HALO: Reach Multiplayer Beta – impressions

The Halo: Reach multiplayer beta has dropped and for the next 13 days (the Beta is 17 days in total, from May 3rd-19th) Bungie is allowing its rabid fan base tackle their newest title before it releases this fall. The Beta is strictly multiplayer and showcases what Bungie has to offer with their newest and apparently final installment in the Halo series, Halo: Reach.

"It's called the 'SPNKr'" - Industry maturity at its best.

How it looks:

Halo: Reach so far looks really nice. How nice it looks is in comparison to the previous Halo installments, and not other recent FPSs however. Halo still seems to suffer from environments that lack the amount of detail being pushed in other titles (MW2, Battlefield etc). The environments are nice to look at, but when really looking at them for the aesthetic detail, they simply feel empty. There is very little in the way of debris, map accessories or extraneous objects. While this might sound like a nit-pick, it is nice to see those things in the environment that aren’t essential to what’s going on. It makes the place feel that much more real and immersive. I do understand however, that Halo has never really done this too well to begin with, so it would seem unfair to hold it to external standards at this point.

"You said this apartment was fully furnished...I am a disappoint."

As for the character models, they look marginally better than Halo 3. Still the biggest leap in graphical goodness was the leap between Halo 1 and 2 in my opinion. It was a graphical eye-popper, and since then has somewhat stagnated for me. I am not saying that the level of detail and textures hasn’t improved, or the models haven’t gotten better, but the graphical leap isn’t as apparent as it has been in the past. The models do move a lot better in this game, and Bungie finally using motion capturing for some of the animations has made that apparent. The spartans do look a little more bulky than they previously have, but the ever-present customization options allow you to change-up your look as you earn more dollars and increase your level.

The weapon skins look a lot more detailed and refined in this title. The reflections, serial numbers, and wear marks indicate a level of attention the weapons never really got before.

Assault rifle goodness

It's back baby!

This thing is more than a beast...

Overall, the look of the game is tight. It is the best of the series to date, and it does justice to the Halo name. The only hang up is that it isn’t the best looking shooter out there. Modern Warfare 2 still takes the cake with the most detailed sprites, environments and weapons. However, in the realm of sci-fi and playing in a non-reality, it doesn’t have to truly seem real to be immersive. I think this is how Halo has gotten a graphical pass (and sometimes a blowjob) from reviewers in the past. It’s really nothing special, but it’s solid, consistent and it’s Halo.

How it plays:

This being a multiplayer beta you are relegated to matchmaking and playing online. If you could ever say one thing about Bungie it’s that they have the best matchmaking around. Reach offers customization in your matchmaking preferences. You can change your preference to find games with mouthy or kind players, competitive or for-fun gamers, and connection speed. It’s very very useful. The time it takes to find a match is no longer than any other title out there, especially Modern Warfare 2. You also have the ability to queue up on a friend, and wait until they are done their game to join in automatically when they are free. It has all the frills, and none of the fat of other less well designed matchmaking services.

Another thing Bungie has done well is connection matching. It must have to do with having dedicated servers (I’m not even sure if they do) or something to that effect, because everyone is usually on an equal playing field. All the connections are at the same quality which allows all the players to feel completely involved, and it also decreases on how many people will lag out of a match. Another great thing about this is that if someone quits out the game doesn’t have to scramble to find a new host (*cough MW2 cough*). It’s smooth, it’s fast to load and it’s fun. Bungie has done well so far on the connections being made in Reach.

The major addition to the in-game experience has to be the pseudo-class system Bungie has introduced. There are 4 “classes” to choose from at each respawn. The differences between them are not as drastic as you would think when you hear class system, but they are quite advantageous none the less. Each class has the same loadout (for now) but a different “power.” The powers are activated by tapping the left bumper, and have a limited use and recharge time.

The Scout class has the ability to sprint for a short time. I thought it would be a useless ability, but since not many people use scouts, and sometimes you need to get out of a sticky situation, the sprint ended up being really useful. It’s great for objective games when you want to get to a tactical point right away off the spawn, and it’s useful for chasing, and or being chased.

The Stalker class’ power is stealth. The stealth is pretty useful. It’s the active camo we all know and love, and it scrambles the radar of the other team. An added touch is that you can’t really hear when you are in stealth, which adds to the mystique if not the usefulness of it. It is a good ability and has killed me many times already.

"oh shit oh shit oh shit....I hope he can't see me"

The Guard has the ability to become invulnerable for a short period of time. This is a good way to avoid grenades, explosions, and damage when you are under fire. In my experience though, it’s kind of limped by the fact that you are immobile while you are guarding. This means people will just back up and wait for you to come out of it and kill you…like I did many times last night.

