Halo: Reach Preview (Xbox360)

How do you just give up a franchise you've nurtured and loved and helped grow right from the beginning? How do you say goodbye to a decade's worth of work, turn your backs, and leave it in the hands of a stranger? How do you compete against your own creation? I don't know the answers to these questions, but it seems Bungie does: after ten years working on the Halo franchise, they're going to give it one last glorious effort, and then simply ... leave. Halo: Reach, the last Halo game that Bungie will do (for a while, at least), and yet ironically the story that begins it all. In a deep dark bunker somewhere in the middle of London, Strategy Informer went hands on with what the studio hopes will be its last hurrah.

He may be no Master Cheif, but Noble 6 has his own stoic charm

According to Brian Jarred, Reach is Bungie's most ambitious title to date, the culmination of ten year's worth of experience and in a way it shows. So much as been shoved into Reach that according to another member of the team, they had trouble fitting it all onto the disc. But even a disc load of rubbish would still be rubbish, so how does Reach live up to its hype? Its history? Well, to borrow an old cliché - so far, so good.

Our hands-on mainly consisted of trying out the multiplayer elements - Firefight, Deathmatch... the usual. Naturally, everything was unlocked here in terms of armour abilities, weapons, modes etc..., this wasn't another Beta offering. Still, we were allowed to watch Jarred play through the first twenty or so minutes of the single-player campaign, and we shall start our impressions there.

One of the overriding inspirations from this game has been the first Halo - Combat Evolved. Even though Halo's 2 & 3 were generally considered to be good games (depending on who you talk to, of course), they had their flaws, their niggles, and really didn't have the magic the original game had. Reach hopes to change that, and in the single-player demonstration we did catch some glimpses of what they meant. Bungie have really gone to efforts to make the environment come alive - there's indigenous life-forms and civilians now, and whilst these seem like minor touches, they do help bring the environment to life. Bungie's approach to the story as well also seems very reminiscent of the first game. Instead of just hitting the ground running in action-sequence after action sequence, there's a real attempt to capture the thriller elements of the first game, like what preceded the first unveiling of the flood.

The team dynamics of Noble team seem very organic as well, and help serve to bring context to the situation and the wider story. One of my favourite memories of the original Halo was getting as many marines as you could keep alive, and then using them to storm a Covenant strongpoint, and you get a sense of that here. Sadly, it was only twenty minutes, but it's better than nothing.
The new engine also does its part in bringing the levels to life

Whether the single-player campaign will live up to the 'ambitious' label remains to be seen, but even if it didn't, it's clear that Bungie has pulled out all the steps everywhere else, especially their 'Forge' mode. It's now, in a word, insane. Not only have they improved the tools, added a ton of new items, as well as increased the scope of what you can do, but they've also created a new map purposely designed for Forge - Forgeworld. Comprising of the biggest map space they've ever created for a Halo game, Forgeworld is one massive map that contains within it several distinct 'environments', like a modernised Blood Gulch, for example, or an Ascension remake. The new tools mean you can section the map so that you only use one little bit, or two, or use the entire map. It will be fascinating, if nothing else, to see what the community will come up with when they get their hands on these new tools.

And of course there's the actual multiplayer itself, split into two main modes: Firefight and then the regular multiplayer. During the Beta, users were granted access to a limited slice of the multiplayer experience, but it's pretty much the same. The main changes are of course way more maps, more game modes, and even more armour abilities and weapons and the other odd thing. Firefight will also seem very familiar, but it's been enhanced greatly to make up for the shortcomings that the ODST iteration had. In general, everything has been improved, and everything plays the same, only better.

A another buzz-word that seems to be connected to this game is 'customisation'. Not only can you customise your character, both in single-player and multi-player, and of course the maps, but you can also customise your games. Nowhere is this seen more than in Firefight. The sheer amount of options you can tweak is mind boggling. As far as we can tell, there is no official figure on the amount of combinations you can have, because there's just so damn many of them.

All this, the characters, the maps, the games modes... combined with Bungie's patented community infrastructure that promotes sharing, one could say this is as close as the home console gets to the kind of 'modability' PC users enjoy. It's certainly an exciting prospect, as you only need to look at the PC to see how some of the strongest communities are those that had a good mod-base. Bring that kind of closeness to the home console, with tools like Forge and the ability to share, and you could once again transform what the console could do.

Even civilian vehicles have been added to the roster now. We saw a forklift somewhere...

Ever since the first Halo game, the franchise has always had a bit of a problem living up to its own hype. Not as much as other franchises, but just enough to be noticeable. In all honesty though, this could easily turn out to be the best game in the series. But then again it could be rubbish - such is the nature of hype. One thing's for certain though: Bungie have pulled out all the stops, they've given it their all, and what we've played so far actually seems pretty good. From the beginning, you know the end - let's just hope it's the end we all want. Halo: Reach is due out for Xbox 360 on September 14th.

Most Anticipated Feature: The improved Forge mode, and what the community will dream up with it.

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By Ridgy (SI Core Member) on Aug 04, 2010
I agree with the writer, too much hype going on for this game, never a good thing. I won't comment on the game becaus I've never really played halo (knowing the pc ports are shoddy).
By Arrecoolast (SI Core) on Aug 05, 2010
Yup the franchise is sooooo overhyped... I wish they made it for PC, not like a PC port but really for the PC and THEN port it to the 360.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 05, 2010
It should have been a PC game, yes I agree. But this game sells X360. Keep that in mind :)
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Aug 07, 2010
i mainly want an Xbox 360 to be able to play Halo 3 - ODST - Reach and Crackdown 2 and Fable 2.. but considering fable 3 is on PC then nevermind .
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 07, 2010
Yeah Halo was once the reason for PC gamers to buy the X360 console. Now other games sell X360 - like Fable 2, Gears of War, and many other exclusives that didn't make it on the PC.
Bungie forgot about the PC population obviously... :(