X10: A sandbox shooter and whole lot more: Halo: Reach

I’ve never been a fan of Halo because I’m too cool for school, and popular games are hella lame, and no one cool likes what everyone likes. I also wear thick rimmed glasses and listen to pretentious music, so that makes me a better person than you. So there.

Yet — this is a big “yet” — after what I’ve been shown of Halo: Reach, I think I might break down my pretensions and accept what is here: Halo: Reach looks really, really cool.

While I strongly suspect that fans of the Halo franchise wouldn’t expect anything less, there’s quite a bit new in Reach, possibly making it the definitive game in the series. Follow me down the Halo trail, and get a new vision in a world without Master Chief.

Halo: Reach (Xbox 360)
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
To be released: Fall 2010

Halo: Reach, as Bungie was happy to point out, is probably the most ambitious title that it has ever made. While fans of Halo 3 might decry the nature of ODST, it looks like Halo: Reach is a proper prequel, a game that is going to take the series in a new direction, as opposed to keeping the same-old, same-old. The Plot, multiplayer, and the base engine are all brand new to the series. That’s a big deal right there.

Reach, as many of you know, is a prequel to the original series. It’s 2552 on the planet of Reach, and it’s the last line of defense against the covenant. You play as the latest recruit to Noble Team, an elite squad of Spartan 3s. While you are the newest member of the squad (replacing some dead guy), you get plenty of face time with the rest of the crew. It’s a racial and gender mixed squad, right in line with the politically correct ambitions of the day. Here’s the rough’n’gruff leader named Carter 259! Here’s his second in command, a no-sh*t badass lady who probably spells her name (Kat 320) with a K! Here’s the Asian sniper named Jun 266! Another girl! A burly guy who might be black! A crazy member of the team with a shadowy past! Oh Em Gee!

As you can see, not being a fan of the Halo series, the plot here is not the thing that’s exciting. It’s inspired by The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, but… yawn. Can we expect a 12 year-old Spartan tactical genius next? I mean, let’s take this idyllic ’80s Saturday afternoon baloney all the way, m’kay?

However, May 3 does actually excite me. This is the big beta launch for the game, so everything I was shown stands for what fans can look forward to playing in a couple of months. Many of your standard Halo modes will be coming, with levels like “Powerhouse,” a cliff-side level taking place on a hydroelectric center. While I was shown that one arena, it looks amazingly good, much better than even the recent ODST. The May beta will bring a bunch of these levels and modes, with a couple new ones players have never seen before.

Multiplayer levels are now based more so on the single-player campaign. Insanely (and it was hard to understand how it’s going to play out exactly) Halo: Reach is an effing sandbox game. I don’t think anyone outside of Bungie has a clear idea how this is going to play out (and they’re not letting on just yet) but there is a guy whose entire job is to be the sandbox designer (it’s in his title). While details are slim, Bungie made it seem like there are going to be many different ways a player is able to approach a mission.

Oddly, expect the triumphant return of health packs. Seems like the folks at Bungie like the idea of strategically placing them all over multiplayer maps. To this I’m completely nonchalant, and who the hell knows, it might be the groundbreaking thing they want it to be.

Now, the biggest reason I am excited about Halo: Reach are the visuals. I will say it here: I have never been impressed with a Halo game before when it came to the looks. (Sorry, but personal opinion.) However, Bungie has rebuilt almost the entire Halo engine, and it effin’ shows. This game is incredible in action. When some games this day and age struggle with textures, Halo: Reach has some of the most in-depth looking levels, terrain, and weapons I’ve ever seen on a 360 title. Even the facial animations of your squad mates has gone through the roof. While supposedly amazingly animated games like Assassin’s Creed 2 (and a whole lot more) struggle with good looking facial animation, Halo: Reach rocks it in this department.

Here’s some numbers on what this game can do: There are four times the polygons of Halo 3 in Halo: Reach, for example. Halo 3 had no more than 100 colliding particles, and Halo: Reach has thousands. I’m not one for being a “graphics whore,” but damn skippy, does this game look fine.

Now, among other things, the Covenant Elite is going to make a comeback in a big way. There was also a new enemy called the Skirmisher, which looked like a kitty/doggy version of the covenant. Expect big teeth.

Weapons, too, have been boosted with looks and handling. Besides looking a million times better over Halo 3, weapons like the Needler and the assault rifle look “Oh My God” good. Those graphical enhancements were applied to those weapons, and they look great. Crazily, the Needler is now white, and if you skewer a foe with three or four needles, there will be a nice explosion to reward you. Neat!

Armor Abilities are also a new thing. Taking a note from Modern Warfare or Red Faction: Guerilla, these Armor Abilities will be persistent abilities that you can use as much as you’d like, and are determined before the match. This is stuff like speed boosts, and could be a real game changer for Halo fans.

When looking at Halo: Reach, I’m going to leave you with this quote from the short documentary I was shown: “This is the definitive Halo by the people who made Halo.” You can better believe they look like they are backing this up. I’ve never been excited about these games, and you know what? I’m going to be online with the rest of you come May 3.

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Ben Perlee
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