Halo: Reach (XBOX 360) Review

Halo: Reach (XBOX 360) Review

Ten years after Bungie created the franchise that defined the FPS experience on the modern console, they are now leaving it behind with Halo: Reach, their swansong to the property and its fans alike. It’s also doubtless one of the biggest games of the year, and in some respects, it meets those expectations Just not all of them.

You Are Noble Six

In a nod to player customization, Halo: Reach begins by allowing you to choose both your gender and the components of your Spartan armour, a first for the series and a necessity given the persistent multiplayer nature of this created character. An elite Spartan unit, the Noble Team, is short one soldier, and you fill the void as the newly designated Noble Six. What follows is, for Halo fans, a long arc of tragedy as the fall of the human colony planet Reach is played out, an event mentioned in passing at the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved.

“Halo: Reach is the best Halo series has ever looked.”

It’s a decent story, with functional dialogue, though it’s let down somewhat by Bungie’s reliance on Halo lore, often failing to properly nuance their story without knowledge of the franchise reaching into novels and graphic novels. Bungie has always created a solid world; they just occasionally fail to focus their story tightly within that world.


Graphically, this is the best the Halo series has ever looked. The engine has gotten a serious overhaul, with more detail and sharper textures. This unfortunately comes at the cost of some occasional performance hits in the form of choppy frame rate It’s present but less visible in an installed to hard drive, single-player campaign, but more noticeable in un-installed single-player games and especially in local, split-screen co-op. It’s a surprising and unwanted first for Bungie, but compared to other games in the franchise, Halo: Reach is the first with noticeable performance flaws.

The audio is an overall improvement. The voice actors all do a good job of portraying gruff, serious, if somewhat clichéd, space marines, the music still has that emotional resonance when echoes of the Halo theme appear, and thankfully the aliens no longer speak English, giving them much more menace and… well, “alien-ness” than the previous iteration.

Mostly Old With A Little New

Fans have absolutely nothing to worry about. Halo: Reach is Halo. A better-looking, more feature-rich Halo, but it’s still the same game you’ve been playing for the past 10 years. The single-player still has vehicle combat, corridor combat, and large, open “fight it your way” battles. The game also takes a surprising – but in some ways welcome—step backwards. Health packs make a reappearance, as does the battle rifle, and even dual-wielding weapons have been removed in just a few of the many nods to Halo: Combat Evolved‘s roots.

There’s also a gradual build up to the bigger and better action, as the first four chapters can feel a little slow at first, maybe even boring, until things get going and the Covenant invasion gets into full swing. On the artificial intelligence side, very little has changed. Halo: Reach features great enemy AI that rolls, dodges, and flanks, but it also puts you at the mercy of stupefying dumb ally AI that dies quickly in the case of normal soldiers. Fortunately, your fellow Noble Team Spartans are indestructible, and for good reason, as they can often just stand in place and not shoot at much of anything while you manically dodge, sprint, and strafe to stay alive.

“Halo: Reach is Halo. A better-looking, more feature-rich Halo.”

But this is offset by incredibly polished set piece combat, and disappears completely when played cooperatively, which as always is the best way to experience the campaign. With the exception of the Star Fighter sequence, most of these are sequences that have been seen in previous Halo games, so while the quality and polish is there, the over-familiarity does weigh things down. Also, new are armour abilities that allow players to do everything from sprinting to taking to the air with a jetpack, adding a bit of variety to an otherwise overly familiar but polished single-player experience.


Then there’s the main course. The real reason to play a Halo game was, is, and always will be the multiplayer. Bungie doesn’t disappoint in this regard, although they don’t jump through too many new hoops either. Firefighting returns, along with a comprehensive matchmaking system and nice touches like the “Mute Profiler,” which keeps track of verbally abusive players and automatically mutes them once they cross a certain threshold.

This alone is a great, subtle feature implemented for online multiplayer, as it makes the typical Xbox Live experience far less irritating in the long run. It’s little touches like this and the finesse applied to the matchmaking options that make multiplayer in Halo one of the untouchable experiences it is, anarchic gaming community aside.

Halo: Reach begins to show its age a little as the persistent “levelling up” of your multi-player character”

As for modes, Slayer, Team Slayer, and all the other competitive modes are back, along with a slew of maps, some of which are “reissues” of older maps, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your thirst for new content. The Theater Mode also makes a return, as does a new and improved, super-sized “Forge Mode” that is much more comprehensive and will likely see the debut of some surprisingly good user-created levels in the near future.

In this regard, Halo: Reach begins to show its age a bit, as the continued “levelling up” (at least cosmetically) of your multiplayer character and the tweaks to Firefight mode show that Bungie couldn’t afford to ignore either the Call of Duty series or the Gears of War horde mode that so popularized team-based co-op. Again, we’re not seeing anything new here, just tweaks and polish applied to existing mechanics borrowed from other games.


That really sums up the experience of Halo: Reach in a weird way. It’s the best Halo game you’ll ever play mechanically, but it’s not quite a new Halo game. This is really an evolution of the series, taking all the lessons learned over the last decade and adding them to a formula that is known and loved. The result is a single-player and multiplayer experience with few surprises, but a level of polish that comes from obsessively tweaking existing mechanics over and over again.

It’s a fitting send-off for fans, while general FPS fans may still find more compelling games in the Call of Duty franchise or even the Battlefield Bad Company series. In other words, people who aren’t huge fans of the Halo series will still have no reason to convert, but the diehards will appreciate the respect Bungie has shown for their Halo community.

Final Thoughts

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