Sunday, September 19, 2010

Halo: Reach Review

Halo is the name that defines the Xbox. Whenever I get in an argument over Microsoft vs Sony I know I can bring out the Halo brand and I automatically win. This iconic series is seeing the last installment by the masterminds behind Halo, Bungie. As they move onto a new project with Activision, we are left with one final goodbye which ironically is the beginning of the story. Everything Bungie has learnt in the last 10 years is rolled into one complete package that is the best Halo game to date.

The story of the Noble team is one full of courage, sorrow and victory as they fight to save Human's existence on the planet Reach from the evil Covenant. This game is perfect for everyone as the story is a standalone episode that doesn't require any background knowledge. Halo fans of old will enjoy the hints to the story of Master Chief, as well as a special (but short) appearance during the game. Some much needed upgrades to the series have been added to keep both the campaign and multiplayer at a level that looks respectable with Call of Duty providing more depth than Halo in the past. It is a shame to see Bungie leave on such a good know because we know the talent and skill won't be shovelled into this iconic series. Halo: Reach is simply put, the best Halo yet.


Reach is a beautiful world that has sadly been overrun by the Covenant. Previous Halo games have been based in bland settings, but Reach takes us to the lush and stunning locations around the world. Huge draw distances and breath taking environments, not to mention the brilliant view from space, makes for one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360.

One of the strongest areas in the Halo series are the cutscenes which define the story and present some background information on the characters. The scenes in Reach are engaging and look great. Perfect casting for the voice roles really sets you up in Noble team knowing who will be friendly and those in the group that aren't as inviting.

Simply put, this is the best looking Halo game of the lot. Slick animations and the brilliant graphics have finally brought Halo into 2010. Areas that have been lacking compared to other similar shooters have been fixed; expect yourself to be amazed by how beautiful Reach is the first time you play through it. I literally can't think of anything to describe how wonderful Planet Reach is. Noble 6's adventure is really something that has to be experienced by yourself to truly value the extent of work put into this title.

The sound and voice acting is spot on. As I said before your Noble team has been perfectly cast and as with all Halo games, the soundtrack perfectly sets the tone for each and every part of the game. Those quiet stealth sections are completely silent except for the sound of your footsteps while big action scenes greet you head on with edgy music. Halo 3: ODST was the best ever game I have played at creating suspense. Halo Reach isn't right up at ODST's standard, but it does a very decent job at separating every part of the game.


If there was one thing that turned me off previous Halo games, it was the blatant reusing of areas. It got so bad in the original Halo I actually couldn't bring myself to finish a level. Thankfully Bungie has done away with any reuse, making Reach in my eyes, automatically the best Halo campaign. Within a limited number of missions the aim was to show of all the beauty of Reach as possible, I feel like they achieved their goal.

For the majority of Reach it is just as you would expect. Shooting the Covenant is in, as well as dieing multiple times trying to figure out how to strategically take out all your foes. The difficulty has spiked up considerably from previous versions to present a new challenge to seasoned players, but remains fairly easy for first timers in lower difficulties. Can't win by yourself on Legendary? This time instead of grabbing 3 mates to easily breeze through, the difficulty now increases everytime another player is added into the mix. This is an excellent move that provides even more fun.

The Reach campaign is a tonne of fun as you blast hundreds of Grunts out of the way, only to be slashed by a sneaky Elite who has managed to get behind you. As I'm sure you are aware, Halo goes into space as you fight to control a space station high above Reach. This new aspect of the Halo series is downright awesome, while probably being the easiest level in the game. The environments are continually changing, as are how you are fighting the Covenant. One minute you'll be with the entire Noble team on foot; next you will be a gunner on a chopper blasting unsuspecting foes below. Action packed isn't the right word to describe the campaign. The game does put you in some intense stealth areas that constantly have you on the lookout. The mix of areas fits well together, creating a near perfect campaign.

Topping off the campaign is... special abilities! Finally this allows us to sprint in Halo, something that has always been lacking, especially in multiplayer. The new abilities option allows you to choose one ability and have limited use of it using the LB button. They range from sprinting to a jetpack, armour lock-up and active camo. These bring a new level of strategy not only to the campaign, but the extensive multiplayer mode as well.

Multiplayer has been largely improved since Halo 3. While I wouldn't put it ahead of Modern Warfare 2's, it is certainly one of the best I've ever used. Firefight has made a comeback after it's debut in ODST. A complete overhaul has been made, making the original look like more of a beta version. The game is now completely customizable right down to the performance of certain enemies. Firefight matchmaking is also back and is heaps of fun once again. A new points system is in place, giving you something to aim for when playing multiplayer. Credits are earned that lets you buy new armour to personalize Noble 6. These changes are reflected in multiplayer and even the campaign, which is really cool. Earning x amount of credits lets you level up, unlocking more armour to buy. Abilities add a new twist and a voting system prevents those maps you hate from randomly being chosen by the system.


Halo Reach is the definitive title that defines what Bungie has been aiming to achieve since 2001. All of that passion has been channeled into Reach, creating the ideal game to say goodbye with. A story full of tragedy and despair makes way for what we know as the 'Master Chief era'. The superb multiplayer just sums up what this game was about, making everything bigger and better while keeping what works. I can hardly fault Reach and rarely a game does this. The highs and lows of the campaign will keep you glued to the TV until it has been finished, multiple times.

