Reach is a planet dying at the hands of alien invasion, one so massively scaled that even humanities brightest saviors are giving up hope. Reach is literally burning, viewed from the sky above during a solitary flight mission in space. Why is none of this felt on the ground?
It comes down to taking risks, Bungie sitting on what they have and what’s safe. There is some sense of the chaos happening around the six-member Noble squad, another on-planet flight mission containing a crumbling building and smoke so thick you can no longer see what’s below.
This story, the precursor to Master Chief’s reign, needs destruction on an incredible scale, and it simply doesn’t have it. In fact, Halo Reach doesn’t necessarily even match up to those grand moments from previous games in the series. Highlights, such as a speedy stand-off between hundreds of UNSC vehicles and equally numbered Covenant ships is more of a flash, while having nothing to do with the player at all.
After those vehicles clash, the player rolls down a hill, recovers, and enters into standard Halo combat, albeit prettied up and with slightly more ferocious A.I. Reach still works like Halo always has, relying on its strengths of varied encounters with a wide enemy set, vehicles, and environments that keep impressing. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it’s hard not to imagine what massive structures crumbling all around the player would have added.
Reach never feels like a losing battle, the most critical misstep. It feels like its a desperate struggle, locked tightly across the planet and above it. The small, open battles on the surface do nothing to indicate being on the losing side, short of some transport ships going down. Looking into the skyline shows hordes of banshees, pelicans, and other ships fighting it out, exactly where the player should be, not down on the surface with a dozen or so Grunts running away.
Maybe it’s not just the lackadaisical destruction, but the scale. The end of ODST had the player pushing down a bridge in an escape attempt, hulking Scarab tanks climbing over buildings while an armada of air-based vehicles rained down lasers. Halo 3 carried with it a staggering brawl with two Scarabs at once, UNSC vehicles going around, under, and even over the four-legged Covenant vehicles.
There is so little of that in Reach, one Mongoose run containing two of those tanks that plop themselves down on the left side of the playfield and proceed to do nothing. It’s a requisite Halo vehicle run, more or less there for a proper send-off. Every Halo needs that segment, much like classic 16-bit platformers need a mine cart chase. Out of them all, Reach’s final push is the laziest, weakest, and most disappointing considering what’s supposedly at stake.
There is no lack of fun here, aside from the forced arena sections that grow increasingly tiresome. Almost every level has some platform that needs defended or door lock that needs to be cracked, all while hordes of enemy drop ships apparently know exactly where this is happening. Aside from this, Reach delivers that intense pacing Bungie always provides, each turn and corner leading to a new encounter. The addition of armor abilities, including the hilarious hologram that offers loads of enjoyment when tormenting the lesser Covenant forces, keep each battle unique, always a hallmark for this franchise.
Those abilities carry over into multiplayer, where each can make or break or match depending on player familiarity and skill. No longer is it a mad dash for weapons, although that is still important. Anything can be countered, even the rocket or plasma launcher, simply by choosing the right class. It rejuvenates versus play in an era where Halo was losing its grip, the point-based unlocks keeping the player going and taking a cue from a certain Activision franchise. The included maps, some clipped from the solo campaign, others remakes, and a few new ones, are fine if too familiar.
Purchasers of the Legendary Edition receive a hefty statue dedicated to the “legend” of Noble Team, really a gaping spoiler provided the minute you open the box or hear of its inclusion. Still, if Halo Reach gets anything exactly right, it’s the sacrifice and level of heroics that have been discussed throughout the canon of the series. There is definitely emotion running through Reach which makes up for some of the lackluster action… but only some of it.
Halo Reach is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Violence.