Before Master Chief saved Earth from the Covenant, there was Noble Team. Halo: Reach follows the exploits of Noble Team through the eyes of Noble Six, the team?s newest member. As you might have guessed, Halo: Reach is a prequel to the entire series and it is by far the most expansive and refined game in the series, one that fans will be playing for a long time to come. It takes the best features from throughout the series and makes them even better.

Right off the bat, players will notice that Bungie has refined the menu system and made it much simpler to navigate. Everything that the player needs is accessible from either the main menu or the start menu. In addition, players can access the armory, which provides in-depth customization that carries to both matchmaking and campaign. Everything from helmets and tactical pads to chest plates and visor colors can be tailored to the player?s preference. New items are acquired through Credits [which were subject to an in-game exploit], which are earned by playing any of Reach?s game modes. None of these customizations actually impact or improve the actual game play, they are simply aesthetic or for entertainment; like the heart attack, which causes hearts to flutter from the player?s dead body. Talk about showing off.


Someone dying from a heart attack. Funny or not, we leave you to conclude.

After setting up a character, players are thrown into Halo: Reach?s campaign mode. Previous Halo games have all had epic battles and revolutionary moments, and Halo: Reach is no different. Combat is still as satisfying as it was before, and the grittier aesthetic help the game feel rawer than previous releases. While Halo 3 had items like the bubble shield and power drain, Halo: Reach has new armor abilities which can be swapped throughout the game?s campaign. The basic ability is sprint, but other abilities include the use of a jetpack and armor lock [temporary invulnerability].


There will be no love lost between these two as they get ready to fight.

Depending on the difficulty, the campaign can clock in anywhere from around 6 to 7 hours upwards of 15. Veterans of the series should not bother playing anything below heroic. As usual, the jump between Heroic and Legendary is enormous, making Legendary mode possibly the most brutal in the Halo series yet.

Player versus Player
Easily, the highlight of the game is its multi-player matchmaking, which has been refined and streamlined to make a more enjoyable experience. Rather than having one match type and the ability to veto, as in Halo 3, players now get to vote on one of three game setups, with a fourth "None of the Above" option. This brings an oddly unfamiliar ultra-democratic form of voting that Halo players are likely not familiar with. While this is a refreshing idea, players tend to spend more time engaging in Team Snipers or Team SWAT rather than traditional Slayer.

In addition to the Social Slayer, players can choose to enter the Arena, which is a ranked version of 4v4 or 2v2 game types. Gamers get ranked based on their performance and are placed in a league, where their statistics are stacked against other players in the same league. The way the ranking system works is that they are ranked for each game that they play and after 3 games the system averages those scores together to create a composite score that then proceeds to place you into a division after ten days of play. The composite score of those days then determines the division which you are put into and that allows the match making system to more appropriately match you with players of similar skill. If you do not put in at least three games for ten days of the season then you will simply not be put into a division.

The divisions range from the bottom Steel, Bronze, Silver, Gold, all the way up to the top Onyx league. This method of ranking eliminates all motives for ?de-ranking?, where players enter matchmaking and purposely lose in order to alter the ranking system to their advantage. Since seasons are only fifteen days apart, players must put in quite a bit of game play every season and also remember that division designations are reset every season as well.


Here is someone being assassinated

Bungie has added weekly and daily challenges to further encourage players to keep playing online. In a given day, there are four Daily Challenges and one Weekly Challenge. Completion of these challenges nets players tons of extra credits, which help purchase the aforementioned armor permutations. Examples of Daily Challenges include killing a set amount of people in Matchmaking or scoring kills with a particular weapon in Campaign. Weekly Challenges are a bit harder, but net more credits. The first Weekly Challenge in the game?s history had players scurrying to complete nine campaign levels on Heroic or above.


This image should speak for itself – boom headshot! One might add, boom goes the dynamite!

While players will spend a majority of time in matchmaking and campaign, the familiar Firefight mode from ODST returns, along with the Forge and Theater features from Halo 3. Unlike Halo 3 however, you can no longer host a Theater playback with more than one person due to latency issues. Even so, these game types have been refined and balanced further, making them an absolute blast. In typical Halo fashion, Bungie has planted numerous Easter eggs throughout the game. One such Easter egg has a Brute spinning turntables at a nightclub, with other Covenant soldiers getting their groove on. Good ol? Master Chief himself even has a cameo.

Conclusion
Even though the game is out, the shift in development of console games means that just like PC titles in their hayday, the development of Halo: Reach is nowhere near done with. As the first of next big upgrades to the game, Bungie will implement a matchmaking campaign feature [October 2010] where players can be matched up with gamers of similar skill to play through the story. This allows for those lone wolf players to get in on some campaign and have a chance of unlocking some sweet achievements that require other people. Bungie will also continue to update Reach?s playlists every month in order to keep the game fresh and fun.
Because of the balanced matchmaking, intense campaign, and high replayability, Halo: Reach is easily one of this year?s top games and an able contender for Game of the Year.

This review was possible thanks to the collaboration of both Adhir Garg and Spencer Tillson.