An epic story, incredible pacing, and a spot-on mix of old and new elements make Halo: Reach the best Halo yet. Oh, and when you've finished the story mode, plan on spending a large chunk of your life in the massive online universe. Any way you cut it, Halo: Reach is a fantastic swan song for Bungie, and it leaves behind a Spartan-sized set of boots for 343 Industries to fill.
Shortly before Halo: Combat Evolved landed like a Gravity Hammer on the original Xbox, a novel titled Halo: The Fall of Reach introduced fans to the sci-fi universe that would forever change the face of console first-person shooters. Nearly nine years, five games, and countless action figures, comic books, and yes, even energy drinks later, the video game retelling of the events depicted in that first novel has finally arrived. But Bungie's final Halo hasn't come to finish the fight, Master Chief handled that task in Halo 3, on the contrary, Reach is here to start the fight. A prequel to the original Halo, Reach's narrative conclusion is revealed right in the title of the previously mentioned novel.
So, it's a great surprise that a game with a not-so-secret ending manages to unspool the greatest Halo yarn yet. Despite going in knowing Reach will end with humanity on the brink of extinction, the game still consistently nudges players to the edge of their seats. This is due in no small part to a much more emotional, human-driven story than we've ever seen unfold in the series. As Six, a member of Noble Team, it doesn't take very long for you to become attached to your new Spartan family.
You fight along side these Master Chief-like warriors for much of the campaign, so when you witness the sacrifices they make on the battlefield and the bravery they display against seemingly certain death, your heart becomes as engaged as your trigger finger. There's also some great surprises in the story and a few endgame revelations that will send the most hardened Halo fans' jaws to the floor.
Supporting its well crafted narrative even further is Reach's cinematic pacing, which begins to reveal itself the second you hit the start button. As the story opens, your Noble team member spies a Spartan helmet with a crater blown in its visor, just before he pulls on his own protective headgear. This minor, but effectively ominous moment almost makes you feel like you've just signed your own death certificate. Continuing on, you pass black smoke-spitting Warthogs, bloodstained rocks and fresh corpses, as rain spills out of a darkened sky. By the time those first red blips scatter on your HUD map like roaches in a lit room, the tension's been ratcheted to near intolerable levels, you're five minutes in and itching to unload some rounds into anything with a pulse.
Another similarly affective moment comes later when you engage in space combat, a well publicised new addition to the series that I'm happy to report officially makes Halo cooler than Star Wars [Matt's opinion on this matter does not necessarily represent those of the GamePro editors, so please don't send us any hate mail telling us we're wrong - Ed] . But it's the scene before you're actually picking Covenant fleets from the stars that you again feel Reach's pacing take up residence in your anxiously beating heart, as you ascend the staging area of the Saber starship, strap into its cockpit and await blast-off, you're senses are stung with equal amounts of apprehension and excitement. Reach is filled with moments like these, making you feel as though you're experiencing a true epic rather than a smaller scale ODST-style spin-off.
Complementing this further, and courtesy of a brand new engine, is an eye-popping presentation that brings a new expansiveness to the Halo universe. Sweeping vistas, waterfall-dotted cliff faces, and battlefields whose combatants look like specs from a afar, continually remind you of Reach's ambitious scope. While much of this screen stretching beauty serves as a backdrop to the action, there are also moments when you're right in the middle of it. One level in particular, which sees you piloting a Falcon chopper above an impressively rendered skyscraper-filled city, wouldn't be out of place in a big budget science fiction film.
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