Halo: Reach

A world's end is a franchise's finest hour

Be honest: was there any chance that Bungie would botch its sign-off from its galaxy-spanning sci-fi series? There's no question that Reach is a fan-pleaser. If you're one of the Halo faithful then uncross your fingers, and get ready to spend the near future on a bullet-heavy holiday on the other side of the galaxy.

You'll try, and fail, to excuse that tear in your eye when watching the ending and spend numerous hours tinkering with your own Forge-created multiplayer map. You'll talk Firefight tactics post-match with your decimated squad. Weigh up whether a Jetpack and Focus Rifle is a better loadout than Sprint and a Plasma Sword. And then get knee-deep in the Campaign once more, flying solo in Legendary and getting your ass handed to you. There is enough in the Reach package for everybody: lone wolves, split-screen mates, Xbox Live addicts.

It's also the first time in many years that a Halo campaign is approachable by non-fans of the franchise. Reach strips out convoluted and bloated continuity for a self-contained tale of a six-strong squad battling an alien invasion and eventually aiding in a planet-wide evacuation. It's War of the Worlds meets Modern Warfare, a close-knit cast of characters that are very efficiently fleshed out beyond their obvious specialist classes as you work alongside them to tackle rampaging alien forces. You don't need to understand the wider implications of Noble team's mission - or even the way their decisions impact on the whole Halo universe - to enjoy the ride.

Weighing in with ten missions divided almost evenly across the span of ten hours, Reach has a bigger bite than its FPS peers, and will satisfy even non-Xbox Live users with the most consistently enjoyable and diverse Campaign since the original Halo. Even if the beats are familiar - seek and destroy Covenant outposts, defend and hold UNSC bases, deliver top secret packages, go hand-to-hand with Covenant alongside UNSC troops - they're finely polished and intermingled with enough new elements (space combat, protecting fleeing civilians, providing air support for Pelicans) to produce an experience that's light on filler. In addition, with Heroic and Legendary difficulties generating an entirely different experience to Normal thanks to cracking enemy AI, there's plenty of replayability.

Keep it Unreal
Reach looks incredible thanks to the new graphics engine, and utilising it Bungie has managed to make the planet look distinct enough from either Earth or Halo. Your squad's travels take you through rainstorm-battered farmland to midnight forays into Covenant-occupied valleys; you'll roar past frozen lakes in Warthogs and skulk through a mammoth city during evacuation. For our money, Call of Duty's vistas and effects are more breathtaking, but Reach has its own eye-catching beauty and breathless scope.

One important feature missing from Earth-side missions in the past is the inclusion of both wildlife and civilians.
In Reach, ostrich-like creatures will flock past you, reacting fearfully to the sound
of gunfire, while panicking residents running for their lives in New Alexandria make you feel part of a bustling metropolis under attack.

While the new graphics engine impresses by scaling Halo's combat scope out further, showcasing the escalating UNSC/Covenant engagements, Bungie is so confident in the strength of its combat mechanics that it pushes their cinematic grandeur to the background. You might just catch a massive aerial bombardment on a Scorpion tank battalion in the distance, from the corner of your eye, as you're weaving through a bullet- and plasma-filled battlefield. The continent-wide scrap is good, but Halo's ever-present and now-tweaked gameplay is even better.

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