Halo: Reach is the end of an era for the current generation, as it is the last game in the franchise to be developed by Bungie, before they hand over the reigns to 343 Industries. For the most part, Halo: Reach takes place in expansive open areas with lots of vehicles and features large-scale epic battles. This is, in my opinion, what Halo games do best in terms of gameplay and this is why Reach is probably my favourite game in the series. It also features what I have wanted to see in a Halo game for quite some time now, space combat (although what is there is all over too quickly). Of course, most people who have bought this game will probably do it for the multiplayer, but Noble Six's story is one that is well worth checking out.
For the music, Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori both return in what could also be the last Halo title they end up writing the music for. The music in this game has a grittier feel to it, but at the same time it is also, to quote O'Donnell, "sombre and more visceral" to go with the character-driven story. That and every fan knows how this game ends, with the planet Reach being doomed from the very beginning. The music still sounds like and feels like Halo should, with its blend of orchestral, choral, synthesiser, ethnic, and rock instrumentation and sounds. There are various musical motifs that can be heard throughout the soundtrack, giving it a sense of familiarity within itself, as well as within the whole franchise. This, and the music of this game feels like a culmination of all of the previous Halo games, containing music reminiscent of every game in the series so far, but at the same time Reach also has its own musical identity.
The soundtrack opens with the "Overture", which opens appropriately enough with a choral chant similar to what players are used to in the Halo series. This only lasts a short time, though, as the composition thrusts listeners into an orchestral passage with ethnic percussion in the background, before concluding with a more sombre passage. This overture is a nice introduction to some of the new musical ideas that will be heard throughout the rest of the soundtrack, but it also keeps with the musical character of the franchise.
The nine tracks at the centre of the soundtrack are the suites that accompany the games' nine campaign missions. In general, these suites are good to listen to. Each suite contains a strong balance of restrained atmosphere music and more full on action music. This works well because the action music is very upbeat, almost like it's hopeful, which is contrasted by slow sombre sections that represent hope being torn away from the characters — a common theme in the game. Some of them, such as "Winter Contingency" and "Long Night of Solace", are very progressive and can feel too long as a result, so listeners will have to be patient to get the full enjoyment out of them.
There is plenty of variety throughout the suites in terms of styles and references. In "Long Night of Solace" alone, listeners can relish orchestral, choral, rock, an electronic components all in the same piece. Among muic resembling past entries to the series, "ONI: Sword Base" is a suite that resembles Halo 2 with it's rock and eletronic elements, while "Tip of the Spear" is a suite that starts off closely resembles the musical style of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, with very familiar sounding drum patterns with ostinato strings. In "The Package", there is a section at the end of the suite which strongly resembles some of the piano writing found in Halo 3. There are also some very emotional moments in "New Alexandria" and "Nightfall", featuring beautiful piano work and eerie vocal solos.
In general, the slow harmonic orchestral and choral sections of these suites are their best moments, which has always been the Halo series' strong point in my opinion. Despite these moments popping up in various places in the soundtrack, they never get boring. If I had to pick one suite as my favourite, it would probably be "Exodus", as it has the most of these moments. Moving to the end of the suites, "The Pillar of Autumn" ends with some heavy action music, which really gives the feeling of escaping from a doomed planet. "Epilogue" is the aftermath of all this destruction, and it is a beautiful piece of music. The choral writing here feels like the ghosts of Reach are crying out, while the familiar music that plays out the track is a great ending to the game. The chord at the end of the piece gives off a glimmer of hope that the human race will be saved.
The rest of the soundtrack is a collection of shorter and more focused tracks, some of which contain music that features in some of the above suites. For example, "Ashes" features the eerie soprano solo and piano music heard before in "Nightfall" and "New Alexandria", which evokes the feelings of a horror score. "Ghosts and Glass" also features the sombre orchestral music heard before in other pieces out of context of one of the suites. Nevertheless, there are several pieces which use some interesting ideas. "Walking Away" features an interesting introduction which sounds like a military band chorale before moving into familiar territory. "Both Ways (Remix)" is an interesting blend of all of the musical elements heard so far in the soundtrack, which works well.
The soundtrack finishes with "We Remember", a rock rendition of a familiar motif. The piece is well-arranged to suit an electric guitar focus, and the strings and distorted guitar accompaniment work well. The piece ends on a nice major chord as if to say again that there is still hope, despite the fact that humanity has lost its last line of defence against the covenant. This is also a great way to end Bungie's development work on the Halo series and, possibly, Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori's scores for the franchise.
Overall, the Halo: Reach soundtrack is an enjoyable one that feels like a great way to end an era. Overall, it's my favourite soundtrack in the series, as it features a culmination of loads of musical ideas from across the series' history, while having a musical identity of its own. If you're someone who finds the music of the franchise boring or uninspiring, then Halo: Reach won't change your mind, but for Halo fans this is essential.