The Halo franchise has been with us for almost a decade now, with Bungie Studios showing the entire world how dedication and belief (and lot of funding and marketing push) can transform one small idea into a multimillion dollar franchise. And so, 9 years later after the world first saw the wonders of a new universe with Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie’s swan song for the Xbox 360 is most certainly a beautiful one that will stay with us all for years to come.
Jumping straight into the singleplayer campaign of Reach, the first thing you’ll notice is the incredible amount of detail onscreen. From lush green jungles to the extremely serene mountainsides all the way to the ethereal space just above the planet Reach, this game will always keep you in awe of its visuals. Perhaps not the best looking game on the Xbox 360, but certainly one of the most artistic ones, with a very pleasant mix of actual 3D graphics and pre-painted backdrops. The only downside here is the occasional drop in framerates when there’s too much action going onscreen.
Graphical splendor aside, the next thing you will notice is the serious tone of the game itself and how much attention to story and characters is present in Halo Reach. For a universe as elaborate as it is in Halo, it’s surprising that the earlier games just focused on a gung-ho Master Chief out to save the Earth against Covenant forces. It was the books that truly expanded Halo’s lore, portraying the war between humans and Covenants as much more than just mere corridor gunfights and epic setpieces from the games. So Halo Reach follows the story of Noble Team, a group of five Spartans, along with you, the newest addition to the winning formula, Noble 6. Your adventures basically follow the Covenant’s invasion of planet Reach (the strongest military and research facility after Earth) and how your team of Spartans tries to stop it. All of this happens just before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, so no Master Chief here.
What basically ensues is chapter after chapter of shooting down Covenant forces in between tight corridors, open sandbox style environments, on foot and in vehicles. While all that sounds like standard Halo-fare, the way in which these sections are put together along with a few new surprises thrown in with a lot of narrative focus results in Halo Reach’s singleplayer being a refreshing take on the franchise.
Adding a lot of depth to the characters are the great voiceovers in Reach. You can really tell the emotions of each member of Noble Team, something that’s especially necessary given that a lot of dialogue goes on behind the Spartans’ helmets, or radio com chatter. Thanks to the new game engine, even the body movements and facial animations feel natural, something that was sorely missing in Halo 3 and ODST. However, good vocals and great animation form only half of the picture; it’s the brilliant musical score of Halo Reach that makes the entire singleplayer campaign feel like such a standout experience. Martin O’Donnell never fails to impress, as once again we have a great soundtrack to accompany the game, taking a few cues from the main Halo trilogy for good measure.