Teamed with Noble Three, Jun -- the sniper -- you immediately enter Nightfall in "stealth mode." This isn't a game mechanic but a mindset. This is the first Reach mission cast in darkness (perhaps the only one), and with sniper rifle in hand, you might immediately recall Halo: Combat Evolved's classic "Truth and Reconciliation" level. Tung explains this echo of the first Halo game is intentional. The Reach team reevaluated the previous games and looked for opportunities to recreate some of the iconic experiences -- and surpass them.
While linear, Nightfall slows the game's pace with the mystery inherent in darkness. You're on a recon mission: "Move in behind enemy lines and evaluate the opposition," says the menu synopsis. Not quite sure what you're out to scout and perhaps haunted by the unsettling foresight of the "Fall of Reach" (this is a prequel, after all), you creep through Nightfall, assured only by the presence of Jun, lurking somewhere over your shoulder.
For Tung and the development team one of the big challenges for Reach was creating the Spartan AI. How do you design a friendly super soldier who doesn't do the fighting for you, but still comes off acting like a Spartan? Interestingly, Bungie focused on delivering an experience that wouldn't force players to keep track of their Noble teammates -- they can't die, nor are they crippled in battle (you'll never have to, say, locate a downed Jun and inject him with a cure-all). Essentially, Tung explains, you can ignore them and just "run-and-gun" through the game, as some players have always preferred.
Pictured: Gueta; a native monster of Planet Reach. (Protip: Run!)
But if you want to play along, that option is there too. You're the new guy -- remember? You want to fit in, get to know Noble Team. Playing with
Jun was at times surprising. Zeroing my scope in on an Elite's dome, I hesitated, knowing it would take one shot to disable the fiend's armor and a second to finish him off. I had to be quick. I fired once -- and immediately a second shot came piercing through the Elite's temple. "Woah. Nice one, Jun."
Moments later I was tracking one of those pesky snipers dashing about a rooftop dotted with cover. The Jackal darted into the open, and I tried to line up a headshot. But he was gone -- ducked behind cover. And then, again, a shot fired from the perfect flanking position. Through my scope, I saw the residual trail of the trademark sniper shot leading into the spot where the Jackal was crouched, hidden from my view. No movement. "Jun got him!"
I was feeling confident, trusting that I had a really smart sidekick. And then a funny thing happened. I became the sidekick. In Nightfall's climatic scenario a new objective appeared: Defend Jun. "Oh boy," I thought, "here we go." I imagined Jun would suddenly become vulnerable (he was planting a charge), as some impossible onslaught of Covenant descended on his position. The onslaught came, of course, headed by two cloaked Elites and a pair of Hunters. After getting just destroyed
several times, I switched up my strategy: run -- run far away.
Not only had I abandoned Jun, but I had also deserted my militia. Reach
adds a "Fireteam" mechanic that ties several NPCs to your character (these can be Marines or well-armed civilian militiamen). You see their names and health status by your radar, which essentially makes these allies true "characters," and not just Covenant fodder. Bungie had experimented with really basic commands ("come" and "go") for your fireteam, but eventually scrapped any micromanaging element. Your fireteam will stick with you, but as I found with my militia, they also stick with the mission: Defend Jun. As I skipped around with my tail between my legs, the militia fought back, and were quickly slaughtered. So Jun took on the Hunters -- and prevailed! He planted his charge. Mission complete.