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Halo Reach is a triumphant final chapter, letting me play an integral part in the fight against the Covenant. With so much content and variety this might be the only shooter I'll be playing for next few months, especially as it has such extensive wardrobe options.
This might be controversial, but despite conquering the multiplayer arena I don't think Bungie have made a fully satisfying Halo single player campaign since Combat Evolved. Certainly after the disappointment of Halo ODST, I had begun to lose faith in the skill of the development team that saved the Xbox launch. With the release of Halo Reach though they make a spectacular return to form that finally marries quality visuals to their great game play.
For their fourth proper Halo game, Bungie have returned to the planet of Reach - the birthplace of the Spartan program and a prologue to the first game. Whilst Master Chief fights his own battles out of sight, you join Noble team in a desperate attempt to understand the extent of the Covenant invasion and then play a pivotal part in the events of Master Chief's trilogy.
This rich story really pulled me into the struggle with my small Spartan squad. Even though faceless and nameless, I felt a greater part of the story than in any first person shooter this year. The cut scenes and the levels that often partnered you with a member of the team provided time to learn about each of their personalities.
The moment of lift-off captured my boyhood dreams of manning Saturn V to the moon and dog fighting the Covenant was every bit as great as my fondly remembered X-Wing games.
As well as the excellent on foot sections, vehicles continue to offer a strong experience in Reach. This time you spend an enjoyably large amount of time driving and flying your way around the expansive levels. This led to many memorable moments during the campaign, but two in particularly stand out for me. Firstly, flying Spartans in space was simply great fun to play. The moment of lift-off captured my boyhood dreams of manning Saturn V to the moon and dog fighting the Covenant was every bit as great as my fondly remembered X-Wing games. Should Microsoft deem to make a game exclusively set in the cockpit, then sign me up.
Flying the Falcons amongst the skyscrapers of New Alexandria also stuck a deep chord. Flying between skyscrapers and shooting Banshees was fun, but the real objective of landing on those buildings and activating the beacons deep inside their structures was the real treat.
I wasn't learning patterns I was learning behaviours.
Swapping third person flying for the first person action brought a beautiful rhythm to the level. It also made for some daring escapes - entry was almost always hard fought, but escape could be as simple as dodging plasma and attempting to reach my chopper by the shortest route. The fight or flight reaction was a game I enjoyed every time giving me a choice that let the actions of Noble Six echo my own fears.
My experience throughout was enhanced by playing the game on almost the hardest difficulty setting - here fighting the Covenant's Elites was a true test of skill. The quality of level design and AI mean no two encounters are ever the same. Unlike other shooters, restarting a section didn't guarantee the same enemy would pop up at the same moment.
I wasn't learning patterns I was learning behaviours. Despite dying regularly at certain points, I was able to learn from each mistake and eventually a solution was found. This combination of skill and puzzle solving elevates Halo above all other first person shooters.
When I'd finally played through to an ending that was both surprising and poignant for me, there was still a lot to do. Even if the competitive multiplayer modes aren't your cup of tea, there is still the cooperative Firefight mode that returns from ODST. Here you survive waves of Covenant attacks with friends or strangers in a collective struggle that is always hugely enjoyable. Fighting a common foe seems to bring out the best in the multiplayer community and daring rescues and heroic last stands punctuated almost every match I played. The addition of new powers such as the superb jet pack just make this mode even more fun than before - quick escapes are never more than a shoulder button press away.
Halo is also a bit of a dress up delight featuring a huge selection of helmets and armour for your Spartan.
Halo is also a bit of a dress up delight featuring a huge selection of helmets and armour for your Spartan. Almost every action in the game, whether campaign or multiplayer unlocks new wardrobe options. Whilst none of these give you any advantage there is kudos in having the flaming helmet of voice of Master Chief. Because the effects are just cosmetic I loved to experiment mixing and matching in a way I wouldn't do if I was juggling for the best stat bonuses.
Halo Reach is the complete package, providing a dressup experience of becoming a Spartan all wrapped up with gorgeous presentation and a story that naturally led to exciting encounters. After this I'm hungry for the next Bungie project, whatever that might be.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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