Friday, 29 October 2010

Halo: Reach (Contains spoilers)

"Remember where it all began. Remember... Reach."

This was the mantra of the advertising campaign that ran up to the launch of one of 2010's most anticipated games, along with some very powerful, live action trailers of regular folks living on Reach going about their daily lives, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that is about to befall them. Unfortunately all of this was wasted on me, because I am probably the only gamer in the 'verse who had no idea that Reach was a planet, let alone it's significance in Halo lore. At least I didn't before playing this.

The first two titles in the Halo franchise passed me merrily by without troubling me in the slightest. I never had an original Xbox, and the little I saw of the PC version of Halo: Combat Evolved didn't exactly make me want to rush out and buy it. So when Halo 3 launched on the 360 I stumbled into it with a vague idea of who Masterchief was and very little else. Being dropped straight into the middle of an ongoing story with no idea what was happening, really hard fights, confusing maps and an impenetrable plot, I quickly got bored. I put the 'Chief back in his box, set him on the shelf and was quite content to leave him there safe in the knowledge that Halo wasn't for me.

When Halo: Reach launched in September, I was tempted by it. I'd been hearing good things, and it was after-all going to be (developer) Bungie's last foray into the Halo universe, so it was pretty much guaranteed to be a decent game by anyone's standards. I was still in two minds about buying the thing or not right up until the point I slipped the disc into the draw of my Xbox. And as I started playing, I suddenly "got it". I was starting from scratch, playing a prequel without foreknowledge of what was to come which made the whole thing more exciting for me, I believe, than for a Halo devotee who would have known exactly what had happened on Reach.

The game starts on a reveal of the helmet you just chose from the armour selection screen sat in the middle of a scorched wasteland, sporting a huge bullet-hole in the visor. Ominous, yes, but I'm not nearly fatalistic enough to jump to the obvious conclusion of YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!! I mean, I didn't realise from my hour or so of playing Halo 3 that Masterchief was the LAST Sapartan! How could I have known?

The game breaks you in gently enough, with a mission to investigate the actions of a local rebel group, which turns out to be a small expeditionary group of Covenant, the coalition of alien forces intent on wiping out humanity. The fights and set-pieces get tougher and more spectacular as the game progresses, until you finally discover that it's not just an expeditionary force, it's a full scale invasion! Cue some of the most jaw-dropping battles I've ever seen in an FPS. The mission to knock out a sensor jamming station is just awesome, with you tearing along in your trusty Warthog flanked by dozens of others and with huge ships thundering overhead, like flying battleships, pummelling the enemy with enormous ordnance. There's a nicely handled space battle thrown in for good measure, lots of varied vehicular sections and some of the best on foot running and gunning I've had the pleasure to encounter. Another highlight for me was the point where you get back onto Reach from the Covenant mothership. You find yourself alone in a city which at first glance looks normal, all clean lines and white buildings, but then you start to notice litter everywhere, and here or there the unmistakeable slumped form of a dead body. As you progress through the level things get dirtier and darker, smoke and fire start appearing, just glimpsed in the distance at first, but getting closer every time you pass a window. It's exquisitely done, and just helped suck me into the game all the more. The game is driven along by a beautifully written and acted series of FMV set pieces that really ramp up the tension and sense of hopelessness.

The campaign really got it's claws into me, so much so that I finished it in three sittings, (make sure you stay for the post-credits sequence, it's awesome!) The way Reach ends leads me to believe that Halo: Combat Evolved takes place immediately after, and it left me wanting to see how the story continues. Take note Bungie, I think an Xbox Live Arcade launch of a pimped up HDified Halo 1 and 2 would make you a killing off the back of Reach! Anyway, without having access to those first two games, I made do with playing through ODST, which I also thoroughly enjoyed and completed, and now I'm back in Halo 3 and about half-way through the campaign there two.

Halo:Reach. Simply the finest campaign in any first person shooter to date. Now for completing it on Legendary in co-op!

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