Halo: Reach Multiplayer Beta Preview – May the 3rd Be With You
Written Wednesday, April 21, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Halo is held in such high regard by its fans and so well-balanced that Bungie has been understandably a bit sheepish to rock the boat and introduce too many changes to the finely-honed formula. Halo ODST had a go, dispensing with regenerating shields amongst other things, casting you as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper lost on the streets of New Mombasa – a far cry from Halo's usual lush green vistas.
ODST didn't really push the envelope enough though. Instead, it timidly prodded it, playing it safe rather than making sweeping, risky alterations lest Bungie upset its army of devoted Halo heads. With Halo: Reach being touted as the final Halo game from the studio, it's thrown caution to the wind, completely revamping almost all of the assets, giving the game a completely fresh feel that's both strikingly different yet comfortably familiar – a slight contradiction in terms that almost makes sense.
One of the first things you'll notice about Halo: Reach is just how much smoother it looks and feels. It's a genuine move forward for the series, evolving the already accomplished Halo gameplay with new load outs that each have an ability attached to them. Playing as the Spartans, you're given access to four load outs – Scout, Operator, Airborne and Grenadier – each of which possesses one of the new abilities assigned to it, so the Scout is your conventional Master Chief style Spartan, packing a Magnum and Assault Rifle alongside the sprint burst.
The other classes enable you to adopt Active Camouflage to sneak upon unassuming foes, use Armour Lock for temporary invulnerability and travel great distances at speed using the Jet Pack. Discussing the new abilities with fellow journos revealed that each had their favourite, despite us expecting everyone to gravitate to the Jet Pack as it enables you to escape hairy combat situations and get the drop on an enemy. And while this was certainly the case to begin with as everyone clamoured for the Airborne class, resulting in a map filled with flying Spartans, this all changed once the group realised that each class has its own set of unique perks.
That the load outs are already quite well-balanced is testament to Bungie's innate understanding of multiplayer mechanics. No one class is better or worse than the other, each coming with a number of advantages and indeed disadvantages. Using Armour Lock as an example, it allows you to mount a brief assault before leaving you wide open. When you execute it, you're required to hold the left bumper (used to activate each ability) down to fully power it up, also leaving you vulnerable to attack while you're crouched, surrounded by sparks and lightning like a Terminator arriving at the beginning of the movie.
Used correctly in the right situations however, Armour Lock can be a powerful tool able to shake sticky grenades and those pesky needles, but remembering to use it at the optimum time is something that will take a lot of hours to truly master. Sprinting, turning momentarily invisible and jet boosting across a map is less difficult to get to grips with, but again, it's simply a case of knowing when to execute an ability and how to use it effectively that proves key. There's a very brief cooldown of roughly 5 seconds or so before an ability begins to recharge for another use, but being able to switch it on and off at the touch of a button helps a great deal. This is particularly true of the Jet Pack, where you'll need to tap the left bumper to carefully feather your landing to avoid incurring fall damage.
Halo: Reach's maps have been designed to accommodate flying characters with an extra shot of verticality, and a few strategic bottlenecks for an opportunist to lob in a grenade or sneak in with a swift assassination. Starting on the classic-style Powerhouse multiplayer map, a simple game of Oddball acts as a quick warm-up, before we go head-first into a game of Stockpile in the same arena.
Powerhouse’s Stockpile gametype is an interesting spin on the traditional Capture the Flag skirmish, which has you and your team snatching neutral flags dotted around the map, before returning them to your base and keeping them there for an allotted time period. It all gets quite frantic after a while, stealing flags from the opposition base, running back and forth in a bid to secure the most for your team. Stockpile is new to Halo: Reach, but treads familiar territory, what with grabbing flags and so on.
Headhunter on the other hand is something completely different for Halo, being a free-for-all gametype, but the aim being to accumulate as many flaming skulls as humanly possible, represented by a number that keeps count above your head. Get yourself killed, and all of the skulls you were carrying are ejected from your limp corpse, leaving them on the ground for your rivals to liberally scavenge. Collecting the most skulls therefore makes you the most desirable target and results in a mad, chaotic clamour as the timer ticks down to the end of the match. In short, it's brilliant fun that can be utterly maddening if you're unfortunate enough to get shot and mugged for your hard-earned skulls in the dying seconds.
Moving the action to the Sword Base map next, it's time to get hands-on with the formidable Elites, who despite being stronger and faster than their Spartan counterparts, make for much larger targets that don't have access to Armour Lock or Sprint. Instead, they can perform an athletic dive roll, which proves very useful if you're being lined up in the sights of a Designated Marksman Rifle or the new human grenade launcher.
The Sword Base is a much tighter space, more akin to the Epitaph stage in Halo 3, with clean lines, narrow corridors and suspended walkways above a ground level central arena. Here, the Covenant plasma launcher comes into its own, spewing sticky grenades onto any Spartan that wanders into our crosshairs. Two matches of “Covy Slayer” later – Team Slayer exclusively for Coventant characters – and we're primed for the main event – Invasion – a game mode that splits the room into six teams of two, three on each side of Spartans vs. Elites.
The match takes place on the vast Boneyard map, specifically designed for Invasion, which immediately reminds us of the huge battlefield where you take down the first Scarab in Halo 3, with vertiginous vantage points where the Spartan teams guard nodes that must be captured by the Elites. Capturing all four nodes on the map is a case of holding ground in the vicinity for as long as possible, which unlocks the vault where a 'Core' is being held. Nabbing the Core and agonisingly walking it to a waiting Phantom cruiser is the goal for the attacking Covenant forces, while the Spartans must defend it at all costs.
As the massive skirmish unfolds, each team gradually gains access to more classes and vehicles depending on how well they're performing, causing the latter stages of an Invasion to descend into complete anarchy, with Banshees swooping around above as Ghosts, Wraiths, Warthogs and Scorpions battle it out. You and your buddy can respawn on one another too should you bite the dust mid-capture, meaning that you're seldom away from the action. It's immensely enjoyable, warranting multiple replays as each battle leads to a different outcome every time. It's never the same game twice.
Two hours playing the majority of what the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta has to offer flies by in what feels like two minutes, and we haven't had the chance to touch on the Generator Defense mode that will also be included with the Overlook map when the Beta drops next month. It's early days yet for Halo: Reach as the autumn 2010 release is still some way off, but it's already bearing up incredibly well, making the multiplayer beta a genuine treat that no self-respecting Halo fan will want to miss out on.
The multiplayer beta for Halo: Reach will be available May 3rd for ODST owners.