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Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) artwork

Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) review


"Though, it's not all a complete mess; if you're going on playlists that contain smaller, confined maps, you have a better chance of having a good time. The spawns aren't as horrific, and match selections, like Infection and Grifball, are better suited to those locations."



I guess almost nine years after the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, it doesn't come as a surprise that Bungie struggled to stay fresh with Halo: Reach's Campaign mode. Don't get me wrong, it's not terrible, and there are some genuinely surprising parts, like when I flew a ship in space, or stumbled onto two, giant beasts smacking around some Grunts at night. However, during a playthrough on the Legendary difficulty, I noticed many of the missions didn't feel as strong as the ones in past Campaigns.

For the entire mode, all you do is attack Grunts, Elites, Jackals, Brutes, Hunters, and their assorted vehicles. That's fine. The problem is that it's been done much better before. Let me use Reach's immediate predecessor, Halo 3: ODST, as an example; when you take away that game's stupid hud city you were forced to walk through between missions, it actually has a very solid, action-packed vibe to it. There were plenty of moments in the city of New Mombasa where I struggled against a legion of Jackal snipers, had a blast shooting down Banshees and other ships with Pod Missiles and Spartan Lasers, and enjoyed squeezing by buildings in a Banshee, facing off against Wraiths and a Scarab. ODST threw in a lot of variety to give every mission a distinct feel, and successfully made them exciting to play.

Reach, too, is varied, but a lot of it felt either tacky, gimmicky, or just pointless. There's a mission late in the game where you mostly fly around in a Falcon, a UNSC helicopter, and go from spot to spot. Sounds cool, right? Similar to the one from ODST? Not so great when it turns out that's literally all you do: take off, land in one area, shoot a few Covenant goons, turn off a device, hop back in the helicopter, and repeat until you see the ending cutscene. The level is really lacking in anything special... At least you fought a Scarab in ODST! Another mission puts you in a Tower Defense scenario, where you activate turrets and defend one spot for a few minutes. The catch is the turrets can go offline after some damage, which means you have to run to them and turn them back on manually. This could have been great fun, but it's ruined when you realize it's pointless maintaining the turrets when you can just stay by your team that never dies, who are positioned near weapon stands with crazy amounts of ammunition.

There's also this one weapon you gain in an early mission that lets you lock on to a desired area, which is followed by a damaging air strike that destroys the spot. It's never used again... Bungie could have easily thrown in a situation where you're trapped, and need to fend off groups of Covenant closing in on your position using this weapon. But I guess that was too much to ask for. Oh, and those giant beasts I mentioned? Never reused. It would have been awesome to have them pop up unexpectedly in later missions to cause grief to both sides of the conflict, kinda like Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, but I guess being too creative is a bad thing in Reach.

To be fair... sort of... Bungie went out of their way to make the Elites smarter and stronger, turning them into the biggest threat in the game. Walking up to one and simply smacking it to death is a foolish thing to do, thanks to their powerful shields and the ability to roundhouse kick you into the afterlife. However, the rest of the Covenant army didn't get the same type of treatment, so you're stuck with this odd balance of AI difficulty. This is most apparent later in the Campaign, when the Brutes are introduced: a few, easy headshots with the DMR (Reach's version of the Battle Rifle), and they're dead. Even the scary, hammer-wielding Brutes come off as wimps in comparison!

Now, you will get some satisfaction playing the Campaign, but it's not going to be a great experience like the other Halos. It's like Die Hard 2: it's a good action movie, but it played it safe by copying too much of the first movie. Bungie just did a lot of silly and half-hearted things with the play mechanics to make for a disappointing, final Halo title from them. I mean, you know something is wrong when the plot and cutscenes are the strongest aspects of the mode, and since people play Halo games more for the action, that's sad.

But there's always multiplayer, right? The heart and soul of the Halo series!

...

You'd think that, since Bungie made a great multiplayer mode for Halo 3, they would have next to no issues with the one for Reach. But, shockingly, they managed to screw it up. The most frustrating goof-up is the questionable placement of spawn points on the bigger maps. It's as if they looked at the spawns in the Standoff map from Halo 3 and said, "How can we expand on this?" There will be plenty of situations where you'll appear right in front of an enemy tank or in the sights of snipers, multiple times. It's absolutely ridiculous. The Paradiso map, for one, is horribly designed, because there's a mountain right in the center where a sniper can climb up to the top and keep tabs on all three bases below. What's equally irritating is how snipers have good cover against anyone attempting to shoot up at them.

The Boneyard map, however, brilliantly displays Bungie's incompetence with spawns. One team will spawn in a safe area, where they're partly under a structure, pillars aplenty, and rarely open to death upon respawning. The other team, unfortunately, will spawn out in the open, and are vulnerable to multiple angles. I remember playing a match of Team SWAT on this map once, and I was on the open side. Thanks to the design of the map which gave the opposing team the advantage, they were easily able to take cover in high-leveled positions looking down on our spawn locations. Within 2 to 3 seconds of every spawn, my entire team would normally get wiped out. It was a massacre.

Good luck exiting these absurd matches, too, because Bungie has enforced a temporary ban for players that quit too much. Doesn't matter how you leave a match, either, whether it's getting booted due to an accidental betrayal, losing your Internet connection, or having to leave because you were suddenly needed somewhere else, they will all count. If this was implemented in a solid multiplayer mode, it would still be annoying, but more bearable. Here? It's bad enough you're getting punished for putting up with rubbish maps, but you're also getting punished for leaving them? You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't...

