Countdown to ‘Reach’: Classic ‘Halo’ franchise turns back the clock for prequel

Alien spacecraft bombard a fragile planet with energy cannons. Their troops on the ground threaten to extinguish all human life. It sounds like typical science fiction, but when the new first-person-shooter “Halo Reach” ships on Sept. 14, it will be glorious.

The storied “Halo” franchise, from producers Bungie and Microsoft, has been nothing less than an amazing ride. “Halo:  Combat Evolved” debuted on the original Xbox console, an entire generation ago of gaming. People sat down and played through a two-player cooperative story mode and a 16 multiplayer ruckus of a game.

A few years later, “Halo 2” gave gamers another chance to play as the stalwart Master Chief and his new alien ally, The Arbiter.

The game’s multiplayer was as fun as ever, but the campaign was an average rehash of old news.

“Halo 3” was created for  Xbox 360 with both barrels loaded. Unfortunately, by this time the formula was tired. Games like “Call of Duty 4:  Modern Warfare” stole any thunder or clout the game had left.

So why should anyone be excited for “Halo Reach”? “Halo’s” formula is finally getting a fresh start.

The game’s main character, Spartan Master Chief, has been traded in for an entire team of super soldiers. They defend a human fortress planet called Reach, the last celestial stop before Earth, making the latest installment of the franchise a prequel.

Opportunity for better storytelling runs rampant.  With an almost silent character being eliminated, character development can occur.

Unlike Master Chief, each individual soldier has his or her own known identity. On top of that, their weaponry is more detailed and unique than the famous marine’s gear.

Multiplayer got a revamp as well.

Each player can individually select different armor types (known as Load Outs), which change his or her style of play. Some selections allow a combatant to use a jetpack, invisibility camouflage or other fun toys.

This is a major step in the right direction.

What the new “Call of Duty” games had on the “Halo” series was the high degree of customization during multiplayer. By giving a game interchangeable parts, the replay value increases exponentially. If there aren’t thousands of people on Xbox Live within the week of launch figuring out how to abuse the new abilities, I will be astonished.

Bungie has the opportunity to make good on all the flaws and let-downs the previous games had.

A generation of gamers, included myself, will either be delighted or devastated. The latter would be the last nail in the coffin of the almost decade-long series.

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