As we should all know by now, Halo Reach's first reveal aired on Spike for the Video Game Awards. Probably the biggest thing everybody is wondering about are the graphics? Are they really improved? Will they set a benchmark for graphics like what Halo Combat Evolved achieved? Here, I'll go though several scenes from the trailer and explore them in depth.

To clear things up first: this cinematic was rendered in-engine on the Xbox 360. They do not necessarily represent the exact graphics you will see when you're actually playing the game, but they will be incredibly close. If you examine Halo 3's graphics from cinematic to in-game, the only thing you will notice are lower quality shadows. You can expect to see this level of visuals in-game. There is nothing to worry about, especially considering that Bungie still has one year of development left.

Things You Will Need

The HD trailer:

Step 1

Intro SceneLets start this this scene:
Halo 3 promised a sense of massive scale. It definitely delivered, providing some of the largest battlefields ever seen in shooters, but it somewhat under-delivered in its visuals-rendering resolution was heavily sacrificed for it's unique double-pass HDR lighting system. The lighting was certainly impressive, but came at too high of a cost. Bungie seems to have adopted a different lighting system in Halo Reach, allowing for much more on-screen at once. This scene in particular boasts an epic sense of scale and enormous draw distances. There also appears to be some impressive fog effects at a distance.

Step 2

Aircraft Landing

The camera gets close to the ground in this scene, and we get to see the ground textures in detail. They are not impressively high-resolution, but not too low as to distract the watcher (or player).
The soft smoke effects coming from underneath the transport air vehicle are a massive improvement over those of Halo 3's.

Step 3

Spartan Back

And here, we get to see one of the new weapons in Halo Reach. It appears to be the new battle rifle.

The animations seem to have been greatly improved, but it's not clear if it's motion capture or really good key-framed animations. Bungie has stated that they won't use direct motion-capture animations in Halo games though.

Step 4

Face Facial models has always been a problem with Halo games, but this time around, they really cranked up the level of detail in their faces. The polygon edges aren't glaring like in Halo 3, and the quality of shaders used is extraordinary. I'd go as far as to they rival Killzone 2's faces.
If there's one thing I would criticize, the lip syncing animations aren't very strong, but it's a small complaint.

Step 5

Interior LightingThe lighting in this scene is not perfect. Upon close examination, one can notice the lack of shadows being cast by the character models. This doesn't apply to all of the other scenes, as the lighting and shadow quality levels in the others are quite impressive.

Step 6

Sky effectsI'm not alone when I say that the effects in this scene blew me away. Bungie has always made quality effects in their games (especially the plasma explosions from Halo 3), but this scene takes them to a whole new level.
Amplifying the WOW factor of this scene is the detailed skybox; the art direction really shines here. This doesn't come as a surprise, as even Halo 3 and ODST skyboxes impress gamers today.

Step 7

ElitesBungie added to their already impressive cinematic with some fan service-confirmation of elites in Reach! Everybody should be excited for this. Elites were incredibly fun to fight in Halo 1 and 2, constantly dodging the player's grenades and taking cover when shot at.
Some extraordinary textures and lighting effects are shown off in this clip. The textures are evidently buffed up for the purpose of the cinematic, but it's not too far fetched to believe that the texture quality will not stray too far. The model, however, seems plausible enough to be in-game.

This trailer/cinematic shows a lot of aspects of Reach. Some may be disappointed with the lack of story explanation and gameplay footage, but the graphics should please all. The Xbox 360 hasn't been showing it's full potential recently with the lack of exclusives, but if anyone can bring out the beast in the machine, it's Bungie.
More previews will appear mid-January. Stay tuned!

Tips & Warnings