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Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) artwork

Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) review


"Thereís success to be found in Reach but the conclusion is forever fated to be bitter-sweet. Itís your role to watch the planet you set out to defend burn, and thereís nothing you can do to stop it. All you can do is try to make sure that before the cities are crushed and the surface turned to glass, that the invading army knows fear the way you do. And if thatís not enough, that they also know that a 5.52mm bullet to the head is universally fatal independent of race."



Reach is a dead planet that just doesnít know it yet. Itís a graveyard to millions, a catalyst to the supposed genocide of humanity. Reach was the metaphorical doorstep to Earth -- a planet as well defended and as well populated as the mother homeworld; the last defendable obstacle to overcome for an invading fleet. Itís doomed. For those not keeping up with Halo lore, Reach was effortlessly taken by an unstoppable wave of Covenant in the midst of their religious crusade cunningly disguised as xenophobia.

From the moment you set foot on the planet, it doesnít seem right. It is, as they say, quiet. Too quiet. Blind assumptions about rebel insurgents are blamed for the strewn civilian corpses and the dog-eared remains of military personnel. As your small squad of prototype Spartans emerge from wrecked homes still stained with their former inhabitantís blood, theyíre met with a litter of plasma fire.

Itís almost surreal how casually they record the covenantís presence on Reach, but the first holding party of jackals and grunts are seen off relatively easily. You are backed by two other Spartans, after all, one with a ridiculously large minigun, and a third ally raining down death from above in a pelican attack craft. Aliens fall with relative ease and you can start to understand your teamís lack of urgency. The covenant are on Reach -- so what? You just wiped out an entire platoon without breaking a sweat.

You move on through ruined fields flush with sniping grunts and heavily armoured elites. Dropships deposit more targets to mow down, which you do. A rally of elites makes this stretch your first worthwhile battle; they group together, firing new laser mortars into your ranks, bolstering the lower orderís confidence and adding a sense of deadly cunning. On Reach, the elites are no longer a race of warriors wrongly enslaved to an unbreakable religious doctrine. They are not to be pitied or reasoned with; they are to be killed before they kill you. They are sadistic, merciless and intelligent foes that want you dead, and they will climb over the corpses of their fallen brethren to achieve this single-minded goal.

But theyíll fall with enough bullets, like everything else. Their hardy energy shields will falter, their armoured frames will puncture and their purple blood will flow. With the countryside cleared of hostiles, your air support will collect you and transfer you to a farming storeroom on the edge of the territory. Here, your team need hold position against a few advance squads until your obligatory tech can fix the hanger doors. Thereís now six of you against an enemy invasion force that has so far been casually dismissed as a slight nuisance. The small contingent laying initial siege goes down so easily they may as well press the nozzle of their plasma pistols to what passes as their temples, and give the trigger a squeeze.

Then a dropship deposits reinforcements. Then another. And another. Then banshee fighter craft descend from the clouds, ploughing you with heavy plasma fire from above. Then another dropship arrives. Whenever you drop a grunt, whenever you overpower a jackalís riot-shield-like defence or concentrate enough fire to put an elite down, theyíre replaced almost immediately. You go from stalking the enclosed courtyard like a predator to huddling together with your squad in a storeroom, yelling at your tech to close the bloody doors. This happens in seconds. Thereís no time to rally, no time to offer up a counter strike. Thereís only fall back. Or die.

Itís instantly sobering. Take a look around you and look at the hardened warriors at your side. In all the Halo titles such a destructive force has yet to be constructed, yet they have been forced to run. They all stand on a planet that suggests that, when all is said and done, they, along with every solider that has your back, every civilian you encounter, will all be long dead before Master Chief so much as headshots his first grunt.

Itís a sharp reinvention of the series, scaling everything right back to its roots while, at the same time, evolving things in such a drastic way, you kind of have to forget that Reach is a prequel. Jackals are faster and smarter, able to jump fifty-foot gaps to gain better sniper positions or to try and dissuade concentrated fire. They even have a meaner cousin in scavengers who wear energy shields like bracers and tend to be bigger and tougher. Warhammer-swinging brutes show up like theyíve always been there and the days when you could hide quietly in a corner and snipe down hunters are long gone: nothing short of an orbital nuclear strike will take these guys out now.

