Having stuck, sniped and stormed our way through two weeks of Spartan testing, it's time for a few of us to kick back and divulge our personal impressions of the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta. We've already introduced you to the new gameplay mechanics and given insight into the new modes Invasion and Generator Defence, so here's our conclusive take on the test. We've listed what we loved, what we hated, what we think needs changing and what needs to go completely. As with all unfinished articles there have been a few bumps along the way, but it's still been an absolute blast in more ways than one. Read on for more.
I'm a big fan of Halo, but for the past few years I've found my interest in the series waning. I barely touch the multiplayer anymore, and I had to convince myself I bought ODST on its merits as a game, not a vessel for the beta. So I was skeptical of Halo Reach. Jetpacks? Reticule-bloom? A Spartan-Elite dichotomy? Since Combat Evolved, Halo has slowly but surely begun to decline. I expected Reach to be the last nail in the coffin.
But like all cynics, I downloaded the beta the minute it was unlocked. I waited, patiently at first, then with vocal frustration, as the servers groaned and I struggled to find even one match. I managed to slip into one game, on Powerhouse. And I loved it. I soared into the sky on a Jetpack, rattled a clip into a sprinting Spartan below, hurled a grenade, then plummeted to the ground and died. The Halo I loved was back.
The beta is an all-round improvement in almost every area. Controls feel perfect, and the thunderous sounds mean it finally feels like you're handling and firing an actual gun, rather than a toy. The inclusion of 'Loadouts' adds some much-needed excitement to the Halo formula. A lot of fans seem upset by the decision to automatically equip power-ups such as Invisibility, but I feel it takes the established tradition of 'run-gun-melee', and introduces further caveats, like 'run-fly-gun', or 'hide-pounce-assassinate'. I'd love to go into detail about how much I love assassinations, but I'd probably ramble on for too long!
The new modes on offer add to the fun. Headhunter is an insane, hectic game-type that left me literally breathless at the end. Stockpile made me like flag-based modes again. And the Arena is a very promising addition. Invasion is perhaps the best new addition to the Halo formula, and you can read about how much I enjoyed this mode here. I enjoyed Generator Defence, but the latency issues dampen the fun.
The beta isn't perfect, however. Some weapons feel under and overpowered. Elite's could do with better weaponry, and Armor Lock, in my opinion, should be removed or severely altered. The biggest issue is the 'double-tap' epidemic. Up close, gun-play is redundant. It devolves into a mad, button-bashing race for who can land two melees first.
A lot of these issues are easily rectified, and I look forward to the final release. I haven't even spoke about the improvements to the graphics or the animation. Simply put, if Reach is Bungie's last Halo game, they're going out on a high.
As an unapologetic and self-professed Halo fan, I was ready for the Reach Beta to deliver a refreshing new multiplayer experience that still feels like classic Halo... and for the most part, it did. The weapon selection and maps feel comforting and familiar, yet the new gametypes and armour abilities make for a whole new take on the Bungie FPS formula that brings it in line with more recent online shooters. The frenzied and insane Headhunter and Arena modes gave me a great new way to throw down on random players in lone wolf matches , and Invasion/Generator Defense delivers one of the most teamwork-oriented multiplayer experiences I've ever played.
Having said that, these two weeks have only been a Beta, not a polished article. There are a whole mess of buffs, nerfs and networking issues that need to be ironed out...you know, a few more seconds of sprint here, weakened Plasma Launcher homing ability there...but these are little niggles that belong on the Bungie.net forums (and believe me, they are). To that end, I've tried to pick out a selection of my favourite (and least favourite) aspects of the last fortnight.
- Loved: Voting for gametypes. Being able to veto a match is one thing, but being able to choose your next match and gametype out of a wide selection is common sense. It's been a long time coming.
- Liked: The armour abilities. They're not powerful enough to dominate the game, but when used properly they can turn the tide of a difficult engagement. Call me crazy, but I personally favour the sprint. Sure, your enemies might be airborne or invisible... but it won't do them any good when you beat them to the headhunter score zones and weapon spawns.
- Disliked: The health bar. Whilst I'm delighted that the classic health bar's back for the singleplayer mode, having an HP system seems a little pointless in multiplayer. Most of the weapons will cut through you in no time flat once your shields are down regardless of your health- and it's just one more little thing to worry about in the heat of battle.
- Needs work: This is a personal bugbear more than anything, but most of the weapons simply aren't satisfying to fire. Even when played through a beefy sound system, there's no real sense of power and weight behind each shot. Hopefully some beefier SFX and force feedback will help to make the arsenal feel more potent. Why have a huge selection of great guns when they're no fun to use?
A bit of a latecomer to the Halo party, having spent most of my teen years ensconced in front of a Nintendo console or my beloved PS2, I will hold my hand up as being one of those gamers who initially went 'Yeah so it can't be that good' and then capitulated utterly upon playing the games. Addicted, enamoured and still frighteningly mediocre with an assault rifle in my hands, I've got to say that this beta was an enormous amount of fun. It was good to see that they hadn't changed too much since Halo 3 - well if it ain't broke... - but as Jon notes above, the new mechanics catapulted the series into contemporary contention.
I'm a big fan of the new levels and an even bigger fan of the Armour Abilities, each of which have their own pros and cons (personally I nearly always go for either the Sprint or the Active Camo) and they really do bring a whole new dynamic to the game. The weapons I found to be somewhat divisive. I greatly mourned the loss of the Battle Rifle and the Assault Rifle now feels a little like an automatic spud gun. The Scoped Pistol has, understandably, been powered down since Combat Evolved but feelings of offensive inadequacy are rife here. The Needle Cannon, for example, looks absolutely kick-ass, but doesn't feel like it at all.
That said, the whole thing sounds and looks great, and the new game modes are exceptionally good fun. Invasion encourages real teamwork and communication along with Generator Defence, but for me it's the Lone Wolf modes that have really been the revelation. Stockpile and Headhunter, especially, have given me some of the most fun-filled online moments of the past few months.
The Good: Democracy that works! New, varied game modes, weapon and ability loadouts. Assassinations!
The Bad: Unbalanced weapons, fiddly jetpacks.
The Ugly: The melee system is an enormously frustrating mess.
So there you have it - overall a successful test, but certainly room for improvement. We can't wait for the Autumn, but why not let us know what you guys thought of the beta. Drop us a line or two in the box below with your thoughts.