Welcome To The Noble Team: The Official TRAVIS Halo Reach Review

Written By: Chris D’Alessandro

There aren’t a whole lot of reasons for me to wake up at 6:00am, but for Halo Reach, I let my snooze button collect dust.  I live in Georgetown and the local EB games decided to have an “early open” at 7:00am on September 14th instead of the traditional (and much more fun) midnight release the night before. So, I uncharacteristically sprung out of bed, got dressed, grabbed a double-double and went to wait in line with the rest of the super- geeks.

I love Halo. I bought my first Xbox in 2002 just to get the original Halo: Combat Evolved.  I savoured every small tidbit of information released for Halo 2 for more than 2 years before its release, and played it online religiously when it came out. The story was the same for Halo 3; I spent my days on the Bungie forums speculating about plot points with other nerds and waited in line on launch day to get my ‘Legendary Edition’ complete with Master Chief helmet.   Being the massive fan I am, I of course opted for the ‘Legendary Edition’ again for Halo: Reach.  Since this review is being written by somebody who  once fell asleep in class and dreamt he was “The Rookie” from Halo 3: ODST, alone at night in New Mombasa (due to too much caffeine fuelled ODST the night before ), I’ll try my best to be as objective as possible.

If you’re a super-fan like me, then the ‘Legendary Edition’ is the way to go. It’s worth every penny of the almost $180.00 you’ll have to shell out.  For your hard earned dollar, you get the full ‘Special Edition’ which includes the full game, a copy of ‘Dr Halsey’s journal’ as well as some cool Spartan paraphernalia. The center piece of the Legendary, however, is literally that; a 1:53 scale Noble Team statue crafted by McFarlane Studios (the folks who bring you McFarlane toys) .The statue is masterfully detailed and is a must have for any gamer setup.  If your still a fan, but maybe not as crazy, low on cash or can’t find one of these super rare ‘Legendary Editions’ then there’s no shame in just getting the ‘Special Edition’ which just excludes the statue.  Both versions cater to those who love the fiction and everything is designed to look like it came from the Halo universe.

So now let’s jump from the appetizer straight to desert (if you don’t finish your pie you can’t have any turkey) and chat about Reach’s multiplayer. All the standard features we’ve come to expect from a Halo game are here. Matchmaking is back up and running with all the familiar game types like Rumble pit, Team Slayer and Team Skirmish which include new variations on each. The most significant addition to player vs. player matchmaking is the Invasion game type which pits six players as Spartans holding an area against six other players as Elites, as the game progresses and the Elites push the Spartans further and further back, the weapon load outs and vehicle drops become more intense and it is ridiculously fun to say the least. Both sides are so satisfying to play, and while the Spartans and Elites play differently from each other, both have individual strengths (Elites are larger and have tougher shields while Spartans are smaller and quicker) and it’s so much fun to play to those strengths to best your opponents.   Hardcore gamers who want to have their skill ranked on a weekly basis will want to check out ‘The Arena’ and get to smack talking immediately (remember,  keep it clean).

The biggest difference from Halo 3 that players will find when they start their online play will be the addition of load outs. Before you start a game (and in between deaths) you choose a weapon set up complete with an armor ability which are reusable and replace the forgettable ‘equipment’ from Halo 3. Choosing load outs is a great addition in that it can help in levelling the playing field as well as add a whole new dimension of strategy to matchmaking. ‘Sprint’ is the ability that’s the most variable in use, but if you’re trying to guard a flag or single-handedly take out a charging vehicle for instance; armor-lock is a must use.

Players will also notice a change in how they are ranked online. Numeric levels have gone the way of the dinosaur to make room for titles (private, sergeant and so on) which are based on the amount of Credits earned simply by playing well.  It defiantly lowers one’s stress levels to know that even if you lost a game, if you played well, you’ll earn roughly the same amount of Credits as the undeserved victors. Credits can be spent in the ‘Armory’ to trick out your Spartan avatar and the level of customization is mouth-wateringly deep. There are dozens of helmet variations as well as customizable chest and shoulder plates, wrist and knee guards, different visor colors and for the first time you can even play as a female Spartan if you choose (Bungie knows what the ladies like).

I’m happy to say that allot of the issues that plagued the multiplayer Beta test released last May have been fixed.  The ridiculous ridicule bloom has been toned down significantly, frag grenades are no longer mini nuclear bombs and you can no longer simply tap the ‘melee’ button twice for a quick beat-down kill. The overall experience is extremely polished and while you’ll probably want to throw your controller at the screen at some point, due to a 12 year old screaming in your headset, hold true Spartan; you need that sweet new helmet.

