I was once a hardcore Halo: Combat Evolved player like any other during the days of the original Xbox. Sleepless nights that were accompanied with continuous sessions of Halo multiplayer matches via the godsend program XboxConnect, and enough sugar to put most of the population in diabetic comas. This was before MLG was conceived as a thought; and it was definitely during an era where Halo was just a child amongst men in regards to multiplayer gaming. But all that changed, however, once the game established itself as the defining console multiplayer game of its time and entered the competitive arena, in which it truly shined amongst the gaming community. To me, Halo: Combat Evolved was the pinnacle of entertainment at the time; solid controls, great arsenal of weaponry to choose from, multiplayer maps that were strategically amazing, a single-player campaign that was both challenging astounding, and a story that just about any sci-fi fan could fall in love with – it was a game that did just about everything well.
As Bungie began to introduce fans with sequels, I felt the game sort of lost direction, in a sense. Sure, Halo 2 was a great successor, but it didn’t hold the same wow factor that the first game did. To many competitive gamers, a lot of it had to do with the removal of the original pistol (which was replaced by the Battle Rifle). Halo 3 was just a regurgitated Halo 2 with a miniscule amount of changes, and ODST was an overpriced aborted abomination from the third installment. Then, Halo: Reach was mentioned (before the release of ODST), and fans cheered, tossed confetti, and cried tears of joy as – finally – a true following to the series was underway. People began to buy ODST because it promised beta participation, videos were shown to induce erections, and folks impatiently waited until last week when the beta was available for download.
I was fortunate enough to download the beta. Of course I was; I paid $60 for the god-forsaken ODST, so it was my right to play the game. Excited, I popped in my ODST disc, started the game, and waited as the Reach beta downloaded into my Xbox 360 Elite. Towards completion, my hands began to sweat, my legs began to shake, and lips became dry. I was more an addict than I thought, apparently. Finally, the game was installed. With a sigh of relief, I launched the long-awaited beta.
As a player of the last couple of Halo games, the first thing I wanted to do was set up my emblems and my colors. After all, you have to have a unique cool-looking emblem. In the process of doing that, I become aware that I am also able to change my Spartan’s armor. 10 points of awesomeness to Bungie for throwing this in the beta (you can’t choose any armor in the beginning, however, because they need to be bought using credit (cR)). After the customization is finished, and I am satisfied with what I am able to do, I jump into matchmaking and I impatiently wait for the opposing team. Players vote for an unfamiliar map named “Powerhouse,” and the game begins.
Visually, the Halo: Reach beta isn’t anything to be drooling over. It is a beta (which means that, at this juncture, they’re making minor tweaks and fixing bugs), most would say, but it isn’t the graphical powerhouse most were expecting. If you’re familiar with Halo 3/ODST graphics, expect a bit of that with a nudge of higher polygon count, and pretty nifty lighting effects that are noticeable in certain areas. The game looks like… well, Halo – which isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it also means that, unless you’re studying the screen, you won’t bear witness to too much noticeable differences. The game doesn’t look horrendous, but it isn’t something you’ll be praising either. But, hey, what does it matter as long as it plays like Halo right? Not really.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you’re thrown into a match is the “classes” that you can now choose. Yes, there are classes in Halo: Reach which give opportune variety and strategic abilities in the game, depending on the situation, game type and map (which is awesome). Each time you spawn you’ll be able to choose from four different class types – all of which have a charge meter. What? You thought you could infinitely use these abilities?
- Scout: This class has a Sprint, which introduces running in the Halo series somewhat (available only for this class). The short burst of speed allows for your character to outrun enemies and reach places quicker. It might feel a tad awkward at first (like running in a body cast), but you’ll eventually get used to it as you remember that the suits these soldiers wear aren’t made of cotton and Reynold’s Wrap.
- Guard: With an Armor Lock, your character will crouch down and punch the ground like it owed him/her money. This ability makes the character invulnerable for a short period of time. Not as amazing as it sounds as, theoretically, your enemies will just wait for your temper-tantrum to dissipate before sending a barrage of bullets and grenades your way. Not very useful, in my opinion, unless, of course, you want to make a grand entrance.
