After a decade of success, Bungie has released the final Halo game they will develop.
I remember when the first Halo game was supposed to be a Mac shooter and, at the time, the graphics and gameplay were revolutionary. Yeah, this was back in 1999, when the game was going to be a Mac and Windows one. And then Microsoft stepped in, bought Bungie, and had the game re-purposed for the fledgling Xbox gaming console.
Now, fast-forward 11 years. The Halo series has become one of the best-selling franchises in gaming history, a phenomenon spawning multiple sequels and spin-offs, from comic books to anime, from RTS games to live-action short films (by District 9 director Neil Blomkamp), from Lego-style building toys to action figures, from novels to a (currently stalled) feature film. The cultural impact of the series is undeniable.
Developer Bungie has announced that this prequel to the franchise will be their last in the Halo universe, though I am sure that Microsoft’s 343 Studios will do their best to move the franchise forward and fill Bungie’s shoes.
And some damn impressive shoes they are. Halo Reach has a scope and a breadth that is rarely seen in first-person shooters. The environments are huge, befitting the setting, and varied. The game is set in the weeks prior to the first Halo game, amidst the frantic — ultimately doomed, we players know — defense of the human colony world Reach. The zealous alien army of the Covenant has discovered the human world and is intent on wiping it out of existence.
The graphics are the best I have ever seen in any of the Halo games. The music is up to the high standards set by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori over the course of the series — albeit with a darker, more somber tone to it, as befits the story. Game-play wise, over the course of the game, the story moves you and your team forward: ever closer to the Fall of Reach. Retrieving information or placing explosives, protecting escaping survivors or even engaging in orbital combat, the game-play is varied and as expansive as the scenery.
Unfortunately, what isn’t expansive is the emotion portrayed by the various characters. Within a story that tells of the destruction of an entire planet, the death of millions of people, and foretelling the possible extinction of the human species itself … I would have expected some pauses now and then to let the emotional impacts that happen to build and grow. But the game’s pacing doesn’t allow for that. As G4TV’s Kevin Kelley stated in his five-out-of-five review, “Maybe that’s the meta-commentary on the nature of war — that you can’t pause for effect — but I found myself wishing I could savor some of these powerful moments, rather than getting dumped back into gunfire immediately.”
That one gripe aside, the game is well worth the full price of admission, and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys FPS games, or is a fan of the series. The ending of the game dovetails very well with the beginning of the first Halo game, and stick around after the credits roll, because there’s a treat for you.