Halo: Reach calls the faithful and unbelievers to repent and enjoy. Technically, emotionally and aesthetically this is the best Halo game so far - which probably makes it the best Halo game there will ever be.
Halo: Reach is the first big game of the year for me. It brings together expectations of technical proficiency and attention to detail. Halo is a game built around the 30 second encounter of two enemies - a technical masterpiece of gaming creation. The campaign and the multiplayer have succeeded by creating a context, or excuse, for players to enjoy this moment over and over again.
As well as expectation though, there is a little sadness to Reach. No, I'm not talking about the bought-in TV Shorts and Films that paint a sad humanitarian disaster around the edges of the game. It's sad because Reach marks the end of the franchise for Bungie.
This is soon forgotten about as I head into the single player campaign. however. An obviously improved visual fidelity along with more open battles and flexible progression quickly mark Reach out as technically accomplished. It is, of course, familiar but everything also sparkles just that little bit more so that in some ways it feels fresh again.
Taking the story back to the start - it's a prequel - Reach gains more gravitas than the other games. Where previous titles felt like you were plodding through the motions of an unfolding war, Halo: Reach's sense of impending doom casts the game in much deeper and more interesting tones.
The big technical improvement that's thrown into the mix this time are the armour upgrades. Some things have been taken away as well - dual-wielding and equipment - but it is the novelty of the new armour that stays with you. Each armour load-out grants you with a special ability - Jetpack, camouflage and speed to name a few.
As you play through the single player you are granted each in turn - so you can really appreciate the tactical impact of such game-changing technology. It's an intelligent move that not only provides a nice tutorial for each option, but also makes the campaign feel more varied.
For me though, being easily impressed by technical achievements, it's the fresh Halo engine that got me most a-flutter. Not only are the visuals crisper, but the artificial intelligence seems defter than ever. There is a strange sort of glee to being out foxed by an enemy that feels just as life-like as anyone in the multiplayer mode.
This realisation works by forcing you into detailed strategies and convoluted plans to out manoeuvre your foe. Add in some additional souls in the multiplayer mode (two locally, or four online) and you have the makings of one of the most intricately strategic action titles I've come across.
Things are even taken out into space, in the much touted space-shooting levels. Although these are more novelty than anything central to the experience, they are implemented well enough not to detract from the main game.
As the stakes are upped and the boss battles start to rain in, there are some moments that impress not only on a technical level, but emotionally too. Without giving too much away, sacrifices made always feel weighty and personal - something almost unimaginable for the Halo games of old.
Breaking the tension with some online play finds things just as robust. The armour upgrade system is offered in the form of a standard set of starting load-outs - weapon and armour combination that are not only well balanced but make battlefield sense, too.
Halo: Reach manages to out-deliver Halo 3 - which was itself one of the most over-delivered game's in history. The updated visuals and AI engine combine with the ever more nuanced and varied gameplay, not to mention online modes and other new gadgets, to make this a game not to be missed. It's an experience in which Halo zealots, and haters, finally have a reason to drop arms and agree that there is an awful lot of fun to be had.
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