Halo: Reach Hands-On Preview

After we interviewed Halo: Reach Creative Director Marcus Lehto, we were really excited to get our hand on Halo: Reach. Luckily, our wait was not long.

On the 24th floor of a building in Beverly Hills, CA, I got a chance to sit in a room and play through the entire Halo: Reach single-player campaign last week.

Our full review will go up September 11, 2010, when the embargo officially lifts. For now, I have signed a piece of paper that says I can only tell you about 2 specific missions in the 11-mission long campaign. So here’s a guided tour of the fourth and fifth Halo: Reach missions, titled Nightfall and Tip of the Spear respectively.

Nightfall

I can see why Bungie wanted us to highlight this mission. It’s a bit of a departure for the Halo series. It’s a nighttime mission, in which you and fellow Noble “Jun” have to sneak around in the dark through several Covenant outposts, assessing their combat capabilities. It’s stealthy and different, and speaks to Reach’s darker, grittier feel.

You’re armed with the SRS99 Sniper Rifle, a truly wonderful weapon. In the first few seconds of the mission, you’re introduced to the idea of “Assassination Moves.” There’s an elite Covenant looking out over a cliffside. Sneak up to him and push “B,” and you’ll trigger an extended, fairly brutal stealth-kill animation. You can trigger these whenever you sneak up on enemies in Halo: Reach.

One assassination, coming right up…

You eventually come to a heavily guarded Covenant Outpost, and have to storm in and take it all down. FYI, don’t miss the weapons cache to the left of the encampment. You’ll be able to swap the Magnum for the Assault Rifle.

The area is populated with a combination of Grunts, Jackals and Elites. We elected to slowly circle and take them all down one by one. The Sniper Rifle is a godsend in this kind of situation, especially against the absurdly powerful Elites. Their shields are super tough in Reach.

One of the bases. Yup.

Take note of the big piece of machinery in the center of the outpost. It is explodable(!) Wait until a few Covenant are near the device, and then blow it up to watch the fireworks.

After you’ve cleared the area, you move on down the path and come to a second encampment. It’s similarly stocked with resistance. Once you’ve cleared out all of the Covenant, head upstairs in the south west building and grab the Plasma Cannon turret. Rip it off its hinges and take it with you. You’ll need it.

In the next area is a large, open field and is actually a beautiful place on Reach. But then you’ll encounter one of Reach’s indigenous species, the Gueta. They are huge, lumbering, kind of ape-like and very mean. This is why it was a good idea to grab the Plasma Cannon. Make short work of them. Move on through the very nicely designed system of caves. Halo: Reach is big on scenery, that’s for sure.

When you emerge from the caves, you’ll come upon a group of militia at a base under attack. You’ll need to intervene, and protect the militia against the Covenent. Dropships packed to the gills and lousy with Covenant will appear and apply more pressure. Again, the Sniper Rifle is really your best friend here. If you move in too close, you will get overwhelmed and outgunned.

Don’t miss the Armor Ability powerup in this area. In Halo: Reach, Armor Abilities are reusable, defensive powerups that can really turn the tables in combat. They are scattered around Reach, and come in the following flavors: Active Camo, Armor Lock (you’re frozen, and temporarily invincible), Drop Shield (bubble shield), Evade, Hologram (you make a double of yourself, Total Recall-style), Jet Pack (yes!) and Sprint.

Here we have the “Hologram” Armor Upgrade.

You’ll have a couple of choices, but we went with “Drop Shield”–trigger it and you’ll throw up a Bubble Shield, which you can use over and over after it recharges. You can also take a knee in the Bubble Shield to heal yourself, even when you’re down in the red.

A Phantom eventually ruins the fun and drops off a couple of Hunters, making things a lot more difficult. If you’re interested, you can float up to the top of the outlook tower, and grab a Plasma Cannon to try and even the odds. If not, at least use the shotgun and try and go for their backs.

A Spartan scaring a Hunter with the intimidating Armor Lock throw-down stance

When you move on to the next area, you’ll face a large number of Covenant forces embedded in a hillside. You’ll need to snake your way up the hills, and take out the huge turrets along the way if you’re going to stand a chance. When you clear out the hills, the mission is over.