You meet all of these in staggering number as youíre thrown all over Reach in your futile effort to save the planet. You could be scouting a desolate rocky region at night in one mission, only to find yourself space-bound in the next at the helm of a fighter craft trying to board an enemy destroyer. One level might have you snaking around the edges of a huge scale battle taking out AA guns, while the next could see you deep in the heart of a research facility, trying to protect anti-personnel turrets from wave after wave of commando-class elites.

My greatest memory in Halo 3 was a level in which, after a brief firefight, I was given a huge Scorpion tank to drive into the heart of the enemy. Encased in armour and feeling very smug, I destroyed everything that stood in my path effortlessly. The soldiers that, a few second ago, were being annihilated by covenant forces sat on the sides of my tank, cheering and mocking every explosion, every enemy death. It was a moment of pure retribution: a moment where, just a for a while, humanity had regained the advantage. We had the upper hand, and we were going to engulf you in flames -- there was nothing that could be done to stop us. In stark contrast, my most poignant memory from Reach is on another vehicle. A Mongoose ATV, a light, fast quad with no offensive capabilities and no armour. On it, a teammate and I sped haphazardly through enemy territory knowing that one stray shot, one unlucky explosion, one meaningful glance, would overturn our flimsy ride and leave us at the mercy of forces we had no hope of even denting. And then, when it looked like safety was a possibility, we weaved through the legs of multi-storey walking tanks, and prayed they didnít notice us while we unashamedly fled.

Thereís success to be found in Reach but the conclusion is forever fated to be bitter-sweet. Itís your role to watch the planet you set out to defend burn, and thereís nothing you can do to stop it. All you can do is try to make sure that before the cities are crushed and the surface turned to glass, that the invading army knows fear the way you do. And if thatís not enough, that they also know that a 5.56mm bullet to the head is universally fatal independent of race.

Rating: 9/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (September 29, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Feedback

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pickhut posted September 30, 2010:

I enjoyed reading this review, even though I disagree with the feelings about the game. XD

Question, though: is there any particular reason why you only stuck to talking about the Campaign?
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EmP posted September 30, 2010:

Thanks!

Mainly because that's the reason I buy Halo games. Yeah, the multiplayer is cool and all, but I but and enjoy the games based mainly on the single player.
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Suskie posted September 30, 2010:

There are some striking similarities between this review and my own. I'm certainly not accusing you of making off with my ideas, but it seems like we walked away from the campaign with an almost identical impression.
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jerec posted September 30, 2010:

He's not saying that, but he sure is thinking it loudly.
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Suskie posted September 30, 2010:

No, I seriously don't think EmP would do that. I'd say we both simply had the same feelings toward the campaign and decided to tackle them from precisely the same angle. That in and of itself is noteworthy, but I'm chalking it up to coincidence.
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EmP posted October 01, 2010:

I hadn't actually read your review, Suskie. Ironically, because I try not to read up on games I plan to review so I don't get influenced by anything. Now that I have read it, perhaps I should do so earlier in future to try and make sure I don't offer near identical rewrites.

I actually deliberated about the fall back point for a while because, on my first playthrough on normal, I cleared out the area I (we) highlighted, then wandered around for ages, shooting at the banshee. wandering where to go. But it was on co-op and normal. When I started the single player shortly afterwards on Heroic and expected to stroll that part again, I got my arse well and truly kicked. Trying to convey that in the review made me sound arrogant about the first trip, so it got power edited.
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Suskie posted October 01, 2010:

I actually like how you elaborated on that scenario more than I did. It left less space to talk about other things, but I don't think that's a problem because you still made the point just as clearly. I enjoyed reading it, even if the whole time I was going, "Wait a minute..."

I might actually write up another review in the near future that talks about the multiplayer in more depth now that I've taken the game online. Then again, maybe I won't.

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