There are other annoyances, like how the Elites' presence has been limited to specific matches, or how Team Sniper or Team SWAT are in Big Team Battle, which is stupid, considering the main problem with those giant maps. I just get the feeling that Bungie's game testers didn't play enough of multiplayer to notice anything, because some of this stuff is amazingly sloppy. That, or Bungie just didn't care. Though, it's not all a complete mess; if you're going on playlists that contain smaller, confined maps, you have a better chance of having a good time. The spawns aren't as horrific, and match selections, like Infection and Grifball, are better suited to those locations. Another rare, smart thing Bungie did was add matchmaking to Firefight, which was sadly absent in ODST.

Unfortunately, as a complete package, Reach just comes up short as the company's last Halo game. The graphics are pretty, the music is great, and there are some neat features, but there are just too many issues to view this as a great title. If Bungie is willing to fix the problems of multiplayer in a future update, it could turn into a very fun mode. As it stands, though, Halo: Reach is something you can hold off buying until things get overhauled and when there's a reasonable price drop.

Until then, there's always Halo 3. Thank God for that.

-November 4, 2012 Note: I decided to return to Reach recently to warm up before Halo 4 comes out. While I still believe the Campaign is a gimmick fest, the penalty for quitting games to be asinine, and the big multiplayer maps being horribly designed and having the worst spawn placements, the rest of multiplayer isn't bad. I DO mention that in the actual review, but I only did it in passing, unfortunately. As long as you stay away from the big maps, Reach's multiplayer can be very, very enjoyable. Also, sadly, I have neglected to mention the abilities you can use in multiplayer, like sprinting, using camo, and having a doppleganger. These are great additions to Halo's multiplayer, and are surprisingly well-balanced. I've raised the rating on this review just a tad, but as an overall product, Reach still left me disappointed.

Rating: 7/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (September 27, 2010)

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Feedback

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Suskie posted September 28, 2010:

I actually just had a conversation the other day about Reach's campaign and whether or not it was a smart move for Bungie to essentially play it safe. I'm glad they did, but I like that you compared Reach to some of the bigger moments from ODST's campaign. I have a tough time thinking of that game in especially positive terms because of the stupid sandbox element (like you said), but I think I agree that Reach is slightly lacking in major standout moments. I don't necessarily think that's a problem since I consider it the series' most consistently enjoyable campaign to date, but to each his own.

By the way, this review didn't mention the Flood at all, so I have to ask: Am I the only one who hated them in the previous campaigns and was glad to see them gone? Because I feel like I am.
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pickhut posted September 28, 2010:

I liked the Flood in the first Halo game, but thought they were annoying in Halo 2. I'm mixed about them in Halo 3, though. Their first appearance in that game wasn't bad, but the Cortana mission... The first time I played that level, I was irritated as all hell, though, on repeat plays, I didn't find it as bad. Maybe it's because it was placed so close to the ending.

I'll give Reach credit for giving me the craving to go back and replay all the Campaigns, as my memory is kinda fuzzy on the earlier games. I still remember key moments, though, like the library... and the repeating structures... and... I should stop before I change my mind.

Oh, and thanks for reading the review!
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honestgamer posted September 28, 2010:

Though I disagree with the points you made, pickhut, I felt that this was one of your finest reviews to date. Your writing was assured, thorough and engaging. Keep up the good work!
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pickhut posted September 28, 2010:

Thanks for the feedback, Venter! I was kinda concerned about the length of the review, since I rarely write reviews this "big", and I was worried it was going to be too talky for people to want to read from start to finish.
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Suskie posted September 29, 2010:

You know, I think the one thing I don't like about this review is the incessant Bungie bashing, specifically the part where you hint that they "just didn't care." Dude, I don't think I've ever seen a developer that demonstrates more love of the craft and commitment to their fans than Bungie. Say what you will about how well they did with Reach, but few developers care more than Bungie does.

Otherwise, good review.
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pickhut posted September 29, 2010:

I don't understand the post. I only said it felt like they didn't care that much with Reach, not the entire Halo series, but then you also made that point in your post as well.

As for developerment teams that care, I'm gonna have to say I believe Valve does a better job at that.
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EmP posted September 29, 2010:

If Valve cared more, they'd release good games.

[Obligatory controversial statement of the week]

I've started spending a lot of time in multiplayer recently, and I can see where you're coming from sometimes. At one point, I spawned three times in a row and got my head blown off before I even really knew I was back. I've combated this mainly by staying in Rumble Pit and Firefight.

Disagree with a lot of the single player observations. I don;t like the Reach campaign as much as Halo 3, but it had some real stand out moments. Not enough damn tank, but driving a vunerable mongoose through the legs of rampagaing sacarbs and praying a stray plasma blast didn't hurl you off course was fantastic.

I'll get around to a review of my own soon. Promise.
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pickhut posted September 29, 2010:

I had a terrible first experience with that moment because I let Emile drive XD. He kept hitting the brakes every 2 seconds... I'm shocked I didn't die. He failed the jump, though.

I guess I'm just really disappointed that this was how Bungie's final Halo game was going out, so I was annoyed at certain aspects of Campaign.

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