- Stalker: Remember the camo in previous Halo games? Well, this class gives you the Active Camo ability, which is great for silent kills, reconnaissance, and good ol’ sneaking around the opposing team. What’s that? People are going to be using this like no tomorrow? Maybe – but the one people tend to favor the most is…
- Airborne: The name should somewhat give you a hint of what this ability does. With this, you get a jetpack which gives the player the ability to, in so many words, fly momentarily. While it seems great that something like this would be added to change the dynamics of the game, it isn’t as welcoming as I’d hoped. This might be a good trait for Spartans delivering pizza, and I understand some diversity wanted to be added, but overall, this ability seems like it was added for the hell of it, personally.
By default, each ability is activated by pressing or holding the left bumper. For those of you migrating from Halo 2 – ODST, the button schematics are a bit more Halo: Combat Evolved-ish; meaning that reloading is no longer done by using the bumper buttons, and there was zero indication of dual-wielding here, so reload is now the infamous “X” button.
Along with the new classes, other additions have made their way to Halo: Reach. Assassinations, which is a brutal kill from behind, are done when holding down the melee button behind people; the introduction of the Needler Rifle (which is just a long-ranged Needler) also makes its way into your weapons cache. New game modes such as “Stockpile” have become somewhat of the fan favorite. Stockpile is a mode which throws neutral flags around the map, and the objective of each team is to get as many as possible to their bases while, at the same time, preventing your foes from getting their hands on any. In each base, there are colored circles (indicated by your team color) that collect the flags every minute, so the objective, ideally, is to get the flags piled up and keep them there. Headhunter, another game type in the Halo: Reach beta, has you taking skulls from downed opponents and bringing them back to specific locations to get points. The more skulls you carry the bigger of a target you become.
Now my impressions: The Halo: Reach beta, from what I played so far, is a fun game. One of the most satisfying moments to me was noticing that Bungie finally decided to bring back the pistol – an implementation that I’m sure a lot of Halo fans will admire. However, although the game does have its entertainment values, there are just some things that didn’t work for me. For one, I believe the class system is somewhat unbalanced and introduced to add “variety,” as other well-known multiplayers have, most notably Modern Warfare, which, I feel, doesn’t work with Halo: Reach. What Bungie did here was remove the competitive edge that the previous Halo games had by adding a fistful of starting abilities to players. What made these other games strategically appealing and engaging was simultaneous objectives such as fighting for Active Camo/Overshield while, at the same time, capturing a flag or downing your enemies. It made the games more intense in every respect, and made players work for these abilities through an evolution of skill. Adding the aforementioned abilities will, more than likely, become more of a frantic spamming of “insert skill name here” and make the game far less appealing to the competitive crowd of original Halo games. As the multiplayer genre expands and evolves in the gaming industry, it seems that Bungie, for whatever reason, wants to play catch-up and add these features to their prized franchise to appeal to the “other” gamer, even though the original formula worked quite well. Some might call it “evolving,” but at this point, I call it moving backwards from what made the game so amazing. You might be somewhat flattered that Bungie decided to bring back the pistol, but this doesn’t disguise the new façade that Bungie has thrown over Halo: Reach. The beta suffers from an identity crisis, which I feel stood the previous Halo’s out from the rest of the bunch, including Modern Warfare.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to add new toys and applications to a game. But when it changes the experience completely from what everyone loved, it becomes more of a question of just who is Bungie trying to impress and/or cater to.
Halo: Reach does what I hope Bungie wants it to do: be fun. As a fan of the previous games, however, I must say that playing Reach is nothing like playing Halo anymore. Was the beta a bad experience? No. But if you’re a Halo fan from the previous franchises – especially those of you who play the game competitively – you’ll find that a lot of the new additions change the entire experience completely – and not in a good way. Halo: Reach strives to be everything but Halo, in my opinion. A little too much of everything that’s out there has been thrown into a mixing bowl at Bungie studios, only leaving the appearance of Halo, and the feel of everything else.
You better believe that I have a lot more to say. But I’ll give the game the benefit of the doubt that it is still in the beta stage and wait for the game to release this Fall before I go into an authentic review mode.