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A totally unbiased review of Halo: Reach So, Halo Reach came out last tuesday. I was at work on tuesday, and wednesday and thursday. Yet I was still able to finish it by friday. I think thats a fair indication of just how desperate I was to play this game. I wasn't overly interested in the multiplayer experience or the new features. The main thing for me was the story and campaign experience. So overall this is a review of the story and single player experience. Before I go on I will just say that this is going to be fucking full of SPOILERS, so don't say I didn't warn you. And when I say spoilers, I mean I'm going to rip the entire story wide open..
Halo Reach as I'm sure you know, puts you in the shoes of noble 6, a product of the Spartan 3 program, and a typically silent hero. Noble 6 as a character is intentionally uninteresting, apart from constant references to his prior black ink ops. The reason for this is it pushes him away from the story emphasis, despite him being the players interaction mechanic. The overall storytelling is done via the other 5 members of Noble, Carter, Cat, Jun, Emile and Jorge. All apart from Jorge are also Spartan 3's, whereas the massive Jorge is a Spartan 2 and veteran of over 30 years. on a side note, the few times you see Jorge's face, the scars and marks are clearly reminiscent of past battles, and are a nice detail. Anyways, as I said, the main body of the story is covered by the other 5 members of Noble, and they are clearly cast into roles of a somewhat dysfunctional family.
The entire family dynamic does work as you see them bicker and there is tension amongst them. One thing I noticed was a mild animosity between Jorge and Emile, which I took to be due to the difference in origin. Other than that, the only friction I noticed was between Carter and Cat, which turns out to be over the loss of the previous Noble 6, Thom. But anyway, the family dynamic of Noble brings a feeling to the game of a much more human storyline, similar to Halo ODST. The story, by feeling more human, makes it easier for the player to connect to the game, unlike in the original Halo games. Throughout the halo series, the only major character you can actually connect to is Cortana, and that is for two reasons. 1 she talks a hell of a lot, and 2 shes a naked hologram babe. Other than that there are no major characters to love and adore. Yes we all think Sargent Johnson kicks some serious ass, but he was just funny in a slightly cheesy way. That said, I did really like the way the relationship between the Chief and Cortana is strained in Halo 3, it really does emphasise the importance of their, shall we say relationship. And in Halo 2, when the Master Chief has to leave Cortana behind, it is one of the most upsetting parts in a game of all time. "Don't make a girl a promise, if you know you can't keep it". http://youtu.be/ZjGJtxLTwY0 Anyway, I'm getting distracted, back to reach. each of the characters is initially hostile to 6, since he is an outcast, but as the game goes on, all of them share something with him, be it a memory or an opinion. Sadly this is all a part of the apocalyptic, sombre tone that goes through the entire game. At one point Cat simply says "your first glassing? mine to", the impact of it being something horrific and morose being shared. Everything is in context to the backdrop of this inevitable fate, and all the characters are simply doing the best they can.
The pretence of the story is this small group of Spartan doing what they can to slow the covenant down. They know what they do may make no difference yet they still do. Inevitably almost all of them die, but each of them leaves in such a way that it makes you remember their actions and all that they accomplished.
In the end your actions are critical, and Noble 6's final actions define him in the same way as the rest of Noble, willing to do what is necessary for what is best. the actual ending, though solemn, bittersweet and actually upsetting, is one of my favourites, the direction is brilliant and it really satisfied and left with overall optimism with where the player can go from there, to remember the actions of team Noble.
Now this wouldn't be a true halo game if it didn't have an amazing orchestral soundtrack, and Martin O'Donnell doesn't dissapoint. If anything, it is currently arguing in my head whether I prefer this of ODST's soundtrack. It really is a tough one to make, since they are both brilliant in their own way. ODST does a brilliant job of creating isolation and loss of purpose simply from the music. Reach makes you remember all that you have been through over the last 10 years. There are little exerts from previous Halo games as well as new pieces which are stunning. Since Halo 3, there has been a real maturity in O'Donnell's compositions, with really complex rhythms and subtle nuances throughout, and he is one reason I will but anything bungie makes, if he is the sound director.
The soundtrack is different from ODST though, as I said, since it cannot exist on its own. ODST had so many pieces of music that could have existed in so many other mediums. The soundtrack here is brilliant, but only as a compliment to the game. At any point when you are listening to it, all you will be feeling is the game, but then that is what they set out to do I feel.
Bungie clearly set out to make gamers remember all that they had been through over the last ten years with Halo Reach. The game serves as a homage to the studio, the universe, and all the characters that it has created. Towards the end of the game, I was nearly moved to tears as a realisation of what this game signifies came over me. This was Bungie's swan song, their final chapter, in the same way that Halo 3 closed off Master Chief, this closes off their input into the franchise. From here, judging by what has emerged already, all we can expect to see is a divulging of the franchise, with non-canon stories, more action figures, and cheesy psuedo rts games with a halo badge on them. It worries me, since Halo is something I grew up with and cherish my memories of that. Halo was and still is one of few games outside of the RPG genre, that tries to involve the player, make the player have some kind of emotional weight into the game, to amaze the player with a sense of scale, a sense of powerlessness, a sense of immense forboding, an inclination of the part that you have to play in the grand scheme. I can only hope that whoever takes over the franchise now, treats it with as much love as we hold it in.