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Full Circle

The Halo series published by corporate giant Microsoft is one of the most successful franchises in entertainment history. Case in point, Halo: Reach, made over $200 million during the first day of sales, rivalling the numbers of other forms of media like the Harry Potter movies in the same regard.

The latest entry is a prequel to the main storyline in the Halo series depicting the pivotal events during the fall of a human colony on the planet Reach leading up to the alien invasion on Earth. However, your previous knowledge, or lack thereof concerning the underlining fiction, will not hamper any of your enjoyment thanks to the excellent story telling the franchise is known for.

In Halo: Reach you play as Noble 6, the newest member of Noble Team, an elite group of super soldier Spartans decked out in specially designed power armour. Your team gets dispatched to the planet Reach to investigate a downed communication relay station. To the team’s surprise, alien Covenant forces are on Reach in the midst of a full scale invasion. It is up to you and the Noble Team to push back the invading horde at any cost.

All first-person shooters have their own unique weight and feel when it comes to weapon handling and basic movement. Halo is no exception. With aim assisted targeting and rebounding shields, gunplay feels loose and floaty to the ease or detriment of some players. You get the standard array of armaments like rifles, grenades, and shotguns, and their analogous Covenant counterparts. New this time around are armour abilities. These power-ups range from sprinting to a jet pack to various kinds of deployable shields. Being forced to decide on a single ability adds a sense of tactical planning to any given firefight. As you move along the campaign, killing wave after wave of aliens who seem to soak up bullets like a sponge, you will be treated to several vehicle segments. Racing across the terrain on a gunner seat in military jeeps and tanks, to hijacking alien rides and aircraft: all to get from point A to point B.

The entire campaign can also be played cooperatively with a friend. Multiplayer has always been a big part of the Halo series. Besides the standard competitive modes like king of the hill, capture the flag, and every variation in between, the new headhunter mode plays like a giant game of follow the leader, or in this case, kill the player in the lead. The dozen maps included all have unique layouts, some being better for specific game types. If you get tired of those, you can always enter Forge World, Halo’s map editor and come up with your own maps you and your friends can mess around in. All actions in single and multiplayer contribute to an overall high score used to unlock new armour, and to compare your progress to other players for prestige and bragging rights.

Halo: Reach is easily the best looking game in the series. Open plains, snowy mountain sides, military and alien compounds surrounded by expansive vistas brimming with minute details really immerse you in the world. The set design creates a world in conflict atmosphere mixed with a war on a distant plant theme. The character models of each Noble Team Spartan all have their own unique style. The Covenant enemies are colourful, yet appropriately menacing in their ancient Aztec inspired armour. Everyone’s animations as they dive and roll out of the way of fire, to object physics and smaller things like movement of fur on an enemy blowing in the wind, are all well done and believable. The voice work delivered is also top notch. The soundtrack is a mix of sombre tones, and heart pumping orchestral pieces depending on the situation. Overall, a great showing of expertly crafted game design.

Almost a decade ago, the first Halo game was released to instant fanfare thanks to its ease of use, and deep story and fiction. Halo: Reach continues that legacy by ending it where it all began. With thousands of people playing competitively online on a daily basis, Halo: Reach will not be going away anytime soon, and is considered the gold standard for the genre. Whether you are new to the Halo series, or a returning player, Halo: Reach is a great value, and will provide hours of entertainment.

Halo: Reach is out now on the Xbox 360.

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