Bungie finishes strong with Halo Reach

Bradley Wilson, Editor-in-Chief

After nine years of work from Bungie Studios, the Halo franchise has officially come to an end. Halo Reach, the final installment in the Halo series, hit stores on September 14th, in one of the biggest video game releases of all time.

Reach is Bungie’s fourth full game in the Halo series, and is set before the previous three games. In the campaign mode, Players take control of a Spartan soldier known only as Noble Six and join a team of other Spartans fighting on the planet Reach, which was the former training location of the Spartan army.

Noble Six, along with the other members of his team, are fighting to take back planet Reach, which has been attacked by large numbers of Covenant forces. While the campaign starts off relatively slow, don’t be turned away from the shallow first mission. The action picks up quickly and leads to the most exciting Halo campaign to date. Battles are large and epic, and are backed up by a powerful soundtrack. The campaign features 10 missions, new vehicles, weapons, and the inclusion of the new armor abilities.

While Halo games are known for exciting campaign modes, Bungie prides itself on the extensive online multiplayer options available to players. Building on experience from Halo 2 and 3, Bungie outdid expectations and created a multiplayer experience that tops not only its predecessors, but any online game I’ve played to date.

The matchmaking lobby has been redesigned, and allows for players to vote on a choice of two or three maps compared to Halo 3 were a map and game mode were assigned to players. If none of the choices are liked, there’s an option to bring up a new choice of maps as well. The online playlists have also been changed from Halo 3. Ranked and social playlists have turned into Competitive, Cooperative, and Arena. The competitive playlist is essentially the social playlist from Halo 3, and players will see familiar game types like Team Slayer, Rumble Pit, and Big Team Battle, as well as the new Invasion game mode. Cooperative hosts online Firefight, a wave survival based game play brought in from ODST, which has been tuned and perfected in Reach.

The Arena is the new version of ranked game play, but has become much more competitive, and precise. Players can compete in either the doubles arena, or team arena (four players per team) and be ranked based on their play during one month “seasons.” Players get assigned a rating each day if they complete three or more arena matches. If you are ranked seven days out of a season, you are assigned to one of five divisions, which range from Iron to Onyx. Only five percent of online players are assigned to the Onyx division, so the arena stays incredibly competitive. If your ranking doesn’t define how good you think you are, seasons rotate pretty quickly, so you can always have another shot at the Gold or Onyx divisions.  Another thing that is cool about the arena is that your ranking isn’t based off of wins and losses, but rather how well you play. Everything you do is worth points, and your points are what assign you your rating for the day.

My favorite aspect of the redesigned online play is the new armor abilities. In most game modes, players are given a choice of five armor abilities to play the game with. The abilities include sprint, active camo, jetpack, evade, armor lock, drop shield, and hologram. Not all abilities are available in every game mode, and sometimes abilities are paired with certain weapon combinations. All of the armor abilities, or “loadouts” as most people call them, have different abilities and are tailored to different styles of play. Run and gun type players enjoy the versatility provided by the sprint and jetpack features, where as more subtle, sneaky players have the active camo and hologram options to deceive their opponents. All of the armor abilities are balanced relatively fairly, although I find myself only using sprint and active camo most of the time. The inclusion of armor abilities in Reach gives more versatility to the game, and allows players to tweak game play to their liking, much like the perk system introduced in the Call of Duty series.

As of Tuesday, October 5th, Bungie released the first major online update for Reach. After analyzing player voting data and hearing users main complaints, the playlists have been tailored according to the user feedback Bungie recieved. In addition, the first season of the arena has officially ended and the second season has commenced.

Many weapons have been redesigned as well. The Battle rifle from Halo 3 has been replaced with the DMR, a 15 shot, semi-automatic  weapon which peaks in power when fired in a rhythm to maximize headshots. The Halo 3 carbine has been replaced with the needle rifle, which is essentially the same gun, but fires accurate needle rounds that explode the opponent. Also introduced are the Plasma repeater, Plasma Launcher, Grenade Launcher, and Focus Rifle. Some guns, like the pistol and the assault rifle, have been redesigned as well, and while they are the same gun, they pack different stats and a different punch. The new guns are a big update from Halo 3, and from my experience so far are way more fun to play with than any previous weapons.

For those who like to build and create, the Forge mode is back in Reach, and has been perfected. The frustrating free rotate from Halo 3 is still available, but now players can spin things on fixed axis, which makes for much easier building. A “Forge World” map is also available, which is the biggest map on a Halo game to date. It features numerous different areas that are unique, which allows players to customize to their hearts content. Be on the lookout for some great Forge content online in the coming months.

In three weeks of playing, I’ve been nothing but impressed with Reach. It builds on a decade worth of experience, and combines all the best parts of the previous Halo games along with new content to create a game that not only pleases old fans, but welcomes new ones. All game modes have been competitive, and the new guns, vehicles, and weapons have been a blast. The campaign mode is backed by the strongest multiplayer to date, as well as firefight and forge to keep players interested. Halo Reach is one of the most complete video game packages ever made, and any fan of first person shooters should go pick this up immediately, if they aren’t online playing right now.