Halo: Reach Beta: Shot Through The Face, And I’m To Blame

Halo: Reach Multiplayer Beta

Thanks to my ongoing status as an illegitimate expert (ahem), I’ve already been playing the Halo: Reach mulitplayer beta without having to wait for pesky Mondays (and the summer semester at Weber) to roll around.  So far, there’s only been play on two maps and the Arena didn’t seem to be available until today, so no words about things I haven’t tried yet.  There’s plenty of other new stuff I’ve rolled around in, however, so I’d like to let you know of a few of my thoughts on this new hot Spartan-on-Spartan experience, if you would be so kind as to entertain them!

When people have asked me how Reach is so far, I usually start with a summary sentence: “It’s still Halo.”  The competitive Halo multiplayer core beloved the world over is still embedded in that 1.15GB mass and would be intimately familiar with anyone who’s still raking in the EXP in Halo 3, or, in my case, for someone who hasn’t really played a lot of Halo recently but has always been fond of the series, it is a “coming home” feeling.  In most modes, engagements between players can still last more than 3 or 5 whole seconds, compared to the breakneck death-pace of games like Modern Warfare, thanks to hardy shield systems and the selection of weapons balanced against it.  Bungie’s work in Reach is just an evolutionary step in the series and Reach is not going to shake up the formula completely, so for those who have absolute distaste for competitive Halo, this beta probably won’t do much to dissuade you.  With that said, for someone who has always enjoyed Halo’s gameplay, I find that Reach has lots of goodies layered on top of that competitive core to draw me in that aren’t just throwaway bullet points to be printed on the back of the case come this fall.

I have to start with the Armor Abilities.  Replacing the somewhat slipshod equipment of Halo 3, players select loadouts before the match begins, with each loadout primarily affecting what Armor Ability the player will have at the press of a button.  Reading about these on paper may seem like this is just stuff to implement just because 1) they’re cool, and 2) it’s a sequel.  There are jetpacks, cloaking devices, and other gadgets that allow you to sprint, dodge-roll away from danger, or render you immobile but invulnerable to fire.  When these are thrown into the mix in familiar Halo combat scenarios, available to everyone at a moment’s notice, the magic happens.  Encounters between players play out in several ways that people who get more skilled at the game are able to read and react to faster.  These Armor Abilities increase the number of those possibilities dramatically.  Equipment had the same function in Halo 3, but players had to find them out and then remember to actually use them.  The abilities take that same “spice” that players can add to a fight and give it to everyone for use at every time, and that makes vanilla combat in Reach a real joy.

As a side deal, it’s been really fun to observe myself and other players try to deal with whatever new possibility crops up in a fight.  Take, for instance: my opponent and I, both armed with their spawn assault rifles, round a corner and eye each other at a medium distance.  We start firing and running at each other, with both shields dropping as we approach melee range.  Opponent goes for the predictable melee attack to finish me off, but I activate my Armor Lock ability, with my character pounding the ground with his fist and my armor pulsating like a rainbow.  It has been hilarious to see how opponents try and react to that: do I back off, reload, and wait?  Do I get into position for a hit to the back of his head?  The same goes for me: when do I release my lock?  Do I just tap it for a split second to fool him and try for an opportunistic attack while he’s caught off guard?  Do I hold onto it to charge the EMP shockwave to make sure his shield stays down?  Or do I just hold it and hope a teammate strays by and gives me a hand?  Maybe my opponent’s Armor Ability will give him another option: he could just jet away from my range, or sprint away, or even flip the tables and lock himself down and I have to wait him out.  I’m sure the professionals will eventually figure out every single equation for encounters and know the proper reaction eventually; that’s what makes them pros.  For Joe Shmoe Halo guy like me, it is incredible fun. I have a special love for the Active Camo currently, as it also jams motion sensors for everybody near by as well as the cloaked player.  Moving past a snail’s pace makes you visible enough, but with enough patience you can rack up some scary assassinations on opponents.

Bungie’s decision to bring back the Halo 1 restriction of holding one weapon at a time seems to have given their weapon balance a much needed shot in the arm.  The addition of accuracy bloom, tactical shooter-style, on weapons fire is also a big help.  The new battle rifle equivalent Designated Marksman Rifle and the (yet again) revamped pistol, for example, deal similar damage per round.  The DMR maintains accuracy better firing over long range but with a locked rate of fire and the pistol can fire as fast as you can pull it.  Accuracy for both guns can be controlled through the player’s decision on fire rate.  If you shoot slow enough, the pistol can hit ranges through its 2x scope as well as the DMR could, making the gun really feel like a Halo 1 throwback with pistol sniping.  The DMR is the gun you want over the pistol at medium to long ranges, however, because you can hit those targets faster with it.  The pistol becomes a great sidearm to switch in emergency close quarters when your other weapon empties out its mag.

