'Halo" is a gaming institution.
It's the franchise that put Microsoft on the console gaming map, and its creators have the pressure of an immediate and tremendous audience whenever a new "Halo" game arrives. To a point, this was the case for "Halo: ODST," but it was widely accepted that "ODST" was more stopgap than new chapter.
It has been since the release of "Halo 3" in 2007 that Bungie has dealt with expectations as hyperbolically high as they have been for "Halo: Reach" (Xbox 360; rated M; $59.99).
In dealing with these expectations, Bungie seemingly has opted for the strategy of maintaining the entirety of its existing audience, because "Halo: Reach" is a love letter to that audience.
If you have played "Halo," you'll be familiar with the floaty physics, the ultra-competitive online play and the campaign that caters to those willing to be absorbed by the franchise. All of that still exists, and to expect those things to change is to expect everyone on Xbox Live to be rational, calm human beings.
The good news, then, is that Bungie has incorporated all of these things into a seamless package, to the point that it actually feels as if they've been done as well as they possibly could be. The challenge of the campaign is balanced and intense, and the multiplayer modes do a good job of rewarding skillful play over cheap tactics. The added multiplayer modes, such as the vehicle-based runaround of "Invasion" and the ridiculous(ly fun) capture-'n-cash-in romp that is "Headhunter," feel like extra frosting more than they do substantial additions, but they certainly don't detract from the game, either.
Less competitive players will, of course, be pleased to know that a number of variant Firefight modes are here as well. "Rocketfight," a heavy-weapon extravaganza in which a team cooperates in blowing up the advancing hordes of AI enemies in spectacular fashion, is particularly appealing.
What Bungie apparently is hoping is that the "Halo" faithful will latch on to the game and that those not previously swept up in the hype will be caught by the tremendous tide of publicity. The game it has created facilitates this perfectly, in that it is by almost every measure the idealized "Halo" experience.
So, though it might be true that first-person shooters really have little in the way of new thrills to offer players, games such as "Halo: Reach" still remind us that the old thrills are still worth experiencing.