This is it. This is the final draft. This is the last time Bungie, who revolutionized console multiplayer with Halo, will have a chance to edit, hone and perfect that multiplayer. As such, we were expecting big changes, big improvements, big risk taking and big callbacks to the past. We were expecting the developer to try something majorly new, while simultaneously staying true to the formula that's worked since 2001.
Perhaps we expected too much… but Bungie delivered. This is the most fun Halo's multiplayer has ever been.
New ways to play
If you participated in the Reach beta earlier this year, you already understand why the multiplayer is so satisfying… and so refreshing. Bungie didn't merely add more maps or more modes this time around. With the debut of "Armor Abilities," they added some more of everything.
Halo move too slow for you? You want extra speed? Choose the Sprint ability in your pre-match loadout, and your Spartan can blast forward like a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare soldier, escaping dangerous situations with doubly quick ease. Or choose the Evade ability if you're controlling an Elite, and you can leap or roll in any direction to dodge incoming fire. Still not enough freedom? The jetpack is the most exhilarating addition to Halo multiplayer since the man cannon, lifting you off the ground and enabling you to not only snipe (or be sniped) from hundreds of feet in the air, but also to reach useful, hard-to-find areas and weapons.
Or maybe Halo is too straightforward for you? You wish the multiplayer required and rewarded more strategy? Select the Active Camo ability, which makes you invisible and gives you the chance to sneak up on unsuspecting foes. Or the Armor Lock, which can temporarily protect you from any attack and, with its electromagnetic pulse, instantly destroy a charging vehicle. Or the Drop Shield, which is a healing version of Halo 3's bubble. Or the Hologram, which sends forward a doppelganger of your avatar to bait and confuse the other players. Each of these armor abilities encourages a different style of play and complements a different type of player. Each, in its own way, transforms Halo: Reach multiplayer into a new (enough) experience.
New ways to create
What really sets Halo games apart from the competition – and what really secured Halo 3 a"10/10" reviewfrom us – is the open-source nature of the multiplayer. Other shooters let you shorten a match, or switch a weapon location, or change the color of your armor. Halo does all that, then adds Custom Games for players to invent their own modes, Forge for players to construct their own map variants and Saved Films for players to direct their own stories.
Halo: Reach goes even further. Before, Forge was merely a tool for placing and moving around objects on existing maps. Now, with the spectacular and sprawling new Forge World – a map that is five times larger than normal and infinitely more customizable – you can more or less create your own multiplayer environment from scratch. The Rube Goldbergsuicide machinesthat come out of this thing are guaranteed to blow all of our minds.
If the latest modes aren't to your liking – personally, we can't get enough of the frantic skull collecting in Headhunter, the constant ebb and flow of flags in Stockpile or the epic three-tiered mini-campaign that is Invasion – you have new options for editing your own. Want the Spartans to have Elite powers? Possible. Wish you could turn back time, lose the armor abilities and play a round of Classic Slayer on Blood Gulch? Done.
The little stuff
Then there are the less publicized touches and tweaks that may not catch your attention at first, but have a surprising impact on your overall enjoyment of the multiplayer. Like the option to request opponents who speak the same language as you… or prefer "polite" trash talking… or have the securest online connection. Like the improved Firefight co-op, which automatically scales the number and difficulty of enemies to match your party. Like the nooks and crannies of the new Armory shop, where you won't just find fancy helmets and shoulder pads to purchase, but also avatar voices (Steve Downes as Master Chief, anyone? Jen Taylor as Cortana?) and special death animations (we're saving up for the valentine heart explosion!)
Multiplayer Verdict: 9/10 ("Awesome")
Next page: Is Halo: Reach better than Halo 3 and ODST?