As you know, the Halo Reach Beta allowed us to get to grips with its competitive multiplayer modes... but as a longtime fan of the series, I've been itching to try out some of the cooperative aspects. Luckily, I was able to join a team of journalists in order to nab some quality time with the return of ODST's firefight mode.
Bungie rocked up to the Microsoft Gamescom Play Day with a brand new level: Corvette. It's set in the belly of a Covenant cruiser (which will be familiar to fans of the original Halo) and broadly consists of a large circular arena with several raised ramparts around the rim. Two enormous force-shielded portals provide entry points for Spirit dropships that ferry Covenant troops into the centre of the killing floor- though pesky engineers have a habit of popping out when they're least expected.
Starting out in a safe room stocked with health and ammo, you've got the choice of a number of close-mid range classes... and the level design helps to make each class feel potent and relevant to the conflict. Close-range operators charge into the middle of the ring with shotguns blasting, using armour locks to evade grenades and using the raised platforms as cover once their shields get blown. Conversely, these sections also provide fantastic vantages for DMR-equipped snipers who can bring the rain on unsuspecting enemies fall back on mounted plasma turrets in a pinch. The spirit dropships also let us revert to the classic tactics of sticking plasma grenades to grunts as soon as their cavernous doors opened and hosing down their landing zones with withering fire.
In my personal opinion, the Elites provided the finest adversaries that the Halo series has to offer. They boast both overwhelming power and brains to match...and in Reach, they've had a complete overhaul. You'll doubtlessly know about their mean and sinsiter new look, but their AI has also been tweaked to . Opening fire on an unaware Ultra, I was surprised to see my opponent wheel round, assess the situation, fake to the right and then leap bodily into cover on the left. They've become extremely adept at breaking line of sight- and whilst the brutes and jackals are a little scary, they're nothing compared to the frightening combat tactics of Halo's original ultimate predators.
Well, until when they dropped a wraith into the fray. My team's playground suddenly became an absolute nightmare as the tank rained blue death on us time and time again- and the tweaked AI allowed it to splatter would-be hijackers with impunity. Rather than showboating, we soon realised that we had no choice but to coordinate our assault and finally distracted its attention long enough for me to sprint up behind it and frag out its engine. Make no mistake, the pacing's a lot more varied and frantic this time around... and close teamwork is more important than ever.
Oh, and a quick word about modifiers. We have a love/hate relationship with the skull system in Halo ODST here at Dealspwn... mainly because we're all about a straight fight. Having to contend with arbitrary modifiers as well as the increased enemy strength seemed a little cheap- and luckily, Reach will allow us to decide the modifiers for ourselves. The 'Black Eye' skull (the little b*stard that forces you to melee in order to regenerate health) has been removed- and custom skulls with player-defined modifiers can be inserted into any stage or wave. These custom skulls give us the opportunity to choose our own challenge for increased points and glory. Choice is good.
So, the levels are well-constructed, the enemies are smarter, the arsenal is awesome and the Black Eye's gone for a burton... but I need to end with All the mechanics feel spot on, from the pure uncluttered combat to the grenade splash damage and even the default sensitivity. I simply had wait to go back for another round- and if this is anything to go by, Reach is likely to be the complete FPS package of this year. I can't wait to finish... the beginning... of the fight!
Note: We've got some HD offscreen footage of Reach in action- and will deploy it as soon as possible.