Halo: Reach is very nearly a decade old, but you wouldn't think it based on the quality of the experience that it's still able to offer. Even after all these years, Bungie's final Halo game still stands tall, with a replayable campaign, the wave-based Firefight mode, and some truly exquisite multiplayer. Halo: Reach might be closing in on double digits, but it's still in great shape.
This prequel shooter has already been playable on Xbox One via the backward compatibility program, but the version that has just landed on PC and Xbox One is a remaster. To that end, the jagged edges have been tidied up just a smidge, the overall performance has improved noticeably, and thanks to some natural-looking character animations and convincing audio-visual design from back in the day, it still looks and feels great to play.
It's the first time that Reach has been available on PC, and it's the first entry in Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which itself is bringing Halo 1, 2, 3 and 4 - plus ODST and Reach - to this new PC-based audience. The other games in the series are still to come in the form of upcoming episodic releases, which is something of a disappointment because we're not sure when Halo: CE and its successors will arrive, but as we've already reviewed The Master Chief Collection back when it first landed on Xbox, we can safely say that in terms of story, PC players are in for an absolute treat with untold hours of top tier entertainment on the horizon.
Going first with Reach makes sense, primarily because the events depicted in the game foreshadow what's to come in the mainline adventure. Master Chief's appearance in this prequel is fleeting and the main focus is on Noble Team, a group of six Spartans who are caught up in the Covenant invasion of the planet. This alien menace is after something extremely important and it's up to Noble Team to protect a precious cargo and get it off the planet before it falls into enemy hands.
The stakes are high, with the Covenant unleashing devastating force at every turn. The chaos caused by the invasion acts as the backdrop to your adventure, with the narrative woven into the very destruction of the planet. The story unfolds across a series of missions that focus on different members of the team, all told through the eyes of Noble-6, the player-character who reinforces the squad at the beginning of the game. As a framing device, it works effectively, and we're whisked off into a breathless brothers-in-arms adventure filled with gun battles and vehicular sequences, all of which plays out to an absolutely stunning soundtrack that, much like everything else in the game, has aged brilliantly.
Its predecessor, Halo 3, was a much slower game, but Bungie changed things up for Reach by adding the ability to sprint, use jetpacks, and so on. These new tricks appear in the campaign, but they prove most useful during multiplayer, where you can use the jetpack for added verticality, the sprint to move in and out of combat at speed, and holograms to confuse your enemies at key moments. You only get to use one ability at a time, and there's a nice balance across the board that ensures that no particular armour ability feels overpowered.
The campaign isn't particularly long, but it's playable in co-op and each level is built with replayability in mind, so you'll get a lot of mileage out of it. If, however, you want to move on to other distractions once the credits have rolled, there's the wave-based Firefight mode whereby teams battle groups of enemies across a variety of different sandbox locations. It's not particularly deep, but it is an engaging way to spend some time with a close-knit fireteam if you're starting to tire of replaying the same campaign missions.
We've saved the best to last, and that's the PvP multiplayer. We've come a long way since 2010 when it comes to online gaming, and it's a testament to the quality of Bungie's final Halo game that it still feels pretty fresh. There's a decent number of maps, as well as multiplayer modes that include traditional Slayer variants and fan-favourite playlists such as Grifball. We revisited some old favourite maps and played Slayer, Swat, and Capture the Flag, and everything felt as it should, with solid hit detection and a smooth frame-rate (although the endless panting as everyone runs around can get a bit distracting if you're playing with a decent headset on). Simply put, if you're after some great PvP multiplayer, you could do a lot worse than returning to Reach.
In terms of the PC version of the game, there's a relative lack of options to tinker with, so if you've got a less-than-stellar PC and you need to adjust your settings, you're options are somewhat limited. The frame-rate can be unlocked if you've got a decent rig (although watch out for screen tearing), and there's also the option to play at a fixed 60 frames-per-second. You can adjust your FOV, as well as choose between performance, the original experience, or enhanced settings, although most PCs will run the game just fine, which is hardly surprising considering its age. More could have been done to improve the quality of certain textures and the colour palette feels a bit worn, but overall it still looks good.
Playing on a mouse and keyboard is obviously an option now, and people will no doubt like the added accuracy on offer by playing that way, but Reach feels like a game built for controllers. On that front, there are all the usual schemes to choose from so if you're a 'bumper jumper' you'll be back up to speed in no time. There are also plenty of customisation options, with the original armour sets that people will remember fondly, unlocked via a robust progression system that echoes that of the original.
All in all, it's a fairly standard remaster of an excellent game, with PC options that feel a little lightweight. It might be a 10-year-old shooter, but it's a damn good one and it has aged exceptionally well, a fact that speaks to Bungie's original quality as well as the restorative nip and tuck overseen by 343 Industries. For £30 (or a monthly Game Pass subscription) you'll get Reach now, and then later you'll get the anniversary editions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, as well as Halo 3, Halo 4 and Halo 3: ODST. That's a lot of bang for your buck.
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