The Angels Sing for “Reach”

Photo Courtesy of Bungie.Net

In November 2001, video game developer Bungie released “Halo: Combat Evolved” exclusively for Xbox. Players took control of the protagonist Master Chief, a faceless super soldier of few words bred for battle like a Clint Eastwood protégé, in the midst of a war between humans and the alien race called the Covenant.

Five million copies later, the “Halo” franchise has become a staple in video gaming, spawning four more games as well as graphic novels, books and action figures, and has made Master Chief a video game icon alongside Mario of “Super Mario” or Link of “The Legend of Zelda.” Almost nine years later, Bungie brings the “Halo” universe and storyline full circle with the release of “Halo: Reach” exclusively on the Xbox 360.

“Halo: Reach” serves as the prequel to the “Halo” games. Set weeks before the events of the first “Halo,” “Halo: Reach” follows a group of Master Chief-like super soldiers known as the Noble Team as they fight to protect the planet Reach, humanity’s last interstellar military stronghold, from the invading Covenant forces. Players take the role of the newest member Noble Six who, like Master Chief, never shows his face and prefers to let his combat skills do most of the talking.

The first thing players may notice about this game is the omission of Master Chief and almost every familiar face from the other “Halo” games. However, the campaign doesn’t stray far from the “Halo” formula. Noble Team will be shipped off to different parts of Reach to kill every Covenant alien that they come across.

However, the vast environments featured on Reach and the linear storyline will keep players from noticing the somewhat repetitive game play. Players should be grateful for being able to fight alongside a team of Spartans rather than space marines. Although they aren’t exactly members of Mensa, the AI in this game is considerably better than past “Halo” games in that they won’t step in your line of fire and will actually kill other enemies rather than fire around them.

The campaign lasts eight- to- ten hours, depending on the level of difficulty the player chooses.

What I loved about the campaign beyond the gameplay was the overall artwork of this game. If you ever find yourself trying to justify video games as an art form, take a look at the environments and character models of “Halo: Reach.” Each level lets players fight through cities, deserts and even outer space, stretching the graphics capability of the Xbox 360 to its limits. Similarly, members of the Noble Team have unique colors and armor variations, but the wear and tear of battle is apparent on their armor from any angle.

Also, the storytelling of “Halo: Reach” reminded me of war films such as “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Hurt Locker.” Cutscenes featured various camera angles that switched from wide angles that display the immense world of Reach to first person views of Noble Six staring directly into the face of a Covenant Elite.

Once players finish the campaign, there is still more to do in the form of the Firefight game mode and online multiplayer.

Firefight, first introduced in “Halo 3: ODST” in September 2009, allows four players offline or online to work as a team to survive waves of Covenant troops that increase in difficulty after each wave.

Online multiplayer sticks to the “Halo” tradition with solo or team deathmatch and king of the hill, but also brings in a couple of new game modes such as Generator Defense, where three Spartans defend generators from three Elites. I found the online multiplayer to be the best part of “Halo: Reach” because of the new weapons introduced, the variety of game types and the new armor abilities.

Perhaps the greatest aspect “Halo: Reach” brings to the “Halo” universe is armor abilities. These temporary yet reusable abilities allow players to sprint, become invulnerable or invisible, fly with a jetpack and more. Although there are seven different armor abilities, I found myself preferring only two or three consistently. They definitely have brought a welcome change in the way I play beyond firing as many bullets as possible into my opponent. Armor abilities are featured in both the campaign and multiplayer.

“Halo: Reach” is the swan song of Bungie and the entire “Halo” franchise. Despite Master Chief being absent, this prequel was developed with the story and fan base in mind rather than money (I’m looking at you, George Lucas). New weapons, characters and armor abilities overshadow the slightly formulaic game play, and the modes beyond the campaign ensure that “Halo: Reach” will remain in people’s Xbox 360s for a long time to come.