Halo: Reach is actually a prequel to the events of the original Halo: Combat Evolved. The titular "Reach" refers to the human colony of Reach, the center of the military. Reach is attacked by the Covenant forces, and while fans already know what happened to Master Chief, he wasn't the only Spartan at Reach that day. Halo: Reach follows a squad of Spartan super soldiers known as Noble Team, who are tasked with keeping Reach from falling to the Covenant forces. These Spartans are a few of the remaining elite, equipped with experimental new armor, and are the only thing standing between Reach and ultimate destruction.
Our brief demo began when a group of Spartans was dropped off near a human base that was under Covenant attack. At first glance, the basic Halo gameplay seems pretty familiar. Since the game takes place shortly before the events of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, the Spartans have some more basic forms of defenses. As such, they're using the older shield and health system seen in Halo: Combat Evolved instead of the more advanced defensive systems seen in later games. Shields recharge slower, and health looks like it needs to be refilled separately. The various Spartans also have different kinds of equipment built into their armor. One involved the new Armor Lock ability; we saw a Covenant attempt to run over a Spartan with a vehicle, but the Spartan quickly ducked to the ground and activated a personal force field, which made him immobile but immune to damage. The vehicle ran right into the Spartan and exploded, leaving the soldier unharmed and the Covenant in pieces.
The main character also uses the new Sprint ability, which allows him to dart forward quickly for a brief period of time. There are other abilities as well, such as the cloaking Active Camo or the deployable Drop Shield, each of which grants the Spartan a specific ability with a brief cooldown. Once you use the ability, you have to wait for it to recharge before you can use it again.
Halo fans will be glad to hear that a lot of the traditional weapons are still available in Halo: Reach, including favorites like the machine gun and Spartan Laser, but there are also new weapons available. During our brief demo, we got a chance to see a Spartan using the new grenade launcher, which is great for clearing out crowds but poor in one-on-one combat.
There will be a series of new weapons available as well. The Target Locater, for example, is a bit like Gears of War's Hammer of Dawn. It lets you paint a target with a laser so orbiting ships can drop weapons on them. The Covenant has some new weapons as well, like a Concussion Rifle that fires explosive plasma rounds that are strong against shields. Picking the proper weapon for every situation is going to be quite important, and it's nice to see that the usual collection of weapons is still available. Also worth noting is the powerful assassination ability, which allows you to instantly dispatch enemies if you can sneak up from behind. It's a bit different from the usual melee skills in that it puts your character into the third-person perspective for a brief second, giving you a full glimpse of the brutal kill.
Perhaps the biggest new addition to Halo: Reach is space combat. A Spartan can, at times, hop into a saber fighter and launch into space to battle the Covenant's forces. This is pretty much an evolution of the vehicular gameplay seen in other Halo games, but far more focused. In our demo, we got to see the Spartans take off into orbit to battle Covenant forces that were attacking a human base. The action looked pretty much like an arcade space shooter, and there was a lot of intense action. Like a Spartan, your ship has regenerating shields and then a solid hull underneath. You're armed with laser cannons and lock-on missiles, both of which seem more than capable of tearing apart the Covenant forces. We didn't get to see a ton of the space combat, but what we did see looked pretty darn fun, and it's an interesting variation on the usual Halo gameplay.
One of the coolest new features of Halo: Reach is going to be the expanded Firefight gameplay. Introduced in Halo: ODST, Firefight is a gameplay mode where players work together to fight off wave after wave of enemies, with various challenges being issued as the mode progresses. Halo: Reach is going to include a wide variety of new Firefight modes to give it nearly an infinite amount of extra replay value. The mode that was introduced in ODST has now been redubbed Firefight Classic. The new default Firefight mode has been tweaked to only last one set to prevent games from going on too long. There's also a Generator Defense mode, which challenges players to not just defeat Covenant attackers but also protect a series of generators, adding extra difficulty to the already-intense gameplay. The final one we got to hear about was Rocketfight, which gives players unlimited rocket launchers with which to fight the Covenant forces.
Firefight mode has even more variations because it's now completely customizable. Players can set the properties of basically everything. Players can decide exactly how they want to take on the Covenant forces; you can choose the enemy types you face in each of the waves, increasing or decreasing the challenge as you see fit; match length; respawn time; lives and weapons. You can even modify the players themselves, allowing them to have more or less health, different jump height, different weapons, and various other neat things. Even the generators in the Generator Defense mode can be customized.
For those looking for a real challenge, you can create your own custom skulls, which add unique attributes to the players or enemies, depending on the wave. This can be anything from increased movement to making them immune to headshots. The level of customization, at least from the brief demo we saw, looked nearly infinite. Considering that the Firefight gameplay seems almost unchanged, it's nice to see the huge variety of available customization options. Players will also be able to compete in weekly challenges in order to unlock new armor pieces for their Spartans to wear in Firefight and other gameplay modes.
Halo: Reach looks like more of the same, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's more of the same Halo gameplay, but with new weapons, new features, and an incredible amount of customization. Even if you're only looking to buy the game for the multiplayer mode, the new and improved Firefight looks like it might be worth the cost of admission. The single-player mode also looks to be shaping up pretty darn well. The new weapons and abilities should add some spice to the game, but I'm most interested in getting my hands on the space combat. From what we saw, it looks like fast and fun arcade space sim action that will be a great addition to the Halo universe. Halo: Reach is supposedly the last Bungie-made Halo title, and if it's true, they'll be going out with a bang.
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