Prequels rarely resonate with audiences — regardless of the medium. So when Bungie Studios decided to make its last “Halo” game a prequel, there was some cause for concern. Thankfully, those fears were misplaced. While the final chapter of “Halo: Reach” is something well known to any fan of the franchise, the game itself is perhaps the best in “Halo’s” nine-year history. And it’s a fitting sendoff for the developer, who is responsible for creating and growing one of the biggest series in the videogame industry.
Players assume the role of Noble Six, the newest recruit in a special ops team of Spartans — the super-soldiers of the series. Rather than operating as a solo agent, as the series’ seminal hero Master Chief did in the first three games, Noble Six is part of a team — and you’ll generally have one or more teammates with you on missions.
The story in “Reach” is much tighter than it has been in previous “Halo” games. Bungie made a concerted effort to cut back on the game’s jargon and focus more on letting the plot unfold at a natural pace. It still lacks the exposition of a film, but it doesn’t exclude first time players, something the franchise was in danger of doing in previous titles as it got caught up in its own mythology.
That the story is so engaging is somewhat shocking, since the fall of the planet Reach was detailed in the manual for the first “Halo” game. That developers can create suspense and surprise in a story where the ending is so well known is laudable.
Combat in the game is frenetic. Bungie has a theory that fun in games should come in 30-second doses. Throw enough chaos at the player to get their heart pumping, then offer a brief respite. They’ve perfected that at this point, and the game’s better because of it.
The pacing improvements don’t stop there, though. For the first time, “Halo” players will undertake flying missions, including both space combat and a helicopter mission. While the majority of the game is still ground-based, these offer a nice respite and keep players hooked.
The enemy artificial intelligence is also much smarter than it has been in previous “Halo” titles. That means players can’t run in blindly and begin shooting. Doing so only results in a quick death. The Covenant forces you’ll face are deadly, vicious and know how to flank you.
The game seems to cherry pick the best parts of previous “Halo” installments, further polish them and put them into a fresh environment. It’s a tremendous single-player experience. Ironically, though, many players will bypass the campaign for the game’s multiplayer matches.
Make no mistake, though, players who buy the game solely to battle with and against others will be just as pleased. The challenges the game offers are varied and customizable.
While there will certainly be more “Halo” games from Microsoft, they won’t be created by Bungie. The development studio recently signed a 10-year agreement with Activision-Blizzard for its next major franchise. With “Halo: Reach,” the team has left some incredibly large shoes to fill — and left gamers with a loving swan song.