This is by far the best title in the series, something that shouldn't be missed. A majority of people who own a Xbox would claim they have played a Halo game. Everyone should be proud to say they own a copy of Halo: Reach, it is that damn good. As we say farewell to Bungie's involvement in the Halo series, it leaves us to wonder what is around the corner. A must own game. period.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 10/10
Gameplay - 10/10
Overall - 9.5/10

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Assassin's Creed II Review

When Ubisoft first brought out Assassin's Creed I was very excited. The chance to be a true assassin, not one of the modern day gun slingers we now control all too often, was enticing. The original showed a lot of potential but some problems and tedious missions held Altair back from being the centre piece of an outstanding game. Now when IGN makes a big statement, I pay attention. They named Assassin's Creed II the Xbox 360 2009 Game of the Year. In a year that also included the release of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, this was a big call from the IGN staff. The thing is though, they are probably right because Assassin's Creed II would be close to my favourite game on the 360.

Everything that wasn't perfect in the original was perfected in the sequel. Those annoying missions that were littered throughout Assassin's Creed were scrapped. The graphics look a lot better and the level of detail in the massive cities really blew me away. The storyline has more meaning and goes deeper into your own soul to make you want to play this game. Controls are improved and free running from building to building is now smoother than before. Assassin's Creed II is almost the complete package apart from a few small gripes and lack of online play, something that will be changed when the second addition to this story, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, is released later this year. Don't bother waiting though because this title is needed to understand the story of Brotherhood as it follows on from where Assassin's Creed II finishes off.


This game is a solid title that is only verified by the excellent Renaissance style graphics. I am impressed how smooth the animations are especially when you have Ezio leaping across buildings or even running through the city with guards chasing after you. I never encountered any slow downs or lag during the game.

There are many different cities that you have the chance to travel to in your journey. Each city has a distinctive colour theme to make it unique and in the larger cities different areas distinquish themselves from others. One example is in Venice that one area is a big Masquerade area and for part of the game you must wear a mask and the place is covered with banners. Visit the villagers who live around the main cities and you will find some appaling areas such as swamps that feature water damaged buildings and smaller populations.

All buildings needed one feature that allows them to work in this game. Everything is climbable and this has forced buildings to all look similar in build. The different areas and colours mix it up a bit and do a good job at disguising the repetition. Buildings do have some unique features or design that let you tell them apart. Some larger structures are also historical landmarks that have made an appearance in this game.

The cities are full of life and the animations are just spectacular. From small details such as the way your cape reacts when climbing towers to big ones like how the villagers react to a dead body; Ubisoft have perfected it all. Cut scenes have also been greatly improved over Assassin's Creed, continuing with the high level presentation in the rest of the game. Every character looks great and all important characters are unique. Sadly this can't be said for your ordinary citizen, but it is only a small gripe.

The voice acting is top class in Assassin's Creed II with every character sounding like they have a true accent instead of some American poorly putting one on. Everyone fits into the setting and it really adds to the reality of the whole experience. The Renaissance themed music also creates a wonderful atmosphere and added sound effects such as when you are noticed by guards works perfectly. Not many games can from different eras can pull off the sound from the time and place; Assassin's Creed II is one of the games that can.


Assassin's Creed II is an engaging game that will have you interested in the story from the beginning chapter right up until the huge twist at the end. Ezio Auditore de Firenze is a likeable character and his motivation to avenge his family makes it clear in the beginning that you are the good guy here. This game follows on from the original as you escape from Abstergo Industries and find refuge in an abandoned warehouse. Yes, for all you newcomers be aware that you are actually a person called Desmond and a whole different story plot is linking Altair's and Ezio's lives together. The Assassin's Creed series probably has the strongest multi-game storyline of any game I have ever played and allows for multiple adventures until Desmond figures out the mystery behind the Assassin's and Templar.

We follow Ezio's life through the Animus from birth until we leave him at the end of the story (Part 1). The luxury of the Animus however is that we only replay the important parts of his 15th century life. Ezio's story is one full of twists and turns and I really don't want to ruin any of it for you. Just let me say that you will feel a real connection between Ezio and yourself by the end of the game. The game is split up into the free roaming of the city as you explore every nook and cranny, as well as the main missions that you complete to help you track down your fathers killer.

Gone are the days of tedious eavesdropping missions as we say hello to variety for each and every seciton of the game. Missions range from stalking an enemy, infiltrating heavily guarded areas and assassinating your target, having an old sword fight with guards and flying through Venice with a pair of wings. It takes approximately 18 hours to finish the game and not once did I find myself bored with having to climb buildings before jumping down and killing two guards at once. Optional extras such as finding tombs to unlock ancient armour brings a taste of Prince of Persia as these sections require Ezio to use his speed and leap to climb the tallest buildings in the game.. from the inside!

Another nice feature is the ability to buy and upgrade your look and weapons as well as owning your very own castle, complete with small community to rule. Upgrading your castle gives you more income and improves the wealth and perks received from your people. This adds a personal dimension to the game and stores were lacking from the original.


There is quite literally hundreds of things to do and discover in Assassin's Creed II. The huge cities are packed with feathers and people to help and being the local friendly Assassin does not get old. The only thing missing is some sort of multiplayer or incentive to continue once you have 100% completed the game like I have. The story is so good that Ubisoft basically has another $60 in their pockets once you finish the final sequence.

What was a nice game has been turned into a Triple A title with this outstanding sequel. Assassin's Creed II has built on the solid foundations of the original and has delivered one of the best games I have ever played. I found it tough to eject Assassin's Creed II until I had finished the game completely. If you found the original tedious, this will solve all your problems. Newcomers can pick up the game here and quickly catch onto the story as it is explained to you all over again. You can't possibly miss the chance to play this game. You won't regret it.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 9/10
Gameplay - 10/10
Overall - 9.5/10