Halo: Reach Multiplayer Beta Hands-OnBy J.P. Shub - Posted Apr 21, 2010
After going hands-on with the upcoming Halo: Reach multiplayer beta, I can honestly say this is the Halo experience I have been waiting for. As a diehard fan of the series, I was excited to try out all the new additions, yet was secretly worried that things like jet packs, armor locks, and assassinations were going to be gimmicky add-ons that would throw off the delicate balance of battle in my beloved Halo. I am happy to say I was wrong. Even in this early version of the game, Halo: Reach feels tight, balanced and most importantly, fun.
At first, I found the redesigned controls to be a little difficult to get a handle on. The right bumper now triggers melee and the left bumper controls the new armor abilities. Until I wrapped my head around this change, I often found myself meleeing the air while trying to reload and pick up weapons. Fortunately, once I got a grip on the new layout I found it to be very natural and intuitive. Having all the key action take place on the 4 front buttons makes sense and adds even more speed to the already quick pace of Halo multiplayer by keeping your fingers ready for action at all times.
I have to take a moment to mention the upgrades to the look and sound of the game. Reach has an updated and finely tuned engine that is a definite evolution from Halo 3’s. Details really start to jump out the closer you get to objects, and if you take the time to freeze the animations and explosions in the Theater mode, it looks pretty amazing. I was shocked to see individual teeth in the mouth of an Elite while he was being assassinated. The sound design has also seen a noticeable upgrade. The guns sound fuller, the footsteps clearer, and when you get too close to a grenade, you’ll get a nice shell-shocked ring that drowns out other sound for a few seconds.
Despite the pretty surroundings, the biggest game changer for me is the new armor abilities. Depending on the game type and race you are playing, you will have different armor abilities to include in your loadout. They have replaced dual wielding and equipment, and frankly, that is fine with me. I personally enjoyed double-fisting SMGs, but forgot about that as I quickly learned how powerful and useful these new reuseable abilities are. Since the Spartans and Elites are now two very different creatures in Reach, their armor abilities vary slightly. The default ability for the Spartans is Sprint. This burst of speed is something that I have wanted in a Halo game ever since I got used to using it in the Call of Duty games. It works extremely well and I think will end up becoming the favorite ability of the most skilled Halo players, as it allows you to close the distance between you and your opponents and can make getting those quick melee shots easier than ever before. However, the Elites aren’t left out: they have their own speedy Evade skill. Evade gives them the ability to roll out of harm’s way with a quick move in any direction that you control. As much as I enjoyed sprinting as a Spartan, I think the Elite’s roll is even more useful. It saved my hide a couple of times and allowed me to turn the tide of combat.
Next is Armor Lock. When you trigger this ability, the game switches to a 3rd-person view and gives you a short burst of invulnerability as you crouch down and punch the ground. It is a life-saver when triggered at the right time. In a single Armor Lock move, I was able to deflect a Wraith’s cannon blast and survive a Ghost’s charge. When it discharges it lets off an EMP burst that will take down the shields of anything near you. I believe this particular ability will finally help level the playing field when facing vehicles. And for all the doubters on the boards thinking this will become a last ditch crutch for low level players to lean on, you are wrong. It takes accurate timing to pull off properly and leaves you very open for attack when it expires. If anything, seeing someone go into Armor Lock could make them an easy mark if you wait for it to expire.
Finally, there’s the Jet Pack. Easily the most talked about new addition, it does exactly what it says. With a quick flick of the left bumper you can send your warrior 30 feet into the air. I was really surprised at how natural this felt and used it frequently to quickly get back into action after a respawn. However, when using it, I also found myself to be an easy target. I predict that hardcore Halo players will be playing “noob” duckhunt as waves of players joyously test this feature out in the open.
The last new feature in the game that grabbed my attention was the assassination move. I have a feeling this was Bungie’s way of incorporating a more eloquent version of the “teabag” into a Halo game. This move is purely for show since it does not replace the single hit, back of the head melee kill. Instead, when you get the jump on an opponent, all you have to do is hold the melee button down and you will trigger the assassination animation. There is a risk involved: while you are performing the move you are vulnerable to attack. But the visual reward does make up for it. There are Elite and Spartan specific animations, and they are all really satisfying to pull off and equally humiliating to watch when you are on the receiving end.
Tune in to X-Play all next week to see tons of new footage of Halo: Reach in action, as well as some pro-tips straight from the Bungie developers that will definitely give you an edge when the beta drops on May 3rd.