Thursday, 23 September 2010

Gaming Reviews: Halo Reach

Halo: Reach
Bungie/Microsoft Games Studios
Available Now £39.99 (Xbox 360)
Review by Rob Wade

This was always going to be a game that attracted a lot of media attention, as well as attention from gamers. The last Halo game that Bungie will ever work on, as they are now partners with Activision of Call of Duty notoriety, Halo: Reach was also always going to attract a lot of attention as it is in fact a prequel to the events of the Halo trilogy. Dealing the fall of Reach, the first planet to be completely taken over by the forces of the Covenant, the game’s antagonists, the game takes the form of a first-person shooter much in the vein of the others in the series that have preceded it. Hardly surprising, as it would have hardly been fitting for the final game in Bungie’s Halo legacy to be a dance mat game or a kart racer.

Players take on the role of Noble Six, a member of Noble Team, one of the teams of Spartans (genetically engineered and enhanced combat soldiers) responsible for military action on the planet of Reach. The introductory mission sees you performing some reconnaissance to a downed communication relay, but it doesn’t take long before something is clearly amiss on planet Reach. Noble Team then investigates the problems, only for all hell to break loose fairly swiftly.

Let’s talk first about the changes that have been made to gameplay between the previous games and this one. The main game hub is a menu system allowing players to either go for single player Campaign, multiplayer options or the customisation of their heroic Spartan (incidentally, feminists and girl gamers everywhere can rejoice in the fact that this game allows you to play a female Spartan). Customisation options are rife when it comes to your Spartan, all the way from shoulder plating to their voice, but almost all at a cost of credits that are earned in-game.

Players now have a tweaked control scheme to get their heads around, mainly to introduce the new concept of special abilities that each Spartan can load out with. Options include Hologram, which projects an image of the player to draw enemy fire, all the way to Jetpack, which as you might have guessed allows you to pilot a jetpack. Players use these special abilities in a pinch in order to get themselves out of a pickle or indeed to enhance their offensive powers. These powers, once you get the hang of their use and practical applications, are definitely easy to use and can be very handy at certain points in the game.

Enemy players, too, have their own special abilities that can be useful for them but frustrating for you (and those abilities are also possible to use if you choose to play as Covenant soldiers in the game’s multiplayer). An important caveat regarding the Jetpack is that fall damage has been re-introduced in Halo: Reach, which means that players have to be smart about use of the jetpack or jumping off higher points for tactical advantage.

Single-player, therefore, plays out much like previous games, although there is one subtle difference. In this game, being as you are part of a team and not just a lone soldier in the form of Master Chief, there is much more of a focus on teamwork with the other member of your squad that you will be inevitably paired with on many missions. Also, players can accumulate other marines to join what's called a 'Fireteam', a dynamic squad who will follow you and lay down covering fire while you go through the levels.


There are some new weapons added into the game for this outing, including a Covenant Plasma launcher, which fires up to 4 sticky grenades at a target, all the way to an Ordnance marker for calling in airstrikes (much in the same vein as Gears of War's Hammer of Dawn, but less prone to arse). New vehicles, also, litter the battlefield, the main one being a giant two-man Plasma tank which is totally bollocking awesome to drive, and even more fun to run Grunts down in.

In order to keep the single-player Campaign mode fresh, Bungie have introduced what's called a 'Challenges' system. Every day/week, Bungie introduce some new single and multiplayer challenges, which are rewarded with some of those in-game credits I mentioned earlier. These may range from killing a certain number of a certain enemy to killing any enemy with a certain type of weapon a certain number of times. This adds a depth of longevity to the single-player, although let's face it: nobody is running out of gameplay experience with four difficulty levels (two of which are fucking beastly, particularly Legendary mode) and the option of playing it through on multiplayer co-operative over Xbox Live.

Let's move on to the multiplayer. As well as Firefight mode, the arena-based Horde mode of this particular franchise which can be played using the game's Matchmaking system (or 'find players you don't know to play with' to the non-Halo player) or co-operatively with your friends, the game also boasts a significant number of multiplayer modes, the most notable of which is Invasion, a new objective-based team battle pitting Spartans versus Covenant Elites. All of these game modes are accessible, easy to enjoy and easier still to get engrossed in.

Fans of previous efforts by Bungie in this series will be pleased to know that the crazy amounts of video and file sharing present in the previous iterations are back with a vengeance in this edition, as well as some more in-depth ForgeWorld options (the game's real-time level editor). With this amount of features and options, the game can certainly be said to provide the same value for money it always has and considerably more still. Plus, knowing Microsoft and Bungie, there are almost certainly new level packs on the way before too long.

Technically, this game is superb. The environments are detailed, with rich colours and jungle scapes during the planetary levels. One of the best things about this game is the sheer scale of it. Ships go streaking past close-by that have no relevance to your mission, while all the time capital ships and small fighters are flying and zipping around respectively further back. It really just serves to get you completely hooked into the game world, as you really do feel the scale of the game in every way as you go along, and feel the sense of scale that makes you feel comparatively small in the significantly larger war machine.

The music and sound do a great job of this as well, with Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori teaming up once again to provide another stirring and at the same time moving soundtrack. Sound effects are also used to create the same sense of scale. Anti-air cannons rumble as they fire, and the ground shakes inside the structure as you stand inside trying to sabotage it. Voice acting is as good as it needs to be, which is pretty damned good in this case, and the gun sound effects sound sufficiently weighty and satisfying.

How, then, do you feel at the end of this game? It's the end of an era ten years in the making, one of the most successful game franchises of all time and one of the game franchises responsible for selling many consoles (as I'm sure it will continue to do this time round). The answer, simply put, is sad, but not I suspect in the way you might expect. Yes, the series is over and done with. Yes, Reach falls (that's not a spoiler by the way, this has been common knowledge for a while). Ultimately, though, what you'll feel at the end is a sense of poignancy that you wouldn't have ever thought you could get from a video game, while at the same time getting totally pumped up to play back through the series again to get the full Halo experience.

If you'll excuse me, then, I'm going to go back to enjoying Halo: Reach.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Some of the smoothest action ever seen on Xbox 360. Rich, detailed landscapes which serve to make you feel totally engaged in the game.
Sound/Music: Classic Halo goodness from Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori in terms of music, and the usual great sound effects and Covenant noises.
Gameplay: The same brand of action we’ve come to know and love from the series, refined and perfected to deliver a tremendous gameplay experience.
Lasting Appeal: Multiplayer will give you tons to do, and with challenges and co-operative multiplayer options, the single player is no slouch either.
Summary: Words are scarcely enough for this game, which is thrilling and saddening all at the same time. An absolute masterpiece, and a fitting send-off from Bungie and Microsoft. It’s been a hell of a ride. 10/10


AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY GIVEAWAY

Growing up in Texas, Bill Hicks first started performing comedy at the age of 15. He soon became a regular in Houston's comedy circuit, before moving to LA and embarking on a touring schedule, playing up to 300 shows a year, all in a country where he was largely unknown.

In 1990, Hicks performed in the United Kingdom for the first time, and became an instant star, finding fame and notoriety which had escaped him in the US and it was just as Hicks seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough in America, that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died on February 24, 1994 at just 32.

Using never before seen animation techniques we hear Bill's story, for the first time, through the people who knew him best, his family and friends, showing a timeless legacy left that's as fresh and relevant today as it was when he wrote it.

Thanks to our friends at 2entertain, we've got two copies of American: The Bill Hicks Story to give away on DVD! For your chance of winning send in your name and full postal address to billhicksgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Thursday 30th September. The first two entries out of the special electronic hat will win a copy each!

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