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Halo: Reach review

CHIP | Updated on August 03, 2011 Published on January 26, 2011

Halo: Reach   -  BUSINESS LINE

Halo: Reach happens to be Bungie’s last Halo game for Microsoft before they move forward on their multi-platform publishing deal with Activision. With expectations so high, you have to hand it to them for not taking the easy way out and falling back on Master Chief for security. Could Bungie build an interesting experience based on a planet whose fate most Halo nuts are familiar with, or at least know the end of? Will they finally come good on all the promises?

First impressions

They have, and in style no less. First impressions are overwhelmingly positive. The menus are high on usability and unusually clean, while the cutscenes are well directed and gritty, utilising a lot of handheld and documentary-esque camera work. This is also the first game in the series that lets you bring a custom Spartan into campaign mode (either male or female). Your well-rounded squad mates, who make up Noble Team, are a bit less generic. Not only are they fully voiced, but they also have distinct characters, names and identifiable ethnicities. The game also makes it a point to show you their well-rendered faces as often as it can, especially during cutscenes and downtime between firefights.

The writing is also a lot tighter than previous games in the series. The common citizenry also make more than a few largely ill-fated appearances. They show enough emotion to make you care about their fates as well as that of Reach. Martin O’ Donnell’s score is even more sweeping and memorable than usual. The voice cast loses the B-list celebrities that were in last year’s ODST and is all the better for it. You’ll know your team by name by the end of the game and it’ll break your heart when some of them eventually fall in battle.

Design

The art design has seen the most work though, and the art style has gone from goofy to realistic thanks to the use of muted colour tones and richer, more detailed textures. The levels also feel more lived in, with buildings that actually seem habitable with well designed and fully furnished interiors. Reach also has some of best looking skyboxes in gaming. The levels have also been opened out vertically, and for good reason.

The level design also conveys scale incredibly well despite the number of freeform sequences being much lower here than in previous games in the series. This is the sort of game you’ll be showing off on your HDTV. As good as it is, there are still a few minor niggles with the graphics. The frame rate does drop during some of the larger battles, and some of the cutscenes have an unusual blur about them, possibly caused by similar frame rate hitches.

Gameplay

Bungie could probably make a Halo game in their sleep by now, so it isn’t a surprise that the four-player online co-op-ready campaign plays like you’d expect it to. There have been some changes, such as a new armour abilities system that allows you to equip buffs you pick up in the field. The most memorable of these abilities is the jetpack (put to good use by the verticality mentioned earlier), which you’ll use for a bit of platforming in the middle of the game.

Dual-wielding has been jettisoned, but it isn’t something you’ll miss. It also wouldn’t be a Halo game without vehicles. The warthog is back in the thick of it, and you’ll also see the obligatory Scorpion tank sequence. The enemy AI is as good as it’s always been (although the friendly NPC driving AI is as broken as it was in the first Halo). You’ll find fighting the Brutes and Elites a challenge even on the normal difficulty. You’ll also curiously be able to sidestep a lot of battles and run straight to your objective. The campaign on normal should last you 8-10 hours, and there isn’t a boring moment in it.

Our Verdict

A lot of you will already be playing this game by the time this review is out. For anyone still on the fence, this is the best Halo game, period. We can only hope that with Bungie moving on, Microsoft’s 343 Industries will take the cue and continue pushing the series down a more character-driven and realistic path. When you include the extensive multiplayer suite with fully customisable match types, firefight mode, a replay theatre and the enhanced Forge world builder, there’s enough content here to last you a year. Add in the challenging higher difficulties and campaign achievements and you’ve got one of the best gaming packages in the market today.

Love: Looks achingly beautiful, exciting story, deep multiplayer component

Hate: Minor frame rate hitches

Rating: 4.5/5

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: Bungie

Platform: Xbox 360

Price: Rs 2,599

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Published on January 26, 2011
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