Halo: Reach Multiplayer Beta

21 05 2010

After the interesting but ultimately weak Halo 3: ODST, Bungie comes out swinging with the best Halo gameplay to date.

Halo is very near and dear to my heart. The first game got my wife into first person shooters, and was the first game we beat as a team. The second game was a helluva lot of fun (though bit anticlimactic to say the least) and Halo 3 was the game that got me to finally upgrade to an XBOX 360 (mysteriously, my XBOX console died the day Halo 3 came out). But by the time Halo 3: ODST came out, was a bit burned out. I don’t know if it was the moment to moment gameplay or the tedious trek back and forth to through the overworld to different “memory locations”, or just the small scope of the story after the epicosity of the trilogy; whatever it was, it just didn’t click. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to like: the VISOR mode highlighting enemies and collectables, the more tactical gunfights (in my house to “Master Chief it” is now parlance for going in guns blazing without worrying about cover or health), and the level design was superb. Maybe I just felt that the fourth game in, Bungie could have brought more to the table. I know ODST started off as an expansion, but even Halo 3, as pretty as it was, felt a little stagnant. So it suffices to say I was decidedly “meh” about Halo: Reach when it was first announced. The underwhelming announcement trailer at the ridiculously goofy and over-sponsored Spike TV Video Game Awards didn’t do a damn thing for me.

Not pictured: dignity or maturity.

But the more I heard about it, the better it sounded. And then, they released a free multiplayer beta for people whole bought/rented ODST. It’s safe to say I’ve fallen in love with Halo again. Like an old girlfriend who shows up at your house with a brand-new tongue stud and a lot less high-school acne, Bungie has taken the same old thing and spiced it up with just a few tweaks.

"I wath in th' naybuhbood and thoth i'th thee you."

First of all, the character and weapon models look fantastic. The new Spartan IIIs are smaller, yet seem more mobile than and not quite as chunky as the Spartan IIs (Master Chief). And with the Player Investment System, you can customize what your Spartan looks like to a great degree, although during the beta it was limited to helmets, shoulder pads, and chest pieces. Hopefully they’ll add more in the full retail; I for one would like some knee/shin guards, and a wider variety of armors. The Covenant Elites (like the Arbiter) finally look menacing and less human than they did before. They glide quickly across the battlefield, like beefy, sleek Predators. And they’re pretty tough.

Wait...it's daylight...everyone's sparkling...OMG it's Twilight! They're all vampires!

The weapons on both sides have had major overhauls (finally!) with some changes and new additions that make a lot of sense. The old assault rifle is still there,but it’s more accurate, to compensate for the lack of a battle rifle and feels a little stronger. In the battle rifle’s place is the DMR (designated marksman rifle), a single shot scoped rifle with a 12 shot clip that packs a hell of a punch and is great for medium range sniping, but pretty weak close up. The shotgun is still the shotgun (though it’s powered up quite a bit), the rocket launcher is still the rocket launcher, the sniper rifle is still the sniper rifle, and the Spartan laser is still the Spartan laser (it does seem to power up a little faster). Returning to Halo after a three game absence is the scoped magnum, which, though lacking the 1 headshot kill of the original Halo, is still deadly from point blank to medium range (hell, even long range if you’re good with it). And finally there’s the grenade launcher, which is a beautiful one shotter, though I personally think the grenade bounces a bit too much, leading to a whole lot of wasted ammo trying to hit a single, moving target, who will inevitably kill you while you’re waiting for the reload animation to finish.

Strangely, they never fixed the bug where everyone else takes a full clip to the head to kill, but you go down from a stray bullet to the ass cheek.

Instead of equipment, Bungie has opted to go with class abilities in its single and multi-player game. Now you can choose to be able to sprint, armor lock (a temporary invincibility that makes you immobile and unable to attack), fly a jetpack (that makes you a great big slow-moving target), or stealth. All are useful if used well, especially the armor lock; it can get you out of some really nasty situations or keep you from getting run over by a Ghost.

The Red guy is about to regret straying so far from his team.

