In 2001, new to the video game console arena, Microsoft released the Xbox exclusive title “Halo: Combat Evolved.” It was huge. Not only did the title save Microsoft’s gaming division, but also cemented the company’s position in the console wars.
From there it is, as they say, history.
Whenever a new title in the Halo series is released, expect ridiculously massive sales rivaling that of any summer blockbuster. (First day sales figures for Halo 2? $125 million. Halo 3? $170 million.) The newest title in the Halo universe, “Halo: Reach,” was released Sept. 14. With a pedigree like this, the pressure certainly is palpable.
The campaign is set a few years before the first Halo game takes place. “Halo: Reach” details the endeavors of a group of spartans codenamed Noble Team and their mission to protect the planet Reach from the Covenant, the alien races that are bent on destroying all of humanity. The player is placed in the metallic boots of Noble Six, the newest recruit to the team. The whole experience is more “Saving Private Ryan” than any of the previous Halo games. Reach utilizes a lot of war documentary-style cinematic techniques that really drive the point home. As a prequel, “Halo: Reach” is a nice starting point for those wanting to get into the lore of the Halo universe.
Gameplay-wise much of the action is in the form of a first-person shooter (or FPS), aside from a few vehicle sections. With a decade of practice, Bungie has distilled every element of what’s good in an FPS game and injected it into “Halo: Reach.” Which is excellent, because, barring the aforementioned brief vehicle jaunts, there isn’t much variation in the mission structure: Go from point A to point B and kill every enemy you meet. This isn’t really that big of a deal when in the middle of an intense firefight, mainly because they’re so fun.
The aesthetics are simply breathtaking. In this day and age of high definition, simply saying something is beautiful sounds more like captain obvious than anything else. So spoiled is this current generation of gamers that when it comes to graphics nothing but the most amazing is expected. Prepare to be coddled, because “Halo: Reach” is a fine-looking game. It’s quite something to stop in the middle of the firefight just to ogle the snowy mountainsides.
Reach’s prettiness doesn’t just extend to the visuals, however. Michael O’Donnell, longtime Halo series cohort, returns as Reach’s main music man, and — as always — turns the game into an auditory wonder to behold. It is epic at times, melancholy at others. The piece “The Pillar of Autumn” is especially moving.
Nowadays most people would buy a game for one thing and one thing only — multiplayer. For those in the audience that belong to this group of people, “Halo: Reach” is pretty much all about multiplayer. The campaign mentioned earlier? There’s cooperative play for that, either over Xbox Live or with a friend. Of course, there’s the straight online component, and it doesn’t disappoint. Halo games are known for their excellent multiplayer, and “Halo: Reach” is, if nothing, a Halo game.
The addition of Armor Abilities, powers that the players could activate and give them special bonuses, adds an RPG-like element to the game. While it may not be as extensive as, say, Modern Warfare’s perk system, it is enough to make matches fun and interesting. Players are also able to fully customize their online avatar, although the whole customization is entirely cosmetic.
One major theme of the game is that of legacy. “Halo: Reach” continues the Halo series’ legacy of excellent storytelling and excellent multiplayer, while also leaving its own imprint. Ironically, by revisiting what made the first Halo so great.