Making a return from Halo 3: ODST is the beloved Firefight mode; now dubbed Firefight 2.0. The biggest improvement is that Firefight is now fully integrated into matchmaking. So now, instead of waiting around for your friends to come online or just taking on the endless hoards of Covenant by yourself, just pop into the lobby and find yourself some friends. Just like every other game type, just about everything can be customized in Firefight from the length of the game, difficulty multiplier skulls, the different kinds of waves you’ll be fighting and if you like; you can even play as the invading Covenant.  Firefight 2.0 is a much more complete experience from its ODST predecessor and is truly good enough to be a standalone game.

Theatre and Forge both make a return. Theatre is still the nifty little feature it was. Take some pictures and videos of recently played games and upload them to Bungie.net for both bragging and hilarity purposes.  However, it’s the Forge feature which takes on a whole new life in the Forge World. To start off, Bungie gives players all the tools they would need to create a map; building materials, vehicles, weapons, spawn points and even custom load outs. Then, they take the classic Blood Gulch map and expand it more than 50 times over with a variety of environments, landscapes and spaces. Hills, river beds, beaches, open fields, caves, open sky-boxes; anywhere you might want to build some multiplayer fun is available to you. It truly is a thing of beauty; the customization options are practically limitless and it will be amazing to see what people come up with.

Now on to the meat and potatoes of Halo Reach; Campaign mode.  I’ll try to keep things as spoiler free as possible, but if you truly want to go into your Halo: Reach campaign blind, then go dark now.  Let me start by saying that Bungie has not only crafted an excellent story, it’s one that the fans will care about. Especially the hardcore fans like myself, the people who read all the books and comics and have seen all the cartoons, the people who are totally involved with the fiction behind Halo. We finally get to see things that we’ve been begging for since before the days before Halo 2, like other Spartans and Dr. Halsey.

The Spartan ‘Noble’ team is an entirely new cast of characters and Halo: Reach is the story of their exploits during the invasion of Reach. While there are a few small cameos from previous characters, they very fit well into the plot and it doesn’t feel clumsy. You play the newest addition to Noble Team: Noble 6.  The coolest thing about Noble 6 is that you play your multiplayer avatar, meaning for the first time ever, your campaign character is customizable and all your changes are visible in the cut scenes.

It’s hard not say too much without spoiling anything major, but I can say it’s a story with allot of heart. Reach gives a more human look into Spartans, unlike the faceless Master Chief who was for the most part an emotionless killing machine, these Spartans take off their helmets and it helps to convey their emotion, cunning  and struggle and makes them all more likable and relatable. It’s a much darker and grittier story and the environments match. Even in the earlier parts of the game, it seems to be always raining, foreshadowing the storm to come. If there are any complaints it would have to be that levels are almost too dark. In fact, there aren’t really any levels you would call “bright”. It would have been nice to see a bright jungle or beach level like we’ve seen in the past.  Speaking of environments; their huge and the game does a much better job of making you feel like you’re in a real world place, not just a maze like Halo 2 and 3 did.  There are references to the best parts of every Halo game in the campaign, like driving around canyons rescuing marines, sneaking around at night and making your way through giant atrium spaces in a sprawling city. We also get a taste of space combat for the first time. It’s done very well; your little ‘Sabre’ fighter handles like you expect it would in a Halo game. My only gripe with this is that it was a fairly brief experience and seemed very underwhelming, especially when you consider how awesome it looked at the E3 demo this summer.  The demo showcased launching yourself into a full on space war where the final game really only took you into a small skirmish.

Halo’s AI has always been exceptional and Reach is no different. Marines, ODST and your fellow Spartan comrades are more supportive than ever and often take out enemies very effectively.  The Covenant are more cunning and viscous than ever.   Playing on higher difficulties, you’ll find yourself using everything at your disposal just to take down one or two Elites. There are some hairs to split though. The AI still suffers from some of the same problems it always has and by that I mean friendly AI tends to get fairly dumb when it comes to vehicles.  I guess, you could have your AI buddies drive you around; if you want them to drive you into a wall only to be blown up by enemy Wraith tank mere seconds later (I guess some Spartans never got their driver’s licence).

Overall, Reach is amazing. Of course there are some small complaints but there so forgivable when you consider the entire package. There’s just so much value here, it really could keep you playing for months. If you’ve never played a Halo game before, then this is the one you want to start with and if you’re a long time fan like me, then it’s only going to feed your addiction more.  I’ve got to go though, I hear some Team Slayer calling my name.

Love,

Chris (‘The Rookie’) D’Alessandro

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