It's hard to really understand the appeal of Halo. Its success as a pop culture phenomenon may have to do with the rather vacuous quality of its game world - a low-involvement shooter for an attention deficit age. It wasn't for a lack of trying either, as developer Bungie has put in the time and energy to flesh out the fiction in a variety of different media. In fact, the fiction comes off stronger in these ancillary outings than it does in the core video games.
Unfortunately, the blame for this inability to translate rich lore into a tangible game world lies on Bungie themselves. The gameplay may have been thoroughly enjoyable, but everything around it was very ordinary.
But first impressions here are overwhelmingly positive. The menus are high on usability, the cutscenes are well directed and gritty, and utilise a lot of handheld and documentary-esque camera work. It isn't that the game isn't fun, but the mood is more sombre and introspective than any Halo title thus far. This is also the first game in the series that lets you bring a custom Spartan into campaign mode. Your well-rounded squad mates, who make up Noble Team, are a bit less generic. The game also shows you their well-rendered faces especially during cutscenes and downtime between firefights.
The writing is also tighter than previous games in the series. Martin O' Donnell's score is even more sweeping and memorable than usual. The art design has gone from goofy to realistic thanks to the use of muted colour tones and richer, detailed textures. The levels also feel more lived in, with buildings that actually seem habitable with well designed and fully furnished interiors. Reach also has some of best looking skyboxes in gaming. The levels have been opened out vertically, and environments are peppered with natural features such as mountain ranges and valleys.
The level design also conveys scale incredibly even though the number of freeform sequences are lower than in previous games. But the frame rate drops during larger battles, and cutscenes have a blur about them.
Not a dull moment
The four-player online co-op-ready campaign plays well. You now have a new armour abilities system that allows you to equip buffs you pick up in the field and the ability to pilot a space fighter and a UNSC Falcon. Also, dual-wielding has been jettisoned, but it isn't something you'll miss.
The warthog is back, the enemy AI good, and you'll find fighting the Brutes and Elites a challenge. You'll also be able to sidestep battles and run straight to your objective. There are scripted assassinations you can perform, and the campaign on normal should last you 8-10 hours. There isn't a boring moment in it.
Best Halo ever
For anyone still on the fence, this is the best Halo game. We hope that with Bungie moving on, the series will be more character-driven and realistic. Include the extensive multiplayer suite with fully customisable match types, firefight mode, a replay theatre and the enhanced Forge world builder, and there's enough content to last you a year. Add in the challenging higher difficulties and campaign achievements and you've got one of the best gaming packages in the