When “Halo 3: ODST” was released last year, the once vibrant Halo universe felt exhausted, as though even its creators at Microsoft Corp.’s Bungie Studios were bored with it.
Thankfully, they had one more story in their arsenal. Bungie may be moving on to new worlds, but “Halo: Reach” (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99) is a more energetic farewell for the company largely credited with popularizing first-person shooters for video-game consoles.
“Reach” is a prequel. (We all know how well prequels turned out for “Star Wars.”) Reach itself is a planet, long mythologized as one of the last human colonies to fall to the alien Covenant before the events of 2001’s “Halo: Combat Evolved.” Since we already know that things aren’t going to end well, there’s a sense of futility about this campaign — although your actions here will have a profound effect on the war between humanity and the Covenant.
You are part of Noble Team, a group of elite Spartan troops whose missions largely involve evacuating humans and sabotaging Covenant installations. Most of the scenarios involve sustained, ground-based firefights against hordes of aliens whose aggressive artificial intelligence will torment even the most experienced “Halo” player. Bungie also throws in a couple of beautifully executed aerial battles — one over an urban skyline, one in outer space — that could be the foundations of whatever project the studio tackles next.
Meanwhile, some of the franchise’s more exasperating elements remain. Driving a Warthog jeep still feels awkward, like pushing a grocery cart with a broken wheel. Unlike in, say, “Gears of War,” there’s no reliable way to take cover (other than, well, ducking). And while you go into battle with a whole new crew, they never develop distinctive personalities. The story is more straightforward than previous “Halo” plots, but doesn’t match the sophistication…