Thursday, December 9, 2010

Video Game Review: Halo: Reach

I find myself in a situation very few men in this world share: my wife likes to play Halo. In fact, she's better at it than I am. So as the release for Halo: Reach approached back in September, I pre-ordered it on Amazon. But I still got in trouble because I selected Free Super-Saver Shipping. Which meant that it came 7–10 days after the release date instead of arriving the day-of. So while the rest of her family were already playing, we had no means to do so. So she went over to her sister Jennie's house to play. I was too busy that week to tag along, so I had to wait until our copy of the game arrived before I could play.

There are a few new features compared to previous games. In the fictional universe of Halo, several different species of aliens have banded together under a religion called "The Covenant." The Covenant declares war on mankind. The first three Halo games take place during the Human–Covenant wars. The new game, Halo: Reach, is actually a prequel to those games, so it has to avoid some of the advances made in Halo 2 and Halo 3.[1] Probably the biggest change is that before a multiplayer match begins, you are given five loadout options that you can choose from: sprint, jetpack, armor lock, invisibility, and decoy. Each lasts only a few seconds but can give you a brief advantage.

The Sprint allows your character to run faster than normal. This helps you to run across a map quickly to engage in a shootout, to escape when your health is low, or to attack an opponent at short range (e.g. melee, shotgun, sword) before they can mount a defense.

The Jetpack allows your character to fly up to a certain height. This is useful for reconnaissance. It also helps you to traverse the map more quickly, gives you to access to unique vantage points, and can make you more difficult to shoot (especially with the rocket launcher which usually relies on proximity rather than a direct hit).

The Armor Lock makes your character impregnable and boosts your normal shields briefly after the armor lock is turned off. This allows you to recover your shields, to avoid injury from explosive weapons (such as grenades, lasers, or rockets) or vehicles, and can actually blast your enemy with a plasma charge at the moment you deactivate it, injuring them.

The Invisibility renders your character mostly invisible [2], as long as you're not moving too quickly. It also disrupts the radar of the other characters so they can't be sure where you are. This allows you to hide (for example, with a shotgun) and wait for an unsuspecting enemy to walk by. You can also sneak up on them or snipe from a hidden position.

The Decoy creates a holographic copy of your character that rushes forward, pretending to be you. This allows you to distract your opponent with the decoy while you attack from another angle. Or you can use it to flush out your enemies, opening them up to attack.

One other difference is that when you assassinate (melee) someone from behind you are now presented with an animation. The camera backs out and you watch yourself stick a knife into your opponent. While the animation is playing, you are vulnerable to attack from other players.

There are also a few new game types this time around, including (but not limited to) Firefight and Headhunter. In Firefight you're dropped in an area and ordered to defend it. Wave after wave of increasingly difficult Covenant forces then assault you until you've defeated them all or they've defeated you.  

Headhunter is a multiplayer game where you run around collecting flaming skulls that fall from the other players as you defeat them (their skull plus any others that they are carrying). You score them by running through a drop-off point which changes its position on the map every so often.

Finally, starting with Halo 3, the creators of the game actually included an option to edit the levels and rearrange them to some extent. This feature was called the Forge. Forging has been included in Halo: Reach, but expanded to make it much easier and more intuitive. One of the best things about it is a huge empty map, called Forge World, which gives you tons of terrains that you can play with to create your own levels to play on.

My verdict: The dynamic of the game has definitely changed due to the loadouts and that makes the game a fresh and interesting addition to the Halo franchise without representing a step backwards in terms of game play. The new game types are also a lot of fun and Forge World is awesome. I'll admit, though, that I wish Bungie's last contribution to the Halo universe [3] had involved the planet seen at the end of Halo 3 instead of a prequel.

Note to parents: This is definitely not a game for children. There is gore, violence, and profanity. It was rated "Mature 17+" by the ESRB (see


[1] e.g. health packs are back, falling damages you, you can't dual-wield weapons, and you can't carry around and use equipment like land mines, bubble shields, power drainers, etc.

[2] You're not entirely invisible because the cloaking device still distorts light paths. So a 'wavy' version of yourself can still be discerned, but this is rather difficult—especially at a distance.

[3] From here on out, Microsoft will be developing any future Halo video games. Hopefully they do as well as Bungie has, so far.

Image attributions:

All images are screenshots of the video game Halo: Reach., which is © Microsoft Corporation. They are presented here in the context of providing information about the product, and thus constitute fair use.

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