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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Bungie's first-person shooter prequel Halo: Reach, which reviews describe as offering "both disappointment and exhilaration."

Danny Cowan, Blogger

September 15, 2010

6 Min Read

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Bungie's first-person shooter prequel Halo: Reach, which reviews describe as an experience that "offers up both disappointment and exhilaration." Reach currently earns a score of 92 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. 1UP.com's Thierry Nguyen gives Halo: Reach an A+ grade. "Bungie has managed to do something that eluded George Lucas years ago: create a prequel to a beloved sci-fi series that not only simply works, but is at times better than the installments it precedes," he praises. "After spending ten hours with the campaign, and another eight or so with the multiplayer, it's already clear that for their exit from the Halo franchise, the developers at Bungie have crafted a fine sendoff in Halo: Reach." "One of Reach's immediate improvements is its storytelling," Nguyen continues. "The Halo trilogy's story has been impeded by both inconsistency (a curious mix of either over-explaining or obfuscating dialogue), and by becoming a fan-only affair overflowing with series technobabble a la Star Trek. Reach rectifies this 'inside baseball' feel by telling a broader, more accessible story that doesn't require knowing tons of Halo terminology beforehand." Reach improves several key gameplay elements, as well. "It's in the flow and design of combat that Reach demonstrates what Bungie has learned in crafting the Halo trilogy plus Halo 3: ODST," Nguyen explains. "Instead of adding radically new features, Bungie opts to take the better elements of Halo combat, and tweak it." Nguyen cites some examples: "The Battle Rifle's rate of fire gets toned down to become the Designated Marksman Rifle. The Magnum gets its scope back. Single-use Equipment from Halo 3 turns into reusable and swappable Armor Abilities for Reach. Noble Six's survivability lies between the extreme supersoldier that is Master Chief from the main Halo trilogy, and the glass cannon that is The Rookie from ODST." "It's this sort of cherry picking and then tweaking the best parts of previous games, that enhances Reach's 'combat sandbox' the most," Nguyen says. "I can say that while I admire and respect every previous Halo title, Reach is the Halo that I absolutely love." Adam Pavlacka at WorthPlaying scores Reach at 8.5 out of 10. "Halo: Reach is something of a contradiction," he begins. "Planned as the pinnacle of Bungie's work on the series, Reach offers up both disappointment and exhilaration. For every moment of innovation, there is also a moment where the game drops the ball. Reach is by no means a bad game, but it fails to impress as much as those that have come before." Pavlacka praises Halo: Reach's extensive multiplayer options. "Building on the Firefight mode first introduced in Halo 3: ODST, Reach has a revamped and improved system," he explains. "The goal is still to survive the onslaught, but this time around, there are many more options to be had. You can customize game types to an incredible level of precision, creating just about any kind of combat experience that you can think up. "Want low gravity, rockets and nothing but grunts? Done. Prefer to test your skill with a pistol? You can do that. Feel like a classic game of firefight? That's in there, too. For those who want more of a challenge, you can even opt to have a human player or two join in on the Covenant side." However: "For as much as the multiplayer modes of Reach shine for their polish and ability to build new innovations on top of what has come before, the single-player campaign feels like a rehash of old ideas rather than an exploration of something new. There is a little experimentation, but it is tentatively done and never really pushes boundaries." Pavlacka continues: "Gameplay-wise, Reach suffers from some pretty poor AI, both on the Covenant side and on the UNSC side. Your teammates will often make some inexplicable moves during combat, saved only by their inability to perish (unless the story calls for it). Attempting to set up a flanking maneuver is almost impossible; they'll just follow you around the map like lost puppies." "In the end, deciding whether or not to buy Halo: Reach depends on the kind of player you are and what you're looking to get out of the game," Pavlacka warns. "If multiplayer is your thing, it's a must-have title. If you're a hardcore Halo fan looking to flesh out the story and really just want more of the same, then pick it up. If you're looking for an innovative FPS that pushes boundaries and helps define the genre, though, you may want to look elsewhere. Reach is fun, but it doesn't provide the same kick in the ass as your first time through the original Halo." Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann gives Halo: Reach 4 out of 5 stars. "Halo: Reach is exactly the kind of game that Bungie has gotten great at building over the last two generations of console hardware," he says. "It's a Halo game through and through, with the same style and pacing that you've come to expect, but with a new cast of characters that are worth paying attention to and a multiplayer mode that has more variety than it's ever had before." "If you've played just about any of the previous Halo shooters, you won't be too surprised by what you find in Reach," Gerstmann notes. "The pacing, structure, and most of the equipment have popped up in the previous games. Bungie didn't go 'reinvent the Assault Rifle' or anything silly like that. "And unlike its past game, Halo 3: ODST, Reach returns to a more conventional format, moving you directly from level to level without any sort of hub world. Though you'll often be teamed up with one or more of the other Spartans from your team, the gameplay doesn't really change as a result." Gerstmann outlines Reach's multiplayer innovations: "The default mode has changed a bit to make it more inviting overall, but it's what you can do with the addition of custom variants that makes Firefight so much more interesting. Much like Halo 3's multiplayer, you can tweak a ton of different things to make modes that feel very different from the default. If you'd like, you can enable generators that must be protected from the incoming Covenant forces. You can set which types of enemies come at you in every wave, or tweak your starting health, or alter damage modifiers on weapons and health... essentially, you can make it completely impossible, mind-numbingly easy, or just about anything in-between." Gerstmann continues: "The rest of Reach's multiplayer package builds on that game variant creation stuff that Halo 3 introduced, which is made deeper by the addition of new modes and options. Now, with the inclusion of armor abilities, you select a loadout before spawning. Loadouts are determined by gametype, and you can build (or restrict) custom loadouts when creating a game variant. So if you want everyone to have jet-packs and hammers, you can totally do that." "Halo: Reach feels like a wholly appropriate stopping point for the series, filling out some more of the relevant fiction that surrounds the core trilogy while building the multiplayer out in such a way that Halo fans will have something to play until whatever's next is ready for release," Gerstmann concludes. "While I do feel that the formula has worn thin in a few spots, Reach feels like a love letter from the developer to its fans. If you're one of those fans, you should have this game."

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan

Blogger

Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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