I'm a moderate fan of the Halo franchise and I'm happy to be one. Bungie never seems to disappoint when it comes to creating a gung-ho, action-packed, science fiction universe in which aliens are just as good at building intimidating firearms as humans are. For some people it's the engaging storyline that pulled them in. For others, the lush environments provided a beautiful alternative to the standard color palette of contemporary war games such as the Modern Warfare and Battlefield series. For me, it was all about the guns. I used to hate picking up "alien" weapons in first-person shooters because the human guns felt a lot more effective; the truth is they were probably just less confusing to operate than their laser-spewing counterparts. But the reason I love Halo games so much in particular is the fact that Bungie has found a way to make the utilization of alien ordnance in the Halo series FUN. That was the kicker for me. I'll ditch my assault rifle for a Needler any day of the week if it means I can watch my enemy's needle-filled torso explode after 5 seconds of target-seeking rampage.
ODST, however—Bungie's latest foray into the constantly expanding Halo universe—personally left me wanting. The proverbial smile on my face that shows how happy I am to be a Halo fan has since been adjusted to a grin. Excited I was, then, to find out that every copy of ODST was also a golden ticket into Bungie's beta testing for the multiplayer modes of their upcoming Halo: Reach, due to release in the Fall of 2010. Having spent a considerable amount of time running around in the beta shooting alien guns to my heart's content, the question to be asked is this: does Bungie have a certified smile-inducer on their hands or will Reach join the likes of ODST as a game that never quite reaches its full potential? Do us Halo fans have something to be happy about again? While we won't be able to completely answer these questions until the full release of the game, the beta does provide us with a satisfying glimpse.
The first thing I noticed when jumping into the beta was the presentation of the user interface. Standard polished Halo-fare, a good thing since Bungie never really got this part wrong. When you can count on the menus to begin immersing you into the game world before you've even begun playing, you know the game developers have done something right. Reach is no exception, and the UI presentation leaves nothing to be desired. The Halo: Reach beta is a purely online multiplayer affair, something that I was extra excited about since I usually just jump straight into the online mode without playing the campaign mode anyway. With only a few levels and game types to choose from (they've scrapped the veto system to make room for a much simpler voting one; pick your desired stage and the one with the most votes wins), setting up sessions are quick and easy. I'm used to waiting around quite awhile for my mutiplayer sessions to start in Halo 3, so Reach's connection speeds are blazingly fast in comparison. This may be due to the fact that it's still in beta testing and not everyone in the world is pining for a spot in the game, but if Bungie can keep it this way—or relatively close—then they will have made a markedly vast improvement on the multiplayer mode already.
The game itself is a beautiful one. The visuals seem noticeably upgraded, so it feels like you're playing a whole new game rather than a rehash of something you've already played in the past (*ahem* ODST *cough*). Reach's mutiplayer environments are as visually stunning as they are expansive; the combination of better-detailed textures with a seemingly juiced up frame rate make for smooth in-game animations that feel much faster than any Halo you've played before. The sound effects are crisp as well, so you'll want to be playing this game LOUDLY when it drops in September. I know I had my surround-sound theater system squeezing every ounce of sound effect goodness outta the game whenever I was on Live. It's a proper feeling to be firing the different types of guns and hearing the little details like empty shells flying out of the super-fast pistol or the charging of the plasma grenade launcher just before you see the blue orbs home in on your unsuspecting victim. Attention to detail is a perfected category for Bungie.
While there aren't many modes to choose from in the beta, Bungie makes sure you aren't just running around in Slayer all day picking up the same rifles and hiding in the same corners. Invasion is a refreshingly hectic alternative to the standard four-on-four madness, and it really has a way of making you feel insignificant amidst the happenings of a decidedly larger battle. For those who love their objective games, there's no shortage of flags and skulls to capture and protect and they're just as fun to play as ever. Bungie has given some of these classic game types a new twist, so expect to be learning on the fly as you adjust yourself to some of the new rules. Which brings me to another point: the new control scheme. At first it was slightly annoying to have to relearn a new button getup for a game that us Halo fans should be able to just jump right into, but after spending some decent time with the game I feel that the changes were for the better. I've since learned how to play with two trigger fingers simultaneously now rather than just one, making for some game situations where I can react much faster with my melee attack during a firefight due to the remixed button layout.
At the end of the day, Ranked Slayer is the place I call home. Rolling around dodging vehicles and collecting the bouncing skulls of my dead opponents is all good and fun, but when it comes down to Reach's bread and butter, all you need is some nice, old-fashioned frag fest fun. Play hard or go home is the name of the game in this mode, where Bungie averages three of each player's ranked games per day to come up with a final division score. Whether you're bringing home 1600s and making momma proud or getting your Spartan ass rocked in the 1200 range, the Halo: Reach beta knows you like your bragging rights and it serves up accordingly. With new achievement medals to kill for and lots of new in-game goodies to try out, I can see how Reach is easily becoming one of my most anticipated games this Fall.
My only worry is that Bungie may not have had enough time to balance the multiplayer mode as much as I would have liked during the open beta testing. Now that beta is closed, I can only hope that the dev team took many overpowering issues into account. I had more than enough games picking the active camouflage loadout, securing the energy sword or shotgun and then wreaking invisible havoc on unsuspecting n00bs rounding each hallway corner without dying once. Needless to say, this game is a BLAST to play. I've never had so much unadulterated FUN flying around in a jetpack with such ease and getting headshots from the sky. The game is intuitive and easy to pick up, especially for veterans of the Halo series. Adjust your play style and study the new gun options/stages because there's no doubt in my mind that you'll be spending many online sleepless nights screaming obscenities into your Xbox headset at the 10-year old girl that just assassinated you from behind, Metal Gear Solid style.
Halo fans be happy: Reach is something to smile about.
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Once the campaign is over, the battle continues online with an unparalleled multiplayer experience that expands on the award-winning suite of features that helped define the Xbox LIVE experience.1
The “Halo: Reach” multiplayer beta, on track to be the largest beta program of its kind on any console, is expected to see millions of participants when it begins May 3. Players can access the multiplayer beta on Xbox LIVE through the “Halo 3: ODST” disc.2Product Features: