The Halo Reach Multiplayer Beta
Halo is Halo, and what works works, so the Bungie crew have been rightly reluctant to mess with their formula. The first Halo was groundbreaking for many reasons. Most importantly it showed that consoles could provide a good shooter experience. It was, despite being a linear game, quite open. Many shooters at the time were about maze-like hallways, and Halo was suddenly out in the open, giving players many possible ways to approach an encounter with the enemy. Vehicles were added to the mix, and have remained there. Finally it was just a hell of a lot of fun, thanks to a finely calibrated shield-weapon-grenade-melee cocktail.
But gameplay evolves. Halo 2 and Halo 3 added very little to the formula (dual-wielding and equipment, respectively), whereas other shooter franchises like Gears of War and Call of Duty were successfully adding new elements to the experience, like cover and various RPG tropes like levelling and character specializations.
Halo Reach has many changes, which may seem radical in the context of Halo, but not so much in the grand scheme of things. Playing matchmaking games earns you credits and rank, but the credits can only buy you cosmetic changes. Quite a number of gametypes allow for different loadouts, which theoretically could mean different starting weapons, but right now only change your ‘armor ability’, briefly deployable features like invisibility, jet packs, sprinting, or brief invincibility.
The armor abilities are a great addition: they’re fun, and well balanced. The cloaking device also scrambles radar, so it’s quite effective. The invincibility doesn’t last long and requires you to remain stationary, but it also gives of a li’l explosion when it ends. Sprinting can be a lifesaver on certain maps, especially if a skilled sniper is beating the shit out of you. And hey, who can argue with jet packs. What’s great is that you choose your loadout every time you spawn, so if you realize you’ve chosen the wrong one you’re not stuck for the whole game.
The traditional Halo weapons mostly remain, but many have been heavily tweaked, and several new ones have been added. The pistol has a scope and seems effective at long range, but it also has crazy recoil. Seems like it would be more challenging to master than the legendary Halo 1 pistol, but just as dangerous once you had your PhD in pistolery. There’s a weird zooming Needler rifle, plus some crazy-ass Covenant missle launcher equivalent.
There are additions to the gametypes, too. Stockpile is a form of Capture the Flag with multiple flags that plays like a cross between CTF and Slayer. In Headhunter, when you are killed you drop a skull, which can then be collected and deposited at drop-off points. It adds some tactical thought to the otherwise run-n-gun Slayer gameplay.
The sound, as per usual, is killer. Now when a grenade detonates near you there is a concussed-silence effect that certainly adds to the sense of danger. It also goes silent when you trigger your cloaking device, reminding you that a) you’re invisible! and b) you’re a magical ninja!
The downsides? There are only two maps. One of them isn’t great. Apparently more will be added over the course of the beta, though. Also, it’s only matchmaking, no custom games – same as with the Halo 3 beta, so not surprising, but something that will certainly limit how much time some of us spend in the thing.
Regardless of the beta’s limitations, the substantial successful departures from the Halo formula indicate the game itself will be top notch. I’m looking forward to it.