graphics found elsewhere. This still looks like Halo. It’s just nice that it finally feels like a 360 game.
I have never been a big fan of the campaigns past Combat Evolved. 2 was overshadowed by the amazing multiplayer, so I barely remember it. 3 was too easy. ODST was not worth sixty dollars. Reach’s campaign is totally a citizen of fun town, though. I finished it in about seven hours, so it is a little short. However, it’s a blast. I think, and general consensus seems to agree, this is the series’ best campaign.
You play as Noble Six, not Master Chief. Although, Master Chief is hidden as an easter egg in a cut scene. He or she, you get to customize it this time, is the rookie to the Noble Team, an elite squad of Spartans stationed on Planet Reach. You are sent to investigate a downed communication outpost, but everything is OK. Someone tripped over the power cord. That’s all. NOT! Shit goes down from here on out. I won’t bother ruining the story for you. Just know it is the best told story out of all the games. A bit melodramatic at times, but how they lay the groundwork for everything we’ve experienced in past titles is clever. Anyone paying attention will give quite a few nerd gasps.
The game has action comin’ out the wazoo. Instead of walking for long periods through lifeless gameworlds hoping for your next fight, you shoot your way through lifeless gameworlds to get to a safe spot. The lack of atmosphere in the levels has always been a large complaint of mine in the campaign, and still is. If I’m always worried about a laser piercing my skull, then I guess it doesn’t matter. Gameplay always takes precedence.
Make sure to give co-op a run also. This time they scale up the difficulty with each friend added. Play on legendary with four players if you really want to test how creative you can get with curse words aimed at your television screen. Hard is an understatement.
I have to point out two bad things. Loading a campaign takes forever. This can be fixed, to a point, if you load the disc onto the hard drive. Doing this, though, creates a poor matchmaking experience. My other gripe is with cutscenes. Movement visually stutters and aliases to an annoying degree. Again, the gameplay is what matters, so play it.
Halo has always been the multiplayer game others wish to be. The majority of a player’s time will be spent here. Possibly more than work. Your wife will divorce you. She’ll take the kids and move in with Jake. He’s into sports and has a nice body, but he’s warm and nurturing too. He’ll be good to your children. Not that you’re worried. You’ve got plenty of kids on Xbox Live. Sure they try to convince you that you’re gay, but they’re your family now.
There is too much to talk about. Honestly. The biggest change is the load-outs, which include the armor abilities I mentioned earlier. They are pre-made and non-customizable to ensure properly balanced play specific to the playlists. When I say playlists, I don’t mean a few, there are a ton. You can always make custom games for you and your friends to enjoy too. There may only be a dozen maps, but with so many different game-types, it feels like a lot. If they aren’t good enough for you, Forge has been revamped and is better than ever. Firefight is back too! Survive the massive waves of Covenant, which can be controlled by humans too, like in Left 4 Dead. Thankfully, you and your friends can still squeeze together and play on one screen, by yourselves or online with other pimple parties. That is a lost quality in many games today.
If all that isn’t enough to keep you playing, the reward system has gotten shaken up a bit. Beyond ranking there are daily and weekly challenges to complete and use as bragging rights. Unfortunately, I don’t think an overall total of completed challenges is displayed to the world. This would be welcomed since I like to snoop around and research the random people I play while waiting in the lobby. Lastly, everything you do in multiplayer, the campaign, and Forge earns you credits, which you use towards armor and other stuff.
Hats off to Bungie. They had every opportunity to not care about making a quality game and cash-in on the name alone. Instead, they took their final bow with one of my favorite gaming experiences ever. It’s not worth the money for the campaign alone, however, combined with one of the tightest multiplayer experiences in years, we’ve got a winner. Give Bungie one of the large stuffed animals from the top shelf. Give ’em Taz.
Buy Halo: Reach today if you have yet to. Then tell everyone why you love it or what you love the most in the comments. Good luck. This is so fun, sentences become hard. Too many thoughts to articulate.
Images via Bungie
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