It’s here. Halo: Reach; possibly one of the biggest exits from a franchise ever made. A universe of fanboy hope, love and angst rides on Bungie’s final title in a franchise that basically made both the Xbox, and its successor the Xbox 360, what they are today.  And now I am lucky enough (or unlucky, since this is no easy feat) to be reviewing possibly one of the greatest and most hyped console games the world has ever seen. The end of an era, the end of so many memories.

The Halo franchise is one that needs no introduction; but in case you’ve been living under a rock, or just finished serving a convenient 10 year prison sentence, here’s a quick recap. In 2001 Bungie introduced us to Master Chief, the proverbial pharmacist of ass-kicking medicine. “Halo: Combat Evolved” told the story of a bunch of fancy rings, capable of destroying planets. You, of course, have to destroy them. Fast forward 3 years and we have Halo 2. The Flood, an alien plague-like race are introduced, and the game concludes with a colossal cliff-hanger. To finish the initial trilogy, Bungie released Halo 3 in which the fate of Cortana (Chiefs AI and friend) and the Chief remains unknown as they drift off into outer space, possibly never to be seen again.

Following the announcement that Halo: Reach would be the final Bungie instalment  in the Halo franchise, everyone was excited. The quality of the games have gone from strength to strength, getting bigger and better over the years, with this being no exception. It is with great pride and happiness that I can indeed say that Halo: Reach is a masterpiece. It is not a game; it is an experience. One that we are all lucky to be part of.

It’s the year 2552, and the Human race as we know it is locked into a brutal war of attrition with the Covenant. In this futureless existence, day after day more and more worlds fall, and Reach remains a pillar of light in an otherwise bleak and destroyed horizon. Players assume the role of a new and unnamed addition to the Halo universe; “Noble 6″. Reach is an Earth-like planet, and is home to more than 700 million civilians, it is also the home of the United Nations Space Command military hub, and as such it is a planet that can’t be lost. As opposed to Halo 3, where Master Chief was basically the crème de la crème of war winning and butt kicking, Halo: Reach gives a broader overview of a war that is won by many, not few, or in the traditional Master Chief sense, one.

Each of the Noble 6 team members has a distinct feel and look. One more badass then the next, yet each appears to have their own story. The graphical feel of Halo: Reach extends across a lot more than just the characters. I think a few times I actually heard my console cry and plead for a break as it worked harder than ever before to produce perhaps one of the best graphical works of art to ever grace the Xbox 360. Gorgeous vistas, beautiful detail and destruction have never looked so good before. Numerous times when playing I just stared at the screen because I couldn’t believe that the outdated and aging Xbox 360 was actually capable of producing such a good looking title.

With the game being set years before all the others, the technology obviously has changed, and as such needs to be represented differently. Weapons look bulkier and actually give off an air that they have been refined over the years, and made into precise tools of death. The space segment of the game didn’t look as impressive as it could have, but I was expecting that. At times of high action (Lots of explosions and animation in Firefight/Campaign/Multiplayer) the framerate seemed to dip a slight amount.

That’s not to say the graphics are the most stand out part of Reach, as they really aren’t. Bungie has really outdone themselves by adding a literal bucketload of new gameplay features and ideas that I would never have even though of. In Multiplayer you now have access to a variety of new armour abilities. They range from the simple ability to sprint for a prolonged amount of time, right through to a jetpack which can be used to zip around the map. My one gripe with this system is the button placement. I play with the Bumper Jumper button configuration, as do most developed players. And powers like the Jetpack and sprint button require you to physically hold an extra button, the exact opposite idea of Bumper Jumper.

Mix in the new abilities with a healthy coupling of new multiplayer modes, and you’ve really got a lively party. Firefight has become the fully fleshed out amazing mode that it should have originally been, and now you can actually play game modes with Firefight, my favourite being Generator Defense.

But just when you though Halo: Reach couldn’t get any better, believe me, it does. Bungie has given Halo: Reach one of the best, if not the best, soundtracks and mixes I have heard in any of the Halo games. The sense of immersion offered by the graphical engine and story driven experience is only furthermore increased by the amazing work of Marty O’Donnell, the lead sound engineer at Bungie. The soundtrack is epic, and I would be comfortable saying that the theme song for Halo will be forever etched into my brain.

Whilst trying to write this review the hardest thing I found was separating all the components of the game, because everything blends so seamlessly into everything else. The biggest standout component is Multiplayer though, and boy is it addictive. Bungie has introduced a credits based system that allows you to purchase new armour. Play exceptionally well and you’ll make bank, bro. But play really bad and you won’t be snapping necks or cashing cheques. Earning credits extends across everything though, and it literally allows you to play the game at your own pace yet still move forward in the online persistent world. By playing System Link and Split Screen with my friends, I was still earning enough credits to buy armour and I even managed to rank up numerous times.

Bungie carries across their excellent reputation for community interaction and involvement by offering weekly and daily challenges that allow you to prove your skills and earn extra credits. These add a great level of competition and a desire to better your previous score and to be better than all your friends. The only downside to multiplayer is the lack of maps. There are 13 maps in total, however four of those are maps from previous games. Whilst the sense of nostalgia is cool and interesting, I already find myself looking to the first and inevitable map pack. Some of the maps are brilliant, my favourite being The Cage, however one of them in particular, The Spire,  is really too big and just seems like a demo map for all the vehicles. I could imagine it being awesome for Social Big Team though.

This problem is alleviated by Forge World, a pimped out version of Forge (The Halo Map Editor) that first made its appearance in Halo 3. Forge World is a massive expanse, with a number of different areas to make new and exciting maps and game modes. I literally cannot wait to see what the community does with this tool, after seeing all the crazy and zany stuff made in Halo 3.

It’s hard to want any more from a game that is as feature packed as Halo: Reach. The perfect culmination of all the essential parts within the game outstrip the very best console shooters we’ve ever seen. Couple this with a brilliant story, redefined multiplayer modes and one of the best graphical engines ever seen on a console, and you really have a fitting end to Bungie’s involvement with Halo. Thanks for all the memories.

Here’s The Rundown:

+ Amazing Story Told Through a Beautiful Campaign
+ Some of The Best Character Development in the Halo Series
+ A Legendary Exit By a Legendary Developer
- A little lacking on the map side
- Bungie Has Gone . . .
- Framerate Stutters Occasionally

Halo: Reach was developed by Bungie and was published by Microsoft for the Xbox 360. The game releases worldwide on the 14th of September 2010. The game was played til completion in Single Player, with around 25+ hours sunk into System Link, Firefight and Co-op. Halo Reach was played on an Xbox 360 Pro with a 60GB Hard Drive, Logitech x530 5.1 Surround Sound, Tritton AX720 5.1 Dolby Digital Headset and a Samsung P2350 23″ (1920×1080) LCD Monitor was used for display.

Thanks to Xbox360Achievements for the screenshots.