"What an idiot, I'm totally safe! It's not like he's gonna wait for me to get up or anything...oh...shit."

Finally the Airborne class has a jet pack which allows for airborne attacks, escapes and much higher jumps. Using man-cannons, and gravity lifts in addition to the jetpack you can have a true bird’s-eye view of the whole map. The downside is that you are a sitting [flying?] duck while up in the air. If someone tracks you as you lift off get to cover or else it’ll be a long way down with a hole in your head.

Non-Combat stuff:

Bungie has tweaked and refined their out-of-combat progression system to make it more immersive and rewarding. In Halo 3 it was all about achievements and goals when trying to unlock gear. Now it works on a credit system. After every fight you are given money based on your performance. This money is then used to unlock new gear, like helmet add-ons, and shoulder and chest plates. I enjoy this system better, because there was nothing worse than seeing a cool piece of gear on someone else that I couldn’t attain because the achievement needed was so boring or difficult it wasn’t worth trying.

The ranking system is improved as well. The military ranks are all still there in the progression, but now there is “league play.” This entails being graded on your performance as you play. Once you are graded 3 times that day’s grading is complete. Do 5 days of competition and you are assigned to a division. The season lasts a certain number of days and the system will keep track of how you fare along with the other players in your division. This might be my favourite addition to the multiplayer. It’s a great way of dividing the skill levels up, and giving you a very clear competitive picture.

Gripes:

The control scheme in Reach has been tweaked a bit. The old main stays (right-click zoom, RT fire, LT grenade, A jump) are there, but the changes they made make things a little tricky. Melee is no longer the B button. This makes meleeing during a fire fight kind of annoying, as one has to fully release the trigger button to execute the move. Maybe that is the point of putting the melee on the R-bumper, and maybe I’m just not used to it, but it still sucks. Moreover, after playing so much MW2, not having my Aim-down-sight as the left trigger, and something that I fully control, not toggle, is a bitch. I can’t stand the static nature of having to click-zoom, then click-zoom out. I want the analog control of the LT button. It is something I will get used to, as I used to play this way for years before MW2, it just sucks to take a step back.

1. Grenades 2. Shoot 3. Laundry 4. Call in sick 5. Order-in 6. Repress shame of spending hours indoors 7. Jump 8....

The difficulty is a little frustrating. This of course is totally how good the opponents are, but it seems that there are some people in the Halo-verse that are just ridiculous at the game. Last night I played, and won the majority of the matches (I played all team games) and 3 or 4 times came out on top, with the most kills. However, that isn’t indicative of how up and down the game can be. I went 10-3 one round of capture the flag, the next 3-15. I was either the tits, or getting merked. The up and down is a little frustrating, but I think that has a lot more to do with me than the game. It’s a bullshit gripe, but a gripe none the less.

me...when i lose...in Halo, and my pigment.

The weapon imbalance is a major issue I have with this game. It seems that some of the power weapons are just too overpowered. The Gravity hammer for instance, has such a huge radius of effect, and doesn’t slow its wielder. You can sit in an area and just slam all the losers trying to come get you, because the long range weapons take so damned long to kill that you can find cover easily. There is also this big plasma beam weapon that is ridiculous. It just roasts you, and if you see it, the only thing to do is ‘nade and run. I’m sure the weapons will be tweaked by falls release…I hope.

I hate you.

"Why won't you DIE!?!?"

The last thing I will complain about is the damned health and shields in this game. It takes so many damn bullets (save headshots) to take down an enemy. Time after time people are stealing my kills or I am stealing theirs’ because you will unload almost a full assault rifle clip into someone and they will be NEAR death, then some asshole comes in with a pistol and BANG, they got the kill. It happens WAY too much in this game to be comfortable. It pisses me off to no end. So many times I will hit someone with the Distanced rifle maybe 5 times, and they will be so damned close to death, run around a far corner and one of my team mates finishes them off. It’s very annoying. My hopes are for a “hardcore”-like mode where it’s about timing and skill and not constantly back-jumping and lobbing grenades.

BOOM, BIFF, ZING

So far as I can tell, Halo: Reach will be the best installment in the Halo series overall. I doubt it will come close to touching the nostalgia I hold for the first Halo, but nothing really will, Halo or otherwise. The game is graphically tight, the online networking is fantastic (and this is just the Beta!), the off-the-field tweaks in gameplay are a welcome change, and save a couple mechanical changes the gameplay is as Halo as it has ever been. I am excited to experience the campaign in Reach’s full release, but until then (for the next 13 days at least) I’ll be enjoying the beta and all it has to offer. Halo’s back, jump in.

GRG

(All images sourced here)

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~ by humanmoves on May 7, 2010.

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