On the Covenant side, the plasma pistol and rifle return, though the plasma rifle (now called a repeater) has a much, much higher rate of fire. There’s a new sticky plasma grenade launcher that fires four homing grenades and is nasty when some poor fool doesn’t know you’re there, the always devastating plasma sword, the good old needler, a new scoped needle rife (similar to the carbine, with the added needle explosion if you hit someone enough with it), and a new beam rifle that is completely unfair. It’s a sniper rifle with a constant beam like the sentinel beam, and it is ridiculously powerful. I don’t often cry foul when a game developer hands me a shiny, death-dealing superweapon, but in a multiplayer setting this thing is waaaaay too powerful.

Ah, the plasma sword. Filleting noobs since 2001.

The Covenant’s classes have only 3 abilities, a sidestep/roll (like the AI did in Halo), invisibility, and a jetpack. The roll is useful for moving from cover to cover and avoiding gunfire; the invisibility is good for infiltration and sneak kills, the jetpack is maneuverable but not very fast.

This guy will spend the rest of his life standing up, because he put his ass under a JET FLAME.

Halo: Reach offers a wealth of multiplayer options, both in the interface and gametype. Don’t like chatty, griefing players? You can select a “quiet” and “polite” preference, and the game will search for others with the same preferences. Same if you like a rowdy, shit-talking, team-player oriented game. Realize, however, that this will make your searches for games longer and, really, there’s a mute button for a reason. The game types include old favorites like Team Slayer, CTF, and Oddball. New games include 1 flag CTF, Stockpile (a grab all the flags you can and keep them in your base version of CTF), and Headhunter, a Slayer mode where every kill nets you flaming skulls that accumulate, and have to be dropped off at a base to count. However, should you die, you lose all your skulls and your killer can grab them up for himself. This makes for hectic, frenetic gameplay and a lot of cursing.

Where was he keeping all of that shit? In his pocket? His belt pouches?

Also, there are Elite vs Spartan modes that are Team Slayer based. The Elites are bigger, faster, and have regenerating health and shields. Spartans are smaller, better armed, and have more class options available. 3v3 Generator defense if fun, though usually pretty short and it’s especially hard when you’re playing with strangers without headsets. The crowning jewel of Halo: Reach’s multiplayer is, in my opinion, Invasion. It comes in two flavors, regular and Slayer, and both work as a King of the Hill-type game with the two sides battling over two designated areas. In the regular flavor, once the attacking team(Elites) holds one of those areas for 30 seconds total, then the map opens up and two more areas to fight over are made available. As the game progresses, more classes and vehicles are made available to both sides. This is similar to Battlefield’s Rush modes, and the 6 v 6 objective-based firefighting is a blast to play (I played almost 80 matches of Invasion, whereas I only played the other modes once or twice each). Working together as a team, coordinating the best way to defend or attack an objective is the essence of online multiplayer to me. Sure you get some teams that suck, but that’s XBL for you. Invasion Slayer is basically team King of the Hill, with vehicles and classes thrown into the mix. There are so many opportunities for badassity in this it’s ridiculous. I watched my wife Natstar, who was capturing the hill, get mowed down by an Elite in a Ghost. Seconds later, she showed back up, pistol in hand, pegging him. He turned, swooped towards her again. I thought she was going to get out of the way, but she held her ground, and at the last possible second, whipped out a grenade launcher and blasted the Ghost and its driver to fiery oblivion, never even moving to get out of the way. We capped that hill, and moved on. I love my wife.

And while all of this intense carnage is going on, some 12 year old is telling you how awesome he is at owning your ass, and that you and your mom are both gay.

My friend DocDoom and I played hours upon hours of regular flavor Invasion, and I have to say that I prefer it to Slayer, but only slightly. If you read my Battlefield: Bad Company 2 review, you know I prefer objectives to straight up killing. It’s hard to pick which side I enjoyed playing more; at times I thought that each one was overpowered in some way, just to learn that both the attacking Elites and the defending Spartans are each awesome in their own ways.

If the objective here was to not get blasted into chunks by this tank, then the Spartan is definitely going to lose.

If you enjoyed the Halo games, you’re going to love Halo: Reach this fall, campaign notwithstanding. Bungie’s multiplayer has always been good, but this is far and away their best effort yet, and if they put this much care into the multiplayer portion, I can’t imagine the singleplayer/co-op campaign being any less than magnificent. And if you didn’t like Halo before, give it a shot. Enough has changed that I think a lot of you haters might just change your mind if you’re willing to give it a try.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

Coming next Thursday! The Pop Culture Podcast!

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