'Halo: Reach' goes from easy to ridiculously hard

In "Halo: Reach," space aliens employ way cooler weapons than humans do. Maybe it's Darwinian nature that they deserve to threaten humanity by the year 2552.

By then, we humans will apparently, barely have standard-issue machine guns and pistols. But aliens! Man, they will take us down with laser rifles, giant sledgehammers, crystal swords and invisibility cloaks, plus hovercraft. Hovercraft!

"Halo: Reach" is a prequel. It's set in the year 2552 (before the events of the first "Halo" game), when aliens (the Covenant) invade the human space colony of Planet Reach.

If you've played earlier "Halos," everything will seem extremely familiar.

You constantly shoot aliens and, fortunately, you steal their cool weapons and ammo off their corpses, then you jog or drive through forests, buildings or whatever, then you kill a bunch more aliens, etc.

You drive alien tanks, human spaceships and human forklifts. Yes, forklifts -- if you want to be killed in one!

As with other "Halo" games, the visual otherworldliness is sprawling. Spectacular vistas give us amazing clouds, rolling hills, tree-lined mountains, rocky terrain -- and an outer space setting for a "Star Wars"-esque battle.

The difference from previous "Halos" is before we played as supersoldier Master Chief. In "Reach," we play as a courageous soldier named Noble 6.

As a hard-core gamer, I found the game so easy, for so long, that at times I just avoided killing certain aliens by running past them.

Other times, the game tries to make everything really hard all at once, by throwing dozens of hard-to-kill villains and vehicles at you in one big moment (as previous "Halos" have done).

That's what I call, the lazy-game-designer's "cram a bunch of crazy crap on the screen" routine. That makes the end of "Reach" a lame letdown.

In the later stages, how many times do you have to shoot an alien in the head with a sniper rifle or a grenade launcher to kill him? I feel like I've shoved three grenades into an alien's face, and he still lives, compared to early in the game when just a few bullets would do. Shooting games use that ploy regularly. But this is ridiculous.

Anyway, definitely, if you're a hard-core gamer, play "Reach" on a harder setting. If you're a casual gamer, then play on an easier setting.

Many "Halo" gamers love the "Halo" story. To wit, the offline campaign mission comes with a sci-fi fantasy, canny dialogue ("It's the damn Covenant!") and mainstream plot twists that are not engaging.

The solo campaign is very good for shooting. The online multiplayer is, too, despite that it doesn't let gamers come into games midgame (which leads to games where one team has more players than the other).

The online multiplayer comes with good ("balanced") battlefields, tons of options (team play, cooperative play, etc.), plus all manner of goodies, such as rocket launchers, sniper rifles, night vision goggles and a sick jetpack.

The jetpack lets you jet above rivals to drop grenades on their heads. That's worth the price of admission, right there.

("Halo: Reach" retails for $60 for Xbox 360 -- Plays fun online, and pretty fun offline. Looks very good. Goes from easy to very challenging suddenly. Rated "M" for blood and violence. Four stars out of four.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.