The problem with most game series is that over time something goes wrong. Characters could become old or overused, and the mechanics too repetitive and boring. Naturally FPS games have a little more room to change since fans are more open to shifts in game design, but the fact still remains that sooner or later the series will mess up. Even Halo (as a series) has not been immune to this, as ODST was considered to be questionable on a lot of levels. It was my one fear that Halo: Reach would be a failure on some level. That the multiplayer would rapidly stagnate over time, Firefight and Forge World would be a bust. Furthering that or even that the co-op would fail to be fun. It just seemed like there was almost too much happening in a single game that somewhere along the line, something had to go wrong. I went into Reach filled with caution and scepticism, and left it impressed and wholly satisfied. Here's why.
The first thing that should be said here is that anyone who absolutely hates the Halo formula of doing things should approach this with a more open mind. Yes, Halo: Reach does play like its predecessors, but there are some subtle differences. It's easy to tell what changes Bungie has made to their classic design, and why those changes were implemented. The campaign, for example, is broken down into missions that are clearly identifiable rather than a string of similarly executed objectives. 'Get there, kill stuff' is still the goal, but each mission has a different theme. Some involve sniping across a dark landscape, others require a space battle in low gravity; all of them are equally memorable and accomplish what Halo 3 and ODST only began to grab onto.
Players get to design their own Spartan from the start, who serves as the main character (Noble 6) in the same way Commander Shepard worked in Mass Effect. It adds more personality to the game and makes the interactions a but more meaningful. Throughout playing the game in any of the modes, credits are gained for doing various things. Weekly/daily objectives, kills, mission side-goals and victories all give points which can be used to purchase armor customizations. Credits also come hand-in-hand with experience which will earn the player new ranks and unlock armor that can be purchased. Under most circumstances this level of customization is extremely cool, particularly given the fact that weapons are picked up on-the-fly in Halo, but seeing these changes reflect in Campaign or Co-op just takes it to another level of appreciation.
However, while there are some improvements to the campaign, it's still relatively short and hardly memorable. This isn't new to the Halo franchise though and that's because the bulk of any Halo experience lies in the multiplayer. It's here that Reach truly outshines all the other titles before it, which is saying something. It also provides the best example of how Halo: Reach is at the forefront in the world of FPS gaming; no other game comes close to providing the amount of options that Reach offers. Team games, for example, range from Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Generator Defense, SWAT or just straight Slayer. Each of these individual modes also has sub-categories, such as multi-flag CTF or Rocket Slayer, letting players add new twists to familiar gametypes. This sort of variety is seen across the board, from Free for All to Firefight (Reach's version of Horde Mode). Anyone looking to avoid these options can just go into general competitive multiplayer in the Arena, which lets people go at it in small teams or solo with general rule sets.
On top of the already overwhelming amount of options in Reach is the Forge World, which is beyond impressive. Players utilize in-game tools to create their own custom maps and game options, letting gamers think up any style of map they like. A perfect example is being able to set a Warthog as the 'hill' for King of the Hill, forcing players to constantly move while being shot at in a car. These tools also naturally lend themselves well to open 'friend matches', where just about anything goes in an extremely open and creative environment.
Completely apart from the mechanics of the game is the map design, which has always been a solid strength in the franchise. As a fan of complex, non-symmetrical maps, Halo Reach delivered on every level. Classic maps have returned with a few twists (and a new name, in the case of Blood Gulch) and the new maps are all extremely different with their own unique strategies. To be frank, you can tell how well a map is designed by how many choke-points, or natural camper spots exist within it. Multiplayer maps tend to have a lot of movement about them, while Firefight maps are less about bunkering down in one area and more about actual teamwork and knowing exactly how to hold off an attack from every single direction. It takes a long time to get used to but is extremely rewarding, particularly on the harder difficulties with a few friends.
While this is all well and good, what's a bit disappointing is that most of the core elements to the game haven't really changed. Sure, sniping in Reach is far less of an issue, and armor abilities mix up the traditional gameplay with a lot of individual surprises. But the weapons are all familiar, save for a few new ones and at its core, there's still the feeling of playing a freshened up version of a game that's been around for a long time. This, of course, is great for fans of the Halo franchise, but it's going to do very little to convince those on the outside to give Halo a try. However, anyone who finds themselves disappointed at not playing an entirely new game misunderstands what Halo: Reach is about.
The Halo series has never been like any other FPS title in its genre. It never has been, and never will be. Anyone wishing Halo: Reach was filled with realism, accuracy, less of a HUD or more emotional tension should ask themselves why? There are already enough games on the market. What Halo: Reach does is take the best aspects of every single game before it and mash it into a single, updated package. Firefight, Matchmaking, Arena, Forge World, armor customization, co-op, skulls, and the pistol all come together to create the most detailed and expansive Halo title ever created. The campaign is still a sore point, but for all intents and purposes, Bungie has surpassed what they set out to accomplish in Halo: Reach, and fans couldn't possibly ask for anything more.