Many people are getting excited about the upcoming beta for Bungie’s next guaranteed smash hit, Halo Reach. Set some time before the events of the original Halo trilogy, Reach tells the story of the elite supersoldier squad of Spartans, ‘Noble’, as they battle for the human planet also named ‘Reach’.
The multiplayer beta is due out for Halo 3: ODST owners on the 3rd of May 2010, and the current hype for it is easily matching that of a typical full release. But is such anticipation really deserved?
The moment the beta starts, you’re welcomed with a nice little intro movie, followed by typical Halo menus, with impressive art behind simple text options. From the main menu, you can create a party to begin matchmaking, simply matchmake alone, or access the ever-growing theatre to watch clips uploaded by other users (and in the future, maybe some of your own!).
You can also access your settings from this menu, which gives you the typical Halo options of customising your armour colour, emblem design and even which pieces of armour you equip. From the start of the game, you get the basic parts, but as you play, you earn credits which you can then buy more parts with. Simple, fun and effective.
There are two playlists on offer in the beta, the almighty ‘Free-for-all’ which pits you against seven other Spartans in an intense battle to the death, or ‘Grab Bag’, which offers typical 4v4 gametypes such as Capture the Flag and Team Slayer (that’s a deathmatch to the uninitiated Halo player).
The moment you begin playing, the upgrades to the game are instantly recognisable. You begin by choosing a ‘loadout’. Depending on this loadout, your left bumper will perform a specific action. For Scout, you can sprint for a brief period, for Guard, you can use the incredible armour lock (making you nearly invincible whilst forcing you to remain stationary for a while), for Stalker, you can use active camo until the bar depletes and for Airbourne, you can use the jetpack, enabling you to fly until it runs out of fuel.
Though this is an intriguing concept and a definite step forward for the series, the armour lock seems to be the preferred technique of choice, but this results in many people dropping to the ground to use the ability at any given moment, which can be extremely frustrating, as you have to wait for the armour break to end before you can resume attacking the player. It’s early days, so hopefully as gamers get used to other loadouts, the gameplay will become more varied, or people will find ways to get through the armour break. I must say, the gravity hammer did the job for me. And nothing is more satisfying than that over-the-top American announcer declaring you’re on a ‘HAMMER SPREE’.
The gameplay is a lot sharper as well, and from the get-go, the look sensitivity is noticably increased when compared to the original Halo trilogy. This would imply a quicker, more fast-paced game, and Reach certainly is that. The weapons have also received an overhaul, with the typical assault rifle beginning to resemble the old battle rifle (while remaining fully automatic and with no sight), whereas the new battle rifle is one-shot only, no burst fire here. Some people will complain, some will get used to it faster than others, but no rational Halo player can argue that the weapons are more balanced than ever as a result of the decisions Bungie have made.
And last, but not least, I’d like to take a brief moment to talk to you about the excellent leaderboard structure. Taking inspiration from American sports, Reach begins with a ‘preseason’. No matter how many matches you play, Reach will take your three best rounds in a day and these results will count as your score. Essentially, the more you play, the higher a chance you have of getting the best score you possibly can, whilst not suffering if you happen to have a bad round. Based on these results, you are placed in a division with other gamers of a similar calibre. Although you can play with anyone over Xbox Live, your scores will be compared to others in your division on a season-long basis. The beta offers minimal details on this scoring system, so time will tell if it actually works, but it’s an incredibly good idea, keeping it fair and fun for all users, regardless of skill.
Whereas Halo Reach has a lot of truly excellent upgrades for the Halo series, it remains to be seen if these upgrades will improve the fun (and community) or if they’ll just create annoying habits. That’s right ‘armour break’, I’m looking at you. One things for sure though, it’s a HELL of a lot of fun, and I can’t wait until you guys can join me here on Reach.