Monday, 13 September 2010

Reach Around: My first one and a half hours with Halo: Reach

So, ya, I ordered Halo: Reach when I bought my 360. On Saturday I had an email from Amazon saying delivery would be delayed, and today I came home from work to find it awaiting me amongst an envelope from the Reader's Digest (apparently I have won £100, 000 in a draw I don't remember entering) and associated other shite from local businesses.

Awe-fucking-some.

I've played the first hour and a half, maybe, and figured it might be a good idea to give you a grasp of the initial stages and my first impressions.

Before I loaded up my first game, there was a message for the beta testers explaining that, as it is ahead of release date, some features aren't working, mainly multiplayer. Not that I'm bovvered, it'll take me a week or so to get my head around multiplayer and I just wanted to talk about a few things that had struck me during play.


Modern Warfare, you have a lot to answer for

Seriously though.

The influence that games like Modern Warfare exert is particularly telling in Halo: Reach.

From the outset it is clear that Halo is a half-step outside the Halo formula we have come to know and love and that is definitely no bad thing.

For a start, Halo: Reach is darker. I hate to use that term, but it is the only one that fits. In it's own way, Halo: Reach is much more military shooter, somewhat less sci-fi shooter, and benefits considerably from it. If you've come to depend on the bright colours and vibrant environments familiar to the Halo franchise, you may have to adjust a bit. Sure, the plasma grenades are still neon blue, the Jackals carry Mardi-Gras shields but there is definitely a more understated, realistic palette put to use here. It could divide Halo purists but I, for one, love it. The counterpoint of gritty rifle fire, explosions and hot pink Needler rounds is excellent. There is so much more of a sense of humans fighting against a thoroughly alien foe.

A further addition is your squad. You can pick up rank and file marines to join your fire team as you go along, but the story is driven by other members of Noble team, and so far their characterisations are very good. I'll need to play more to determine whether the player will connect with them, but so far I am pleased.

Towards the beginning of the game you are warned by a colleague that your 'lone wolf act' won't work on Reach. Heed these words carefully. The beautiful one-man-army gameplay of Halo, running into a crowd of Covenant flinging grenades and spamming melee attacks, is here in all it's glory but you must pick your battles carefully and make more precise use of tactics if you wish to succeed.

And with good reason, as the enemies I've encountered so far have learnt some new tricks. The Grunts are a lot more grenade happy and also much more keen on the plasma kamikaze attacks. The Elites are...well...fast. Seriously. Whilst the roll mechanic was something new in Halo 2, they clearly learnt from these guys. Not only are they rolling, but they are jumping, dodging your gunfire and generally being a wee bit sneakier.

I must also mention the equipment you can now select for your character. One of the features of Halo 3 was the ability to get a single use out of various pieces of equipment, bubble shields etc. The same principle returns in Halo: Reach, only this time the player can use these items repeatedly, dependent on a cooldown. So far I have encountered Sprint (bog standard sprint ability) and one that makes you invincible for a few moments and can allow your shield to regen whilst fully immobilizing you. These are great wee additions and I can't wait to find more and also see how they play out in multiplayer.

There are some negatives so far.

Back when Halo released, it was at the cutting edge of graphics. Not so much the case here. Don't get me wrong; they are great and very sharp. It's just they aren't mind-blowing. I also noticed some drops in framerate when there was a lot going on, which is a particular pet peeve of mine which I hope doesn't carry over into multiplayer.

Also, as with Halo: ODST, the ability to dual wield is gone. I'm personally not fussed, never used it much, but that may annoy fans of the system.

In all, Halo: Reach is great. I cannot wait to see how the story pans out and I'm itching to have another bash at it. I had a browse through the multiplayer menus and that, and there appears to be a HUGE amount of unlockables, as well as a dearth of new game modes.

From this early taster, it would seem that Halo: Reach is the perfect game to end the Halo franchise and I sincerely hope I am proved correct.

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