What's so important about the planet of Reach? Is it the way that all the native grasses sway in unison when the wind blows? Maybe it's the urban architecture, which has the soulless, open style of shopping malls and airport terminals. Or perhaps it's the planet's collection of anti-aircraft batteries, superpowered shield generators, spacecraft launchpads and other significant military installations, none of which seem to be defended by an army of any size or skill.
So when the aliens attack Reach (as they must, or there wouldn't be a Halo game here), it's up to me and my Elite squadmates to bring our bulky-helmeted heroics to bear on this perfect-for-gaming planet. The wilderness abounds in cliffs from which snipers can peer through scopes and watch aliens meandering about their business before being sent sprawling with headshots. Canyons invariably fork into multiple paths that facilitate flanking maneuvers. And those white-marbled cities always seem to encircle courtyards that are ideal arenas for rampaging beasts.
A good shooter depends on exploring space with a crisscross of bullets, and there are countless trajectories possible in Halo: Reach. Not only can I fight standard battles with my boots on the ground, but I can also climb into any of the game's alien or manmade vehicles and roll, rumble and hover around the battlefields. The addition of jet packs moves the action up and down as much as across the ground, with my foes and I leaping high into the air and sailing overhead for short distances, guns blazing all the way.
There may be more means of killing and being killed available on Reach than any other videogame world, but the single-player battles still follow the standard dramatic Halo arc: small, squat aliens followed by taller, more nimble warriors and then a heavy dollop of big-gunned brutes. This is the only storyline that matters, not the deadly dull military babble that intrudes on the action from time to time. I don't need to figure out why I'm fighting on Reach - I only need to figure out how.
THE GOOD: What's a shooter without guns? Halo: Reach features a couple dozen different weapons, each distinct in style and effect. Purple globs fired from grunt alien guns wander through the air accompanied by a dull blat, while electric blue sparks from the stronger foes' sidearms speed, hissing, across the battlefield. Bullets fired by mundane human guns invariably launch from a flickering burst of light and trace a dashed golden line across the landscape with a rat-a-tat rhythm.
THE BAD: The Bungie gods who built the Halo universe seem to be second-guessing the variety they can bring to combat, and so Halo: Reach is padded with a few interludes of deep space dogfights and inner-city helicopter deployment. While they bring variety to the run-and-gun foundation of Halo, they feel like they belong in separate games. The pace is slower, and the guidance the game provides in tracking enemy ships and helping me keep my orientation verges on handholding. I'm a stonecold killer - I don't want to fly around with training wheels on.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Halo: Reaches new heights.