Anyway, the Covenant make their appearance shortly afterwards. There are Jackals, some Grunts and even a Banshee. It all kicks off at this point, and the new weapons and targeting reticule require patient, focused shots to the head as opposed to Master Chief's uncanny ability to hit a penny from six miles away with akimbo SMG's. The onus on blasting away the aliens is set firmly on you, but the rest of Noble Team provides plenty of tactical support - distractions and softening up enemies, mostly. We've seen this kind of squad play in plenty of other shooters in recent years but the first time it's been properly (ODST doesn't count) incorporated into Halo.
Elites are also back, which is ace. They still do that annoying weaving thing when you try to shoot them, which certainly brings back memories of 2002. I've always preferred them to Brutes, and it's great to have their quadruple-hinged mandibles back on the battlefield.
They're harder to kill, too, which makes the game look a bit more difficult than the Halos of recent years. Noble Team splits up after scrambling up a waterfall, with Noble Six teaming up with Carter and Jorge to assemble a makeshift Warthog out of a civilian pickup and Jorge's massive minigun. That's indicative of Reach as a whole: it's the same Halo, just with a bit of a twist.
Firefight mode, Bungie's take on the co-op survival mode, has also been given a few new twists of its own. The team has added the series' ubiquitous customisation options to the mix, allowing people to fiddle around with all kinds of variables: skulls, enemy types, loadouts and match duration, to name a few. The default settings have been changed from ODST: Firefight matches now last for a single set, as opposed to when everyone gets killed, and Black Eye (which was very annoying) has been removed from the third round. A classic Firefight mode is included, alongside one where you're given unlimited rocket launchers and 'Gruntpocalypse,' where you fight nothing but grunts with the birthday party skull switched on, which causes their heads to explode into confetti and children to cheer.
There's also Firefight Versus, a game of offence and defence which pits two Spartans against two player-controlled Elites in a bid score as many points as possible. Spartans go about trying to kill waves of Covenant forces, and Elites try to stop them; after a round, the two teams swap sides. It's a simple idea, inspired more than a little by Left 4 Dead, but it's just the kind of thing you'll be able to play for much longer than you probably should. Xbox Live Matchmaking for all Firefight modes will help out when you're trying to round up an extra player, too.
So, Halo Reach. It's still ostensibly Halo, but I mean that in a positive way. Bungie has turned their FPS format into an artform, and there's absolutely nothing to suggest that Reach won't be a worthy sequel and a significant last hurrah for Bungie's tenure with the franchise. It's a slow, methodical opening that emphasises character over spectacle - a first for the series, and a confident direction for Bungie to be heading in.