Space marines, dropships, laser swords and vicious alien species have always featured heavily in the sci-fi genre. Thanks to the stellar work at development studio Bungie, these things are now synonymous with quality gaming and high-octane, multiplayer thrills. The saga may have concluded with Halo 3, but the fight is far from over with Halo: Reach – a prequel to the Xbox original – in which a crack team of super soldiers must go toe-to-toe with humanity’s most fearsome foes. It may be Bungie’s last hurrah for the series, but this is Halo in its purest form, and while the stalwart fans aiming to take another shot at the Covenant are in for a treat, those yet to be enamoured with this alien-blasting franchise will once again be left scratching their heads over all the attention it garners.
You take helm of Noble Six, the latest member of the Spartan-squad known as Noble Team in their quest to defend Reach from the looming Covenant forces. Gender, colour and helmet are customisable from the outset, and your own version of Six is made all the more personal by his or her appearance in the bountiful cutscenes. You’ll see the visor and hear the voice, but very little beyond that – your character is just as mysterious as the Master Chief, but thankfully almost everyone else removes their helmet on occasion to add that human touch. The scenes are well animated and the voice work is decent, so long as you don’t expect any one character to exhibit the same sense of presence as Cortana or The Arbiter. Noble Team is essentially a one-note frat-squad, yet the later scenes do a fine job of displaying their loyalty to one another as well as their commitment to the cause. The story and dialogue can get confusing for the uninitiated, but what it all boils down to is humans good – Covenant bad, so only rarely does it become an issue.
The single-player campaign is noticeably harder this time around, as was the intention of the development team. Enemy forces dive out of the way on a regular basis, making deft use of any cover they can find. It goes without saying that you should do the same; indeed it’s imperative for the sake of your own survival. It’s not exaggerating to say that being caught out in the open will result in a swift demise, and as frustrating as it can be when dropships unload their bloodthirsty cargo into the path ahead, it all leads to a tense and thoroughly engaging experience, making the war seem like an overwhelming struggle for the grossly outnumbered Spartans. There is an easy mode for newcomers to the series, but it disables any in-game achievements you might otherwise earn.
Given the increase in enemy aggression, it would be fair to assume your allies might develop at least a small increase in mental capacity. Six may be the newest member of Noble Team, but all too often it can seem like s/he’s the only one with the chops to get things done, particularly when it comes time to mount up on any one of the presented vehicles. We wouldn’t expect our fellow AI Spartan to give as good as Six against a pair of Hunters, but we didn’t expect him to hide in a corner either, prancing in with a cocky one-liner at the moment of our victory – it was around this time that we almost started routing for the Covenant, had we not spent so much time swearing at them thanks to their increased strength and evasive techniques.
Veteran Spartans will know what to expect from the armoury, from the standard Assault Rifle to the super-powered Gravity Hammer. The game presents a few alterations to the arsenal as well as the odd addition thrown in for good measure (namely in the alien plasma weapons), so there’s enough incentive to change things up regularly, not least because of the scarcity of ammo. Add to that the need to empty an entire clip into the most bog-standard foe and you have the recipe for an intense, even hair-raising adventure demanding a good deal of strategy with regards to weapon management and ammo consumption. To mix things up further, Reach includes a number of armour abilities such as the sniper-friendly Active Camo and the distraction-based Holographic Decoy. Armour Lock can be useful in a tight spot when you need to recover shields quickly, but its effectiveness is questionable in a multiplayer setting, affording the enemy enough time to get the right aim to take you down. Jetpacks play a small role in the campaign, as do numerous other additions including the rather bland space flight segments. The minute-to-minute action is still very much the Halo we’re used to, albeit with a few new bells and whistles added to liven things up.
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