Tip of the Spear

This one begins with a pretty riveting cutscene. The Spartans are mobilized and fully pissed at this point, and they’ve moving in force, hauling ass in warthogs through the desert. They’re going after the Covenant’s main base, which was discovered in the last mission.

All business.

Your first task will be to clear a landing path for the rest of the team. You’ll face a good number of grunts, Jackals and a couple of Elites. Thankfully, you’re equipped with the M319 Grenade Launcher, which makes things a whole lot more fun. The Grenade Launcher functions as you would suspect, with one special attribute: hold RT, and you can cook the grenade, and detonate whenever you wish by releasing RT. This adds a layer of finesse to using the Grenade Launcher, and using it is a joyous affair.

The Rocket launcher-ready Warthog. The clearly Superior Warthog, basically.

When you’re ready to move on, you’ll hop into a Warthog with a fellow Spartan, and sally forth. It turns into a kind of classic Halo-driving-mission. You next objective: neutralize a couple of big, bad Covenant AA guns–conveniently surrounded by a circular speedway, which makes the Warthog just plain good luck, really.

Not to mention that this is a new kind of Warthog, and it has rocket launchers on the back of it. Why didn’t they always have rocket launchers?

More of Reach’s superior technology.

When you’ve circled and killed off all the resistance, you’ll need to cause a whole lot of damage to the AA gun’s core in order to destroy it. It explodes very satisfyingly. Once you do, move to the next area.

You’ll go up against a Wraith. If you just keep circling it, you’re Rocket Launcher-ready Warthog will do the rest.

Move on ahead, and you’ll come to a similar area with the second AA gun. This area has a Wraith, but you are Warthog-less. You’ll have to take it down on foot. Circle the area and try to pick up a sticky grenade or two from a fallen Grunt. We elected to approach it from the side, jump on and manually plant the sticky grenade.

Blowing up the AA guns is terrible fun.

There are two Hunters guarding the next AA gun. And you’re not very well armed at this point. Try and get hold of a Ghost, and use it to ram and pester the Hunter. It’s kind of a tough fight.

When the second AA gun is down, you’ll jump into a Falcon and proceed to your “Primary Objective”–infiltrate “The Spire” and take it down. You’ll be given the pleasure of manning the Falcon’s Grenade Launcher and tasked with eliminating various ground troops in your warpath down below. Have fun strategically cooking the grenades and watching the damage on the hillside.

When the Falcon passes into The Spire’s force field, it loses all power and crash lands. When you get back on your feet, you’ll have a Jet Pack Armor Ability sitting right in front of you. Grab it and get ready for some fun.

Move ahead around the corner and grab the Focus Rifle, a new weapon in Halo: Reach. The Focus Rifle fires a continuous, cutting beam of energy, and works kind of like a Sniper Rifle. It’s very powerful, and great at long range.

You’ll finally be face to face with The Spire, an extremely tall Covenant control tower. It’s your job to find a way to the very top, and to destroy the shields. Walk into the energy beam in the center of The Spire, and you’ll ride it all the way to the top of the structure.

You’re not very welcome in The Spire, it turns out. The Covenant will make you very aware of this fact. In the main control room, you’ll encounter a Zealot Elite–an extremely powerful, well shielded, Energy Sword-wielding Covenant. These guys make the game a heck of a lot more challenging. Throw a couple of grenades, and spam him with the Focus Rifle continuously and that might still not be enough.

Covenant welcoming party

After you disable The Spire’s shields, you’ve effectively rendered the structure defenseless. UNSC forces fly in and finish the job, destroying The Spire in a huge explosion.

So, how is it so far? It’s a tough question, since I’ve beaten the game and could review it right now. I will say this: if you consume these two missions in a vacuum, Halo: Reach is great fun. The sense of place created in Reach is one of a dark, beautiful, foggy planet. The new features and weapons add additional layers of strategy to the tried and true Halo formula.

That’s all for now. Halo: Reach will hit shelves September 14, 2010, exclusively for the Xbox 360. Until then, you can check out our exclusive interview with Reach Creative Director Marcus Lehtoand get all the latest news on our Halo: Reach game page.

Our full review will go up on September 11, 2010, and you can check it out here!

Got the game? Take advantage of our detailed Halo: ReachWalkthrough!

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