Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From the vault: Halo reach review.

This is a review I wrote for OzBoxLive ages ago but seeing as though they have decided to no longer credit me for the work I'm going to post it here. Expect more of these to come.

The game we have been devoting our lives to has released the next installment to the Halo universe… Halo: Reach.

If you have been living under a rock and are wondering what Halo: Reach is all about here is a quick run down of the story - you are Noble 6, a Spartan III who has been brought in to replace one of Noble team’s fallen. Noble team are a group of Spartan III’s (created after the legendary Spartan II of the Halo series, Master Chief) who are the best of the best. No mission is too dangerous or too great for these artists of death. They are on the planet Reach (the crown jewel of the UNSC’s defensive fortifications) fighting the Covenant for every square centimeter of the planet when it was turned to glass by Covenant ships above. The fate of Reach has been known since the first Halo, and now we can relive those famous final days. The way the story is told is great, you really get to know the characters in the short amount of time you have and develop a bond with them, which is so uncommon in games these days.

General gameplay is really good, as expected from previous Halo games. New strategies will need to be formed with players able to fly down or sneak up on an opponent. The controls are different from Halo 3 and as a result the default settings can be very confusing at first. If you want a similar feel to Halo 3 the best you can get is the bumper jumper configuration. I wished there was a custom configuration setting that you can change the controls to suit like in PC games. Halo Reach is made for teams - if you go lone wolf you'll get blown to smithereens even on normal difficulty. Especially with four player co-op there's no need to run out and do it all yourself.

Multiplayer is great. In multiplayer all the individual areas of a map have been given names so if you get pinned down you can call out where you are and everyone knows. This is important because it makes the location names universal and allows for players who don't normally play together or have just met can stand a chance against teams that train and play together. When you first enter the lobby you and your fellow players are given a choice of three maps and game types to vote on playing next. Once you have voted the map begins to load, which is super fast if not sometimes instant. When you enter the game you are given the choice of what abilities you want to spawn with. Weapons wise you can spawn with the standard assault rifle and pistol or through the options menu you can change these options. If you're familiar with the Call of Duty “custom classes” set-up you’ll know the gist of these options. Reach is mate-friendly if you want to play with your friends online the active roster shows you which friends are playing reach and what they are doing. In Halo 3 you had to tell them to quit the game and enter a lobby with you before you start matchmaking, now you can enter the lobby your mates are in and if they are in a game you can just wait in the lobby until it finishes.

New gametypes have been introduced. Along with the ones we know and love there are now four more to play with. “Headhunter” is Slayer with the focus on surviving, but when you make a kill flaming skulls scatter about the body, and when collected these are redeemed for points which make up the overall score for the round. Obviously, the more skulls you have before you redeem the more of a target you are to other players. “Stockpile” is a fancy version of capture the flag. On any given map there are flags scattered throughout, each team must collect these flags and bring them back to their base and guard them until the collection timer hits zero and the flags respawn at their previous locations. Generator Defense is an attack and defend type game. The attackers are the Elites and their job is to destroy the generators scattered about the map and the Spartans are to defend the generators. Finally we have invasion, the ultimate team slayer game type. Its Spartans vs. Elites in an objective based match designed for the map Boneyard. The Elites are the attackers and their job is to get from one end of the map to a covenant ship on the other. The Spartans are the defenders and are to prevent the Elites from getting to the ship at all costs. As the Elites get closer and closer to the objective each team can respawn with more powerful weapons. Other maps worth mentioning are Swordbase which is designed with the jetpack in mind and Power house which is a small open map made for general slayer type games.

Firefight makes a comeback and it is now possible to get the achievements for it. Because you can still get the achievements with invincibility turned on it stops being a matter of skill to get the achievement it’s a matter of endurance. It will take around three and a half hours to get the million point achievement on your own, and with mates it’s around an hour and a half. Forge mode in Reach is a significant improvement on the Forge set-up in Halo 3. No more having to do tricky stuff to make objects float and new objects mean that creating maps is easier. A new object that deserves a mention is the golf objects – you get a golf ball, mound and hole to aim for and a golf club which is gravity hammer in disguise. All the maps from multiplayer can be edited and a new map called forge world can be opened complete empty of objects that is a good place for up and coming map makers to muck around. Who knows… we may see the next PGA pro-golf tour stop over on Reach!!

Weapons have been given both a visual touch-up as well as some improvements. For starters all the weapons from Halo 3, except the battle rifle, make a return with upgrades to their accuracy and rate of fire as well as a change of appearance. Some new guns include the Designated Marksmen Rifle (or DMR for short), which is a medium-long range semiautomatic rifle that is a cross between the battle rifle and the sniper rifle, and the Needle Rifle which is the Covenant equivalent of the DMR, as usual with the supercombine ability of Needler weapons. This time around deployable tools are out and abilities are in. In single player odds are you will start with sprint but in multiplayer you can choose abilities before you spawn and give you an advantage in the battlefield. These include a jetpack that allows you to fly about the map, “camouflage” allows you to hide and strike from the shadows (no more having to pick it up in game!!) and “armour lock” which, when activated, makes you invincible but at the cost of movement, though people tend to hang back and once your abilities energy runs out one well thrown grenade will have you pushing daises. Weapon recoil is okay with the exception of the DMR. The DMR is designed to be fired slowly at long range. So if you want that headshot you can't mash the trigger. To tell the amount of recoil on a weapon the crosshair expands as you fire and contracts when not.

When you first start Reach you will have to create your character Noble 6. Given you have just started the game there is not a lot you can customize and with a 5000 credit starting budget there is even less. However the amount of customization is fantastic from helmets to chest plates, shoulder pads wrist guards and holsters. You can even change the animation of how you die and your voice. Maybe its because I spent most of my credits on the ODST helmet but some of the stuff costs an awful lot. Spartan armour is obviously not cheap!! When you see the main menu you can tell Bungie has spared no expense to detail. The background is very beautiful, it shows the planet Reach and the heaps of scrap that the Covenant have made of Reaches ships and defensive platforms.

In-game graphics are reminiscent of Halo 2 - a bit dirty and grainy, but this adds to the apocalyptic feel of the game compared to Halo 3 which was really clean and shiny. I mentioned earlier that the weapons have been given a cosmetic upgrade. They all look good except the assault rifle, I liked the look of the original one and if it isn't broken don't fix it. The HUD is better, it is a lot clearer and easy to read – obviously that’s really important when you've got bullets whizzing about your head!!

All the gun sounds have been redone to sound more like the real world guns they resemble. If you think about it, it seems a little silly that the game is set 500 years from now, yet you would think that guns may sound a little different in the future. The music keeps up with the standard that the series has set itself over the last decade and is not a distraction when the action starts and is there when it's supposed to.

I must say that for me personally Reach does not live up to all the hype. Don't get me wrong as it's still a great game but don't believe all the hype, just take the game with a pinch of salt and you'll have fun. But at the end of the day it looks like Halo 3 with everything wrong with it fixed. Good time guaranteed.

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