The returning guns are still their old selves for the most part.  Rockets, shotguns, snipers,hammers, and swords are still devastating power weapons at their unique situations.  The starting assault rifle is reliable at the ranges you expect it to, while still showing the obvious flaws vs. other weapons.  The Needler is still hilarious.  The plasma pistol experiences a good damage boost for actually killing people as well as a new area of effect for its charged bolts, making this pistol a reliable sidearm just like the human pistol but in a different way.  The new weapons play well with the old armory: the Needler Rifle makes a great Covenant answer while still being its own weapon (without being too close to equivalent like the Covenant Carbine).  The Plasma Launcher homes in 4 plasma grenades at once for ridiculous explosions, but opponents can see the plasma coming in at a relative snail’s pace and hear it coming a mile away.  The grenade launcher, a new favorite of mine, is a satisfying counterpart to the rocket launcher allowing for precise control of detonations after launcher through the trigger.  The Focus Beam, like the Needler Rifle, is a great counterpart to the old sniper rifle, with reduced “first strike” potential but easier to use at closer ranges.  It’s a varied but delicately designed and overall satisfying to use collection.

The counterpart-style design extends to the Spartans and Elites that players can control.  Instead of being equivalent, they play dramatically different, with Elites featuring higher speed, shields, and health, while their shape makes them a very obvious and large target for gunfire.  Modes available only have all players being one or the other, so it will be interesting to see how it will pan out when these two player types can fight each other in later modes in the beta.

The new game modes offer a good dose of hilarity.  Stockpile’s giant rush of flags and the mad dash to defend and attack at every minute is a place where a team who can communicate can lock down any other team of any skill.  Headhunter is a ridiculously stressful free-for-all mode that has players collecting each other’s dead, flaming skulls and drop them at constantly changing repositories for glory.  Skulls owned by players show up as a numbered waypoint over players’ heads, so the more you have, the more you have that feeling that everyone in the damn world is staring at you and waiting to to bash your head in.  When you have 10 skulls, it is an instant win if you can deposit them all at once, but the waypoint everyone sees over your head is a vary obvious star shape.  You are a dead man walking.  I was able to pull off one of these wins last night, and during the roughly 30 seconds I was carrying all those skulls, it was one of the most stressful 30 seconds I have ever had in my life.

Bungie’s website integration also deserves a great mention.  No other console games come really close to what Bungie’s recent titles have pulled off through extensive stat tracking and the theater mode for  revisiting great moments (I am guilty of this for hours).  Players can take screenshots and video clips and send them to the website for all the Internet to see, with Pro subscribers even able to take those clips and render them into computer-ready video files.  The screenshot above this article is my own creation!  The game inside also has an interface for viewing all this community content, which is great for burning some time calming down between sessions.

Finally, as someone who tends to play paper doll with their characters in games, the armor customization is still neat.  Armor pieces are tied to credits earned in gameplay as well as a rank that isn’t tied to skill at all, except for that you get more credits the better you are at matches.  It lends some of that “one more match just to afford that next piece/level up to the next rank” addiction that popular multiplayer games do these days.  It is all visual customization, so they can try to avoid putting chinks in their weapon balance design by tying new armaments and abilities to playing for a long time.

I like what is in the Halo: Reach beta so far, and some content in the beta is still locked away!  Once again, however, those who don’t care for competitive Halo will probably not be swayed by this iteration.  Even with differences with movement rates, jump heights, FOV, etc. at the end of the day Reach mostly plays like a Halo game has always played like,  and between now and release, it probably won’t move closer to directions other games would rather have it take.  Luckily for Bungie, approximately a bajillion people enjoy what they serve, so they should be proud to serve it with more cherries on top.


1 Response to “Halo: Reach Beta: Shot Through The Face, And I’m To Blame”

  1. May 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I like that they chose to make the unlock-able armor an aesthetics only perk, unlike many other games where just having more time played makes you a better player by default. I’m really looking forward to this one.

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My name is Anthony Munar, a computer programmer in Utah. I also play a bunch of video games every now and then. I talk and think a lot about them, but I never really solidify those thoughts anywhere, and writing is something I like doing, so I thought I'd do it right here. I don't intend to be high-and-mighty authoritative about what I say and I don't really have any sort of standing in the games industry. This is just for me to muse about games when I want to.

Naming a blog these days was harder than I thought. In calculus, the inflection point on a curve is where its concavity changes between upwards and down. So, maybe, the inflection pixel is the pixel which represents something that turns my opinion around on a game, like the pixels representing a beam cannon firing in FreeSpace 2, the pixels representing a flying car wreck in Burnout, or the pixels representing my own sentry gun holding off an army in Team Fortress 2.

Using the word 'pixel' in naming something game-related seems clichéd, so sorry about that.


May 2010
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