Would a Mario game feel the same if Mario was replaced by, say, a shiny robotic baboon? I’d say that it wouldn’t do as some of the charm and the connection between the player and lead character would be lost. Halo: Reach is the second game not to feature Master Chief yet it still looks and feels like a Halo game. What does this tell us? Master Chief was so nondescript that he could be easily replaced. The last two Halo games have actually been better off without his appearance, bringing new and interesting characters into the mix, although this could also be down to the fact that Bungie’s storytelling and character development has been improving over the years.
And it’s with Reach that their hard work has come full circle. Like ODST you play as a new recruit joining a team of heavily skilled soldiers, only here the story leads up until the events of the original Halo. The level design and environments bear a lot of resemblance to those found in Bungie’s first opus and because the planet of Reach is colonised there’s civilian dwellings and cities to explore. Missions are pleasingly varied – one level is set at night, and its here that you get given a sniper rifle, while another level involves activating and protecting gun turrets to fight off an attack. Visuals and AI been improved greatly – the outdoor locations are often stunning to look at and once an enemy learns of your presence its neigh impossible to hide from them.
A couple of other things have changed since Halo: ODST. The grunts no longer speak in high-pitched English but rather alien gobbledygook and the lead character – simply known as Nobel 6 – can no longer duel wield weapons. Because it’s set before the events of Halo 2 the enemy hierarchy has been shook up as well with Brutes – which were common in Halo 3 – a lot rarer and Elites becoming more common.
As you’d expect there are a few new weapons to play around with, with the best being a target locator that can summon a barrage of missiles and works a bit like Gears of War’s hammer of dawn. You can also pick up and swap ability packs including jetpacks, active camouflage and holograms. These can all be used in multi-player with holograms being particularly helpful for drawing fire away from yourself or to trick foes from out of their hiding places.
Firefight mode has a bigger share of the spotlight online and unlike ODST you can now play with random strangers. Here you have to fight off waves of enemies and the settings are fully customisable. You can even have guns with bottomless clips and infinite health if you wanted. This does though make the achievements stupidly easy to gain – it’s actually possible to get around 200G within fifteen minutes by changing the options in your favor.
Character customisation is a lot deeper than it was in Halo 3 with XP and cash awarded after matches which can then be used to buy new pieces of armour. Like before videos of your multiplayer matches and photos can be saved and shared. There are dozens of match types and levels to choose from, some of which have been designed purely with vehicle combat in mind, and if you somehow get bored of those you can make your own in the Forge mode.
Reach has to be the most compressive online console shooter ever. There’s very little to fault, bar the fact that it would have been good to see a few new enemy types seeing that we’ve been shooting the same ones for ten years now. We just hope that whoever Microsoft trusts with the Halo license next can keep up the momentum.