On November 15th 2001, Microsoft released the XBOX console to North America. One of the launch titles for the console was “Halo: Combat Evolved”, a Sci-Fi First Person Shooter developed originally for the Macintosh but became an XBOX title after Microsoft acquired Bungie Studios, the maker of the game. Halo became a huge success, critically and commercially, selling more than 5 million copies worldwide since November 2005, and spawning 3 sequels including an expansion for Halo 3, and a spin-off Real Time Strategy game “Halo Wars”. Halo has become one of the most iconic series of the new millennium, and in gaming history. With such huge success, Bungie was able to once again become an independent studio, although Microsoft still claims ownership to the Halo IP.
Now we have “Halo: Reach” the final game in series to be developed by Bungie Studios. This game takes us back to where the series all began, on the planet Reach before Halo “Combat Evolved” took place. This is Bungie’s swan song to the Halo series, their final contribution to one of the most recognizable icons in gaming history. This final game will leave a lasting impression on fans everywhere that have followed this series since its first game. Is this just a cheap cash in, or a memorable, exciting game that matches the expectations of the title “Halo”?
Bungie has given us a memorable, challenging campaign, new multiplayer modes and gameplay, and a more refined editing tool that makes for some really creative maps and games. This is the essential Halo experience.
Gameplay is one of the most changed features of the game. Instead of Halo 3’s regenerating health system, you now have Health and regenerating shields similar to Halo 1 or ODST. Thankfully there are health packs at regular intervals so it doesn’t become too much of an issue. You’ve also lost the ability to dual wield weapons and some weapons have been dropped altogether, but thankfully there are plenty new weapons that are tons more fun to use.
Probably the biggest change is the use of armor abilities. Instead of picking up equipment for one use, you can pick up certain power ups for your armor, such as jetpacks, shields and invisibility. There’s no limit to how many times you can use the abilities but they do require a cool down, so use them carefully. The armor abilities really mix things up and make the combat varied and exciting.
The single player campaign has you playing as Noble Six, a super soldier who has been assigned to Noble Team, a group of fellow Spartan super soldiers. Together you have to stand against the alien juggernaut known as the Covenant as you defend the planet Reach from a full scale invasion. One thing interesting about your character is that you can modify how you look in the campaign. The armor you purchase with credits from multiplayer and single player games, determines how you look in the campaign. There’s a ton to modify, from your gender to making your helmet shoot lightning.
Multiplayer, one of the strong points of the Halo series is equally as fun. The gameplay is slightly modified in that you can’t pick up armor abilities on the map, but instead choose classes before you respawn. Some of the gametypes have you progressively unlock better classes as the match goes on. There are tons of different game modes to choose from, meaning that things stay varied. Certain modes have you play as Covenant Elites, which are stronger, bigger and faster than Spartans. Thankfully it’s balanced so that the Elites don’t win every time. There’s also firefight, which was previously featured in Halo: ODST, in which you and other players fight of wave after wave of AI enemies for the highest score possible. Firefight has been greatly improved and is now customizable to the player, resulting in hours of replay ability.
If this wasn’t enough, there’s also forge which allows you to edit he objects on a map. In Halo 3 people came up with all sorts of different map variants and creations with this, and Bungie has refined forge so much that I think that the creative potential is endless. Forge has been refined to be more precise, bigger and better. In addition, Bungie has made Forgeworld, a map so big and diverse that the opportunities for creation are endless.
Microsoft may still publish more Halo Games, but to Bungie the Halo series has come full circle. Bungie has given us a memorable campaign, exciting multiplayer, and more customization than ever before. It’s a fitting end to one of gaming’s most recognized icons and will be played for years to come.