Halo: Reach Xbox 360

Halo: Reach Xbox 360
Pop cultural artefacts as big as Halo tend to be mainstream crossovers, but Master Chief never achieved Super Mario ubiquity and the Covenant alien alliance never equalled Darth Vader's Imperial forces. But the franchise's inherent hardcore nature has made it even more popular amongst its adherents over the past decade, many of whom lined up for midnight madness launch events, which put $200 million bucks into Microsoft's coffers.

And now the Halo story winds up, or rather, unwinds, with a prequel that departing developer Bungie hopes will rescue the storytelling technique from George Lucas's soiled legacy and put an appropriately epic capper on a series that had threatened to go out with the whimper that was last year's Halo: ODST.

Halo is a war story and first-person shooter. This has meant that past games have suffered from run-and-gun sameness, a trait somewhat alleviated in the final go-round because of the new opportunities to pilot helicopters and even spaceships. As well, it's the best looking of the Halo games to date, with a stylized artfulness that adds some class to the constant combat against Brutes, Grunts, Elites, et al.

Once again, you're not playing Master Chief, but an anonymous space marine called Noble 6, the latest addition to a faceless squad of stereotypical Spartan super-soldiers. And rather than worrying about the whole the universe, right now you're concentrating on the colonial outpost planet Reach, which fans know marks the beginning of the end, the turning point in a long war where United Nations' Space Command first discovered the ancient Forerunner technology that would help them turn back the tide of invading aliens throughout the core trilogy.

The specifics of the story are as confusing as ever ― hands up if you even know what a "Halo" is? ― But there's urgency to Reach that propels you towards the dark, predestined ending. And the focused setting brings out the best in Bungie, who have too-often erred on the side of generic in their single-player games, coasting on the enduring popularity of their multiplayer, which now includes new modes like Headhunter, Stockpile and Invasion, alongside favourites like Firefight, and an enhanced Forge map editor to extend the game's life indefinitely.

Halo's traditional all-sizzle-no-steak storytelling style is also less of a concern this time, possibly because of the pre-imposed limits inherent to a prequel, creating an accomplished epic that Bungie should be proud to go out on. The subhead of the original Halo was "Combat Evolved." It only took nine years, but that long-promised evolution has finally been, well, reached. (Bungie/Microsoft)