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Sep 22, 2010 at 12:00 am

Halo: Reach (single player campaign)
Bungie; Xbox 360

Halo changed the face of gaming.

Bungie's game about a faceless and green space marine's war against a fanatically religious alien race single-handedly made Microsoft's Xbox a viable gaming system to own. Well, all good things must come to an end, as Bungie's exclusivity contract with Microsoft is up. But they did owe Microsoft one more game, and that brings us to Halo: Reach.

As a prequel to the events in the Halo series, Halo: Reach puts you in the battle suit of Noble Six, the newest member of the Spartan III's elite Noble Team. Fans of the Halo series are fully aware of the planet Reach's ultimate fate, but through Noble Six's eyes, you'll experience the desperate struggle against overwhelming odds, and how the pieces were set for the Master Chief's victory in the Halo series. Storyline is usually a lower priority in FPSs, but Reach is well-thought-out, and at times emotional, though unless you have an encyclopedic knowlege of the Halo mythos, several plot points will fly over your head.

Bungie took what worked best throughout the Halo Series (including side story ODST) and has made Noble Six the best controlling Spartan around. Everything feels like a Halo game, but tweaked to perfection. New to the series are the armor abilities, which allows gameplay variety; Noble Six can (finally!) sprint, use active camo, various shield capabilities, and take to the sky with a jetpack. While dual wielding is out, the weapon balancing more than makes up for it. Vehicle controls have also been tightened up. Speaking of vehicles, there are a few new ones, mostly covenant, but there is one human vehicle that outshines them all: the Sabre Spacecraft, easily a game highlight. One thing: never let your allies drive, as their overall AI has been dumbed down to shortbusian levels.

This game's is the perfect Halo series swan song; in fact, it's not a stretch to call this the best game in the series. Outside the friendly AI, everything feels right. So, if you're gonna go, go out with a bang.

Halo: Reach (Multiplayer)
Bungie; Xbox 360

Halo's success isn't only in the campaign; in many ways the multiplayer contributed even more than the singleplayer did to its groundbreaking status. The success of its local multiplayer eventually helped lead to Xbox Live, which, in its own right, was monumental because it made online gaming standard fare, and not some crazy Skynet shit. You can either thank or blame Halo for every game on earth having online multiplayer, even when it's unnecessary. So if you're the No. 1 multiplayer on the block, do you rest on laurels? Hell no, you take everything that works, and make it better.

What's noticeable first here is how the matchmaking lobby's effortless to navigate. On top of easily joining an open match, you can see which friends are playing — and you've the option to join their party by pressing one button. Once you match up with other players, the game's veto system is replaced with a voting method where the players vote the next map and play style. The psych profile is also included, which allows you to filter those you're matched with by play style. Competitive or casual, quiet, or heavy on the trash talk, the choice is yours.

Old standby's such as Slayer, Capture the Flag, and Big Team Battle are present, but the added armor abilities from the campaign are included, which add new layers on the old games. Back from last year's Halo ODST is Firefight, a team-based survival game mode against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Firefight has improved a lot: It finally allows matchmaking support,  and the play options have been expanded, which allows you to change the number of waves, available lives, and weapon loadout. Such tweaks are welcome, as it's itineration in ODST was an interesting idea that needed work. Here in Reach, it's how it should've been presented originally.

Besides carryovers from previous Halo games, new additions include Invasion, Stockpile, and Headhunter. Invasion is best described as a large-scale battle devided into phases. As your team — which is separated into Spartans and Elites — complete objectives, areas of the map become available, and additional weapon classes will open up. Stockpile is a speed-based game, where your team will race to acquire flags and drop them at various zones to score points. Headhunter is a mixture of Stockpile and Slayer, as headshot kills leave skulls, which are collected for points; it's fast-paced fun. But Invasion is best because it permits large-scale epic battles.

Customization is king in Halo: Reach. The ranking system has been revised. It now offers a credit-based leveling system where the credits you earn in-match can be used to purchase new armor to customize your look. Armor abilities make customization more than cosmetic — each ability affects how you play. While these tweaks are nice, Forge reveals the largest area of customization. What you have here is a mapmaker program, allowing you myriad options to create your own multiplayer maps. Heavy game resources have been put into Forge, so amateur game designers can try their hand at making the next great Halo map, which can be shared with the community for download.

It's clear Bungie has listened to the comments and complaints made by the Halo community. While not as groundbreaking as previous Halo games, what we get is the fully optimized and realized version of multiplayer. Practically everything runs smoothly, and while much of the enjoyment of a multiplayer game hinges on the people who play it, steps have been taken in ensure you're matched with people who share closely your play preferences. As a swan song, the folks at Bungie definitely took care to make Halo: Reach's online multiplayer the best experience possible. The work shows, because I'd